Is Ben Shapiro the Most Powerful Man in News Media?
Ben Shapiro is not stupid. Ben Shapiro is very smart.
Not just graduating from Yeshiva University High School in Los Angeles at 16 after skipping third AND ninth grade smart.
Not just graduating summa cum laude at age 20 from UCLA smart.
Not just graduating cum laude from Harvard Law School at 23 smart.
Ben Shapiro is one of those that has turned smart into an art, and now has the followers and the revenues to prove it.
How smart is Ben Shapiro? Smart enough to have compiled “A Giant List of All The Dumb Stuff I’ve Ever Done.” In parenthesis, he promises to continuously update.
But we’re smart enough to know that the things on that list are not actually dumb. Dumb in a “why would you say something like that?” dumb, but not idiot ramblings from someone too stupid to know better dumb. Shapiro is too smart for that.
And the question we’re asking is this: is Ben Shapiro the most powerful man in news media?
There’s plenty of time to find out. Shapiro is only 38.
Plenty of time is, of course, a relative phrase. Plenty of time in the long view is most likely true. History, when written presumably decades from now, will provide context.
But if you’re remotely interested in politics and elections – and the turnout in November 2020 indicates many are – then there isn’t that much time at all as we stumble towards midterm elections that Shapiro and other media influencers on the left and right will influence plenty.
And Shapiro’s numbers confirm he has plenty of influence, something Democrats are presumably very aware of. And wary of.
His podcast had 2.5 million visitors in a recent 30-day period. His YouTube has four million viewers. In November 2021, he had 162 million views on Facebook. He has 3.7 million followers on Twitter.
And metrics indicate that the traffic is direct, meaning folks are looking for him, not landing accidentally by googling, say, “I’d like to read some right-wing ideology.”
“This kid is rocking it,” said James Meskauskas, the Chief Strategy Officer and Mediaologist at Media Darwin, Inc. The consensus view of those interviewed on a recent edition of Joey Dumont’s True Thirty podcast is that Shapiro’s audience numbers are continuously rising as opposed to, say, a Tucker Carlson of Fox News, whose penetration seems to have “topped out.”
“Brand building takes time,” said Dumont on the podcast.
Again, Shapiro is only 38.
Benjamin Aaron Shapiro, 38 as of January 15, was born in Los Angeles to a conservative Jewish family of Russian-Jewish and Lithuanian-Jewish heritage. When Shapiro was nine, the family transitioned to Orthodox Judaism.
Both of Shapiro’s parents were creatives in Hollywood: his mother was a television executive, and his father was a composer. As a child, Shapiro played the violin. His sister, Abigail, is an opera singer.
After skipping third and ninth grades, Shapiro went from Walter Reed Middle School in North Hollywood to Yeshiva University High School of Los Angeles, graduating in 2000 at 16.
In a 2017 interview with Lewis Howes – contributing writer for Entrepreneur and Yahoo Health – Shapiro discussed being picked on mercilessly when young, being 5’2” and 100 pounds at age 12, entering puberty late.
How much any of this informed his attack dog tendencies later in life is anyone’s guess, but Shapiro has noted that skipping two grades permanently altered his life view.
After Yeshiva, Shapiro received his Bachelor of Arts in political science from UCLA, graduating summa cum laude at 20. Then, cum laude from Harvard Law School at 23.
Like we said, no dummy is he.
Shapiro worked at the law offices of Goodwin Procter but was not fond of practicing law. After that, he ran Benjamin Shapiro Legal Consulting in Los Angeles.
Shapiro had a nationally syndicated column at 17 and, by 21, had written two books, Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America’s Youth, and Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism is Corrupting Our Future.
Published in 2004, Brainwashed, according to one – positive – viewpoint, exposed the “Marxist loons, moral relativists, multicultural zealots and America haters who are corrupting young minds.” Who knew? Certainly not this writer who left his liberal-leaning big city university in 1984, the year Shapiro was born.
But there are points to consider.
According to research, after World War II, professors at American universities identified themselves as liberal by a margin of about 2:1. A more recent survey shows that ratio is now around 16:1. A 2020 Harvard study showed that 41% of faculty identified themselves as liberal. As in, somewhat liberal. Another 38.4% identified as very liberal.
Wouldn’t seem to leave much room for opposing viewpoints.
At a 2017 appearance by Shapiro at the University of California, Berkeley, police “stood in full riot gear,” according to news reports at the time. Surrounding buildings were shut down and a large perimeter was erected around the hall where Shapiro spoke and answered questions to a crowd estimated to be around 1,000.
The university and city reportedly spent approximately $600,000 for security measures, a number quoted in news reports at the time and mentioned by Kevin Hicks, also interviewed on the podcast. Hicks is President of Savio Media.
Protests at the event were mostly calm, save a reported scuffle or two and nine people arrested, according to reports, including three cited for “carrying banned weapons.”
The irony of this sort of action/reaction to an event was not lost on Meskauskas, who graduated from Berkeley with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy in 1994, and discussed Berkeley’s role a generation earlier in the original 1960s Free Speech movement.
He recalled that, back then, the Upper and Lower Sproul, a plaza on Berkeley’s campus, hosted free speech events starting in 1964 when Mario Savio spoke and folk legend Joan Baez performed. In those nascent free speech days, Meskauskas implied, free speech was encouraged. Today – and especially in the last five years – you are just as likely to encounter heated opposition for espousing an opinion that might not be in the vanguard. Especially on a liberal college campus.
Shapiro’s most prominent mouthpiece is The Daily Wire which calls itself “one of America’s fastest-growing conservative media companies and counter-cultural outlets for news, opinion and entertainment.”
