Right Wing Nut House



Filed under: Fairness Doctrine, Politics — Rick Moran @ 3:05 pm

Dave Neiwart has an interesting piece up at Crooks and Liars today about why some kind of Fairness Doctrine is necessary to “level the playing field” in talk radio where conservatives dominate.

His thesis is not that no one wants to listen to liberals on the radio, it’s that conservatives own the communications companies that program conservative talk and freeze out liberals for ideological reasons. (Bill Press said something similar last week.)

The core problem is ownership: Radio station ownership in the past twenty years has been decidedly conservative. And anyone who’s worked in media can tell you that ownership sets the tone and direction of what you do. After the Fairness Doctrine was removed, these wealthy right-wing owners effectively proved right one of the fears that drove the creation of the Fairness Doctrine in the first place: That the wealthy can and will dominate the political conversation on the public airwaves by simply buying up all the available space. Since the wealthy in this country are overwhelmingly conservative, the end result was not only predictable, it was in fact predicted.

Liberal radio has withered on the vine not for the lack of demand, but for the lack of ownership dedicated to nurturing talent, promoting the product, and creating local outlets as well as national markets. Still, one of the right’s favorite myths about the Fairness Doctrine has been that these stations failed because no one wanted to listen, as in this Fox report (video above):

But Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe said radio programming should be based on what brings in listeners and advertisers.

“I can’t think of anything worse than to have government in a position to dictate the content of information going over public radio,” said Inhofe, a Republican. “The whole idea is that it has to be market driven. We have a lot of progressive or liberal radio shows but nobody listens to them and every time one tries to get on, they are not successful.”

On the contrary, as Bill Press observes:

Unfortunately, what’s happening in Washington reflects what has happened in one city after another across the country. In Miami, Clear Channel recently dumped progressive talk for sports: Clear Channel stations made the same move in San Diego and Cincinnati. Sacramento abandoned progressive talk for gospel music. In fact, according to a study released by the Center for American Progress and Free Press, there are nine hours of conservative talk for every one hour of progressive talk.

In fact, the only reason there’s not more competition on American airwaves is that the handful of companies that own most radio stations do everything they can to block it. In many markets — witness Philadelphia, Boston, Providence and Houston — they join in providing no outlet for progressive talk. In others, as in Washington, they limit it to a weak signal, spend zero dollars on promotion and soon pull the plug.

Companies are given a license to operate public airwaves — free! — in order to make a profit, yes, but also, according to the terms of their FCC license, “to operate in the public interest and to afford reasonable opportunity for the discussion of conflicting views of issues of public importance.” Stations are not operating in the public interest when they offer only conservative talk.

For years, the Fairness Doctrine prevented such abuse by requiring licensed stations to carry a mix of opinion. However, under pressure from conservatives, President Ronald Reagan’s Federal Communications Commission canceled the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, insisting that in a free market, stations would automatically offer a balance in programming.

That experiment has failed. There is no free market in talk radio today, only an exclusive, tightly held, conservative media conspiracy. The few holders of broadcast licenses have made it clear they will not, on their own, serve the general public. Maybe it’s time to bring back the Fairness Doctrine — and bring competition back to talk radio in Washington and elsewhere.

First, it is apparent that liberals don’t get out much - at least enough to talk to a real live businessman. The idea that an executive at Clear Channel or some other giant corporation would deliberately avoid programming that would make money is so stupid as to be beyond belief. Those men and women are in no position to allow their personal politics to color decisions that could cost their company millions of dollars in revenue.

I do not think it necessarily because there is no market for liberal talk. Neiwart makes the point that even in liberal bastions like Seattle and San Francisco, conservative talk reigns. The clue is staring Press and Neiwart right in the face but they are refusing (or are too blinded by their own rigid ideological framwork) to see it.

Radio stations want to make money.

Ooops. There I go, I said it. Replacing programming that wasn’t making any money with programming that will (or at least make more than liberal talk) doesn’t seem to enter into these gentleman’s heads. Jesus, even Press mentioned a “conservative conspiracy.” What a dolt.

