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The Colorado coordinator for C-NET, Cindy Gustafson, says Weyrich's network offers a chance for conservatives from "a little group over here and a little group over there" to get together. She takes advantage of the C-NET meetings to do some networking for her own little project: the Christian Coalition's "leadership schools."
"Little" is certainly the operative word for the size of C-NET's audiences, despite the fact that Crested Butte magnate Howard "Bo" Callaway is NET's board chairman. Until recently, when a Colorado Springs group began watching the broadcast, Windsor and Denver were the only towns to host these meetings. And conservatives haven't exactly flocked to Denver's C-NET conclaves, either. At one showing of Family Forum Live last fall, scheduled for the same evening as the premiere of ABC's controversial series NYPD Blue, only about twenty people gathered in the basement of an office building at I-25 and Colorado Boulevard to watch Weyrich talk to Pat Buchanan about assaults on family values by "cultural radicals."
The scene had a conspiratorial feel: Buchanan had just come from a taping of Crossfire, on CNN, and the jovial but acerbic Weyrich greeted him by wisecracking, "Here nobody's going to give an opposing point of view." During the action segments Weyrich and his minions tried to stir the masses into flooding Congress, newspapers and radio talk shows with letters and phone calls. As these televised men in suits plotted a conservative revolution, one woman in the Denver audience--like Madame DeFarge in A Tale of Two Cities--quietly tended to her knitting.
An overthrow hardly seems imminent, however. Last month's Family Forum Live in Denver drew only six people. But even that is a larger audience than liberals draw. The left doesn't yet have an ideological channel, and that drives Congresswoman Pat Schroeder nuts.
"It makes me crazy," says the Denver Democrat. "The mainstream universities and churches go on retreats, issue papers and conduct seminars. I tell them it's really irrelevant. I think there's an elitist attitude about TV.
"The right is proselytizing. And I think it's more effective than we realize."
Over the past two decades Weyrich has been one of the right's most active proselytizers. He has helped change the face of Washington by bringing together religious and secular conservatives, linking Catholics with evangelical Protestants and flooding the city with eager young ideologues. During the same period Schroeder has been one of the right's favorite whipping girls. Typically, she whips back. When asked whether she thinks Weyrich is effective, the congresswoman replies: "He's effective in raising a lot of money for Paul Weyrich. They accuse politicians of raising money. What about these guys? Brother!"
Zipping around D.C. with cellular phone in hand after doing his daily NET show Direct Line, Paul Weyrich gives a pungent review of President Bill Clinton's performance: "It's good for us and bad for the country. I'm confident we couldn't have put NET together if Bush had been president."
Although no engineer, Weyrich has always had a thing for technology, old or new. An old Weyrich friend, Ed Reutz, head of community affairs for the Denver Water Department, remembers when Paul was a Boy Scout from a working-class family back in Racine, Wisconsin, and sought his help in obtaining a merit badge in railroading. Only a few years later, in the late Fifties, Weyrich joined with the slightly older Reutz and a few others in an attempt to save the Chicago, North Shore and Milwaukee electric railway from extinction. Calling themselves the "trolley jollies," they badgered mayors and newspapers in every town along the rail line.
"I was all of fourteen or fifteen years old," Weyrich recalls, "and we were all sitting around the kitchen table in my parents' house. We cooked up a ten-point plan to save the North Shore railroad. And we made the front pages of every paper from Chicago to Milwaukee. I thought, `This is crazy.' But it really taught me how civic groups and interest groups can affect public policy."
Reutz, who has remained a friend over the years, remembers Weyrich as a serious, extremely bright kid with a "sophisticated sense of humor. He took a depth of interest in things. At age twelve he was deep into the mechanics of electric railway cars." In high school Weyrich won a national radio broadcasting award; he later worked for a station in Kenosha, Wisconsin. After stints as a reporter at the Milwaukee Sentinel and with CBS in Milwaukee, Weyrich moved to Denver in 1966, where he became news director at radio station KQXI. Weyrich's "day-in-the-life" campaign pieces brought a call right after the '66 election from one of his profile subjects, the late U.S. Senator Gordon Allott.
"I went to the federal building, expecting to be chewed out," recalls Weyrich. "And instead he hired me as his press secretary." Weyrich, who had no college degree, impressed the Colorado Republican with his encyclopedic knowledge of the Senate and its members, Reutz recalls.