Some might chuckle at the “counter-cultural” element, a label more commonly associated with leftist activity and thought. Nevertheless, as long as there are two sides – very distinct sides these days – there is something to counter.
(And it was an amusing sidebar during the podcast when Hicks, while discussing a history of “point-counterpoint,” cited not only the CBS warhorse 60 Minutes back in the day but also Dan Ackroyd’s “Jane, you ignorant slut!” rejoinder to Jane Curtin from the glory days of Saturday Night Live’s original “Weekend Update.” Hicks’ point being, of course, that it’s not easy in 2022 to find a point-counterpoint couched in humor.)
The Daily Wire was started in 2015 by Shapiro and Jeremy Boreing and, today, The Ben Shapiro Show, produced by The Daily Wire, is one of the largest podcasts in the country. After initial skepticism about The Daily Wire’s prospects, in 2020, it earned $65 million gross revenue.
Shapiro’s podcast skews young (18-44) and overwhelmingly male (86%). Tucker Carlson’s audience, by comparison, is older (25-54) and 53% female.
Another stark contrast? Carlson’s audience, aligning perhaps with its purported blue-collar reputation, has a much smaller household income ($50,000-$75,000) than Shapiro’s (approximately $150,000). A concern, one would imagine, for the liberal, left leaning and presumably better off demographic usually associated with Democrats.
It is not difficult to discern that Shapiro is growing faster than someone like Carlson because he is younger and is very active on social media, whereas Carlson is mostly associated with his presence on a traditional media outlet like Fox News.
His fellow hosts, Matt Walsh and Michael Knowles, are, according to Dumont, “‘small C’ conservatives,” well-read, intelligent, sober in analysis and delivery. This approach, no doubt, helps them to gain and hold a younger audience who do not necessarily want to be screamed at.
Candace Owens, who joined The Daily Wire in 2021, is growing more popular, not just with black conservatives but also, according to Dumont, “She is adored by white conservatives and independents alike.” Speaking of young, Owens is just 32.
Owens, originally opposed to President Trump, later became known for her Trump and Republican activism. In 2018, she had to delete a tweet espousing the theory that mail bombings targeting Democrats had actually been sent by leftists. She deleted the tweet after the arrest of a 56-year-old Republican Trump supporter.
Shapiro has had to perform his own mea culpas.
In the early aughts, he stated in a column that Israel should transfer Palestinians and Israeli-Arabs from Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Israel proper, theorizing that this was best to avoid bloodshed. He later backed off, saying treatment of settlers in the West Bank was “inhumane and impractical.”
In 2006, Shapiro stated that sedition laws should be reinstated, citing comments critical of then-President Bush. He later recanted, stating, a dozen years later, that his 2006 column “absolutely blows. It’s garbage.”
Without getting into the details of each, in his Dumbest Things list, he mentions, among many others, “The Militant Gay English Column,” the “Defending Steve King’s Comments on Babies” comment, “The Columbus Day Video,” and more.
Interestingly, Shapiro includes in the list, dumb things he’s done that were taken out of context. Well, we can all relate to that.
There are many other views/comments from which Shapiro most definitely has not, as far as we can tell, backtracked. Among the topics are everything from Muslims to climate change, LGBT issues and gun ownership.
Shapiro doesn’t apologize for many of these views but is frequently very careful to – and clearly very good at – putting things in context, calling out everything from lines taken out of context to reactionary “Woke” views.
Regarding same-sex education, for instance, Shapiro once stated that he didn’t go to school to learn about marriage between same-sex partners; this was a values issue that he asserts should be taught at home.
Shapiro, according to some, is more relaxed, less the attack dog, when not being attacked. He states on The Daily Wire website that he is continuously looking to improve himself.
Hicks noted that Shapiro “does not trip up easily,” when being interviewed. Dumont added that “it’s like Aaron Sorkin is writing his replies.”
That does not mean that anyone should expect Shapiro not to be provocative – especially not with elections looming. And elections are always looming.
Shapiro has the numbers – whether clicks or revenue – to suggest he’s not going anywhere, anytime soon. His empire defines multimedia. You can join The Daily Wire in a couple of different tiers ($4/month allows you to read lots of stuff and buy goods from the store for 5% savings. This includes the iconic Leftist Tears tumbler. For $20/month, you get that, videos, access to apps, live discussions and 20% off items). There’s straight ahead news – and they are continuously hiring journalists – video, live content, direct engagement with hosts and, oh yes, the aforementioned merch.
Shapiro – and others – will be happy to fill the gaping maw that, according to many – including all three participants in the recent podcast – is opening wider due to the disconnect burbling in the Democratic party.
Much of this has to do with the far left, the far left represented to a degree by “third wave antiracists” – as recently labeled by John McWhorter – such as Robin DiAngelo and Ibram Kendi – who are, to some, force-feeding a racial reckoning that some feel is going too far. McWhorter, an associate professor of linguistics at Columbia University, states in his 2021 book, Woke Racism, that this third wave – after the fight against slavey and then the battles of the 70s and 80s against racism’s mortal flaw – is actually a religion, attempting to force upon its intended adherents a level of guilt and acquiescence that is harmful and that treats blacks “as simpletons.”
Will Shapiro corral those disaffected liberals? He seems to know what he’s doing.
During the podcast, a panelist recalled a scene from the 1996 movie Big Night about two brothers, a chef and a businessman, who open their dream restaurant to less than stellar results.
At one point, Ian Holm, a successful rival restaurant owner in the movie, explained to Stanley Tucci (businessman), “first you give the people what they want; then you give them what you want.”
Ben Shapiro seems to have figured out both ends of the bargain.