At bottom, we are not talking about politics or ideology. We are talking about entertainment - “the boredom killing business” as Cheyevsky’s Arthur Beale so presciently put it. Neiwart and Press do not have one shred of evidence that liberal talk radio is not doing well because it is being stifled by mean, greedy, conservative owners. They are positing a complex rationale for something that has an extremely simple explanation; conservative talk jocks who are successful are entertaining people enough that they tune in for the yucks as well as the rants.

Neiwart dismisses this explanation out of hand - and reveals a towering ignorance about the radio business to boot:

What Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have been telling their audiences is that any talk about the Fairness Doctrine is actually about trying to “silence” them. But of course, no one’s interested in “silencing” anyone on the right: all we’re talking about is creating a level playing field on the public airwaves so that a broad range of viewpoints can be heard instead of just one narrow bandwidth of ideology. This notion, naturally, is what they fear most, since their ideas don’t compete well outside the vacuum they’ve created.

Ideas that don’t “compete well?” This is somewhat contradictory to his thesis in that conservative talk blows away the competition in every single city where they come head to head. And please, we are all grown ups here, Dave. Your panacea of dealing with diversity in ownership is one thing (something I am sure I could support if it were sufficiently free market oriented). But do you really believe your ideological cohorts in politics aren’t extremely interested in getting Rush Limbaugh off the air? Or, more to the point, making it impossible for a radio station to program talk shows it wants to rather than being forced to put some spitting, ranting lefty on for 3 hours after Limbaugh goes off the air? Your playmates on Capitol Hill will honor the first amendment in the breach. They aren’t quite the stickler you are for that “Congress shall make no law” stuff.

I cannot imagine Bill Press being as entertaining as the most dullard conservative talk show host I’ve heard (and I’ve been on the radio enough to have heard plenty). He’s not even entertaining on CNN in the few minutes he has to spout. And that’s the nub of the matter here - entertainment. People turn on radio not to weigh the heavy issues of the day with some sonorous, monotoned stuffed shirt like Bill Press. They want fun! They want mayhem! Or they want someone who will rouse their emotions - something you’ve commented on relentlessly Dave and, to some extent I agree. Bill Press is as entertaining as a ham sandwich. I say anyone who listened to him on the radio was a masochist.

I don’t know what the answer is, as far as getting more entertaining liberal radio hosts. Maybe they should read some joke books. Maybe they should learn how to interview a guest. Hugh Hewitt is a master interviewer and raconteur. He’s a conservative with a national audience but he’s hardly a flame thrower. What he has is empathy for his guests and the skills to bring out the interesting tidbits - a Larry King without the moronic celebrities. What’s her name Maddow is a good interviewer. She will get better. Olbermann is a clown but his secret is that - gasp! - he’s entertaining. I don’t know too many liberals who listen to Michael Savage - a true hater of the right. But I know plenty of liberals who listen to Rush Limbaugh just as I know conservatives who watch Olbermann.

It’s not a conspiracy. It’s show biz. And if Neiwart and Press don’t understand this - if they’re friends on the Hill don’t get it either, then the chances of some kind of fairness doctrine being reimposed are pretty good. This would be a shame because it will kill talk radio thus making the need for it obsolete. And radio will once again get very boring and vanilla.

The Fairness Doctine supporters may as well be advocating the battle cry “Bring back the Top 40 countdown!”


  1. They talk about radio. They never talk about Left-dominated TV and newspapers. That means to me that they want total media domination.
    But maybe I’m paranoid.
    As I recall, conservative talk radio was (and is) a breath of fresh air after the politically-monotonous MSM. That’s why it’s popular.

    Comment by bird dog — 2/15/2009 @ 3:56 pm

  2. Maybe we should have ‘Fairness’ increased at ABC, NBC, CBS, PBS, NY Times, Washington Post, …

    Comment by D — 2/15/2009 @ 4:25 pm

  3. To look at it another way, could you imagine Michael Savage on PBS Sunday morning? Or Limbaugh on NBC prime time? Or O’Reilly on MSNBC?

    I fear Olbies head may explode……

    Comment by Buffoon — 2/15/2009 @ 4:52 pm

  4. I don’t know why talk radio is such a big deal with liberals. Liberals have just every media venue available to them. News media is mostly slanted to the left (exceptions being Fox New, Wall Street Journal, and some others). Can you name a late night comic that has a conservative slant on television? There are plenty of liberal columnists, authors, satirists. Liberals dominate in academia. NPR basically repeats DNC talking points on a regular basis. If I want to know what liberals think about something all I have to do is turn on the television, read a newspaper, talk to a university professor or walk into Barnes and Nobles. I can’t honestly say the same thing about conservative ideas. So just let it go liberals. When it comes the media wars, you guys are winning. Isn’t that enough?

    Comment by Terry — 2/15/2009 @ 6:47 pm

  5. Buffoon,

    You bring up a good point. Today I saw Andrew Sullivan on Chris Matthews Show, which right after Meet the Press. Andrew Sullivan peddled awful smears about Palin and he gets on television. Can you imagine a conservative who peddled reprehensible smears about Obama being allowed to talk on a Sunday news program? I can’t.

    Comment by Terry — 2/15/2009 @ 7:04 pm

  6. If we’re going to use the law to balance out talk radio, who’s going to balance out the more liberal web? The top liberal blogs and sites are to their conservative counterparts as Limbaugh is to Sam Seder.

    It’s probably as much a question of available audience demo as anything else. Who’s listening to talk radio at noon? Not the young, not the actively employed, not the urban, not the up-market. In my car I have a choice of AM, FM, Sirius/XM, iPod (music, podcasts, talking books) and CD. I don’t even stumble across Limbaugh anymore. Limbaugh is for farmers, truck drivers, retired people and poor folks.

    Besides, as a Democrat I’m fine with the idea that the Real Chairman of the GOP is a windbag wheezing away in an archaic medium. No to the fairness doctrine!

    Comment by michael reynolds — 2/15/2009 @ 7:21 pm

  7. What it is, is that Mr. Obama can’t stand criticism. He just can’t. You can tell the way he brings up Hannity and Rush, oh, in an off-handed way, with a smile, as if it’s an afterthought, hadn’t really thought about it, you know.

    But our young leader is a narcissist, who wants only to hear himself talk on the airwaves, he wants love, craves love. And he can’t stand people pointing out his mistakes. He wants not to hear criticism anymore.

    Obama is all about the youth, and young people don’t listen to talk radio. They plug their Ipods in the dash. Obama is aware of that. So this focus on “fairness”, it’s just to stifle criticism, where-ever it is found. Because it gets under the President’s skin and itches like a bad rash.

    Comment by sara in va — 2/15/2009 @ 7:54 pm

  8. I had never heard of Rush Limbaugh until my liberal brother began to trash him via email to me daily back in 1998. Had no clue what my brother was talking about. Then we decided to spend three years back in the US so I could finish a masters degree to teach English. After the first year, we moved to Tulsa to start the program. I had to drive about 50 miles every day. It was the exact same time as Rush was on the air. As I listened to him, it occurred to me that he was very entertaining. He was always polite to his liberal listeners and never cut them off. Treated them with kid gloves and was natural and realistic. Loved Rush even though I realized he was an entertainer and not really a “political pundit.”

    Now I occasionally listen to talk radio over the internet. The progressive programs are terrible. These people are nasty, self-asserting cretans. All one has to do is to listen to the guy that used to be with Hannity on Fox. If he disagrees with the caller, he immediately cuts him or her off. Conservatives who call in to any of these programs are treated with disrespect and criticism. Nasty people, these liberal talk show hosts.

    That is the reason they flunk. They are intolerant, bigoted and really just not nice people. They will lose all the time. The only chance they have is to legislate their way onto the airways. Even liberals do not listen to them because they just repeat the same ugliness and hate-filled propaganda or do the Obama Messiah Song.

    Rush and even Hannity, are both fun and entertaining. Heck, it is even funny to listen to Ann Coulter when she gets with a conservative talk show host. They all seem not to take themselves so seriously as do their counterparts.

    “Talent on loan from God.” How funny is that!!

    Comment by Cecil — 2/15/2009 @ 7:59 pm

  9. Privately owned radio stations should be able to air whatever programing that the market dictates will be most profitable. Therefore the Fairness Doctrine has no place being reinstated on private companies. The only exception that I can think of is government owned radio stations such as the Armed Forces radio stations. Since our tax dollars pay for the funding of what our troops listen too, a case could be made for implementing the Fairness Doctrine on such media outlets.

    Comment by Surabaya Stew — 2/15/2009 @ 8:23 pm

  10. Does Bill Press just want equal ideological and factual representation from all effective cultural distributors? Because if you consider the campaign contributions and the voting records of Hollywood execs and actors, tv writers, network execs, and actors, newspaper staff and editorial rooms, and university professors-a fairness doctrine requires adding staff and ownership to all those groups-to balance out the 179 degree tilt they have now.

    Comment by Peter — 2/15/2009 @ 10:05 pm

  11. An Elephant in the Room

    Sure the NYT has some liberals writing for them, but what about:

    BILL KRISTOL (recently not renewed over errors in his columns)

    These guys are in every week too.

    Comment by bsjones — 2/15/2009 @ 10:57 pm

  12. “The idea that an executive at Clear Channel or some other giant corporation would deliberately avoid programming that would make money is so stupid as to be beyond belief. Those men and women are in no position to allow their personal politics to color decisions that could cost their company millions of dollars in revenue.”

    Rick, your premise to this argument is flawed. Wouldn’t the same apply to the New York Times?

    Comment by currently — 2/16/2009 @ 12:26 am

  13. This is pure demand and supply. If enough people demand it and enough advertisers are willing to associate themselves with the programming then there is no issue at all. Unless someone wants the government to start off a left-leaning radio network.


    Comment by VK — 2/16/2009 @ 5:26 am

  14. “these wealthy right-wing owners ”

    -Right. That’s why 7 out of ten of the wealthiest members of congress are democrats. 13 of the top twenty wealthiest members of congress are democrats. We’re talking tens of millions of dollars here too. Big money. Obama and his disciples raised the largest amount of money in American history during his campaign.

    With all this Democratic money floating around, then there’s plenty of cash to start up their own radio empire. The sad fact is that no one wants to listen to nonsense.

    This “conservative media conspiracy” is more nonsense. They have: NBC, CBS, ABC and most of the print media in America. The fact that many of these are failing only shows how unpopular their message is. These people destroy everything they touch.

    And if I hear the word “progressive” applied to these creeps one more time, I think I’ll puke. Since when is burdening our grandchildren with tons of national debt and a lower standard of living “progressive” ?

    These are the worlds most hypocritical tantrum throwing cry babies hard at work doing what they do best: rewarding failure and punishing success. Can’t imagine why America is in such dire straits……

    Comment by DaveinPhoenix — 2/16/2009 @ 7:11 am

  15. And one more thing: I want to know why in hell it took our national news media 5 months to report the fact that on September 11, 2008 there was a $550 BILLION run on electronic money market accounts in the U.S.

    Why ? This news isn’t conservative or democrat. Doesn’t favor one party over the other. It’s just really big news. I’m just a regular working guy, so why did it take all of this time to report this huge news to me ? These idiots can’t even report important news anymore. Too busy attacking Sarah Palin’s family, Rush Limbaugh or others who are successful.

    When attacking conservative success becomes more important than reporting the news, there’s only one decent description left for these “progressives”. Evil.

    Comment by DaveinPhoenix — 2/16/2009 @ 7:30 am

  16. It’s the “Equalization of Opportunity Act”, right out of Atlas Shrugged. Sorry, I can’t resist pointing out the amazing similarities.

    Comment by lionheart — 2/16/2009 @ 11:45 am

  17. OK, if we go the Fairness route can we get some guarantees regarding some Hollywood movies that at least have a CENTRIST viewpoint (let alone a right of center one). I am soooooo tired of evil corporations, conspiring right wing politicians and child lusting, judgmental clergy.

    And while we’re at it, how about a few TV comedians that delivery humor from the right side of the spectrum. I mean, is South Park the best we can do. Its funny and all but its a cartoon! And I’m sorry but Dennis Miller doesn’t do it (or at least get him off O’Reilly).

    As for the radio airwaves. We still get some left of center talk in Phoenix. Not particularly good but hey, I think much of the right wing radio talk is crap, too!

    Comment by Chris — 2/16/2009 @ 12:20 pm

  18. Press’ “argument”, such that it is, is an outgrowth of the ‘liberal media myth’ mainstreamed by Eric Alterman…that the MSM isn’t liberal, because it is owned by big corporations and, after all, everyone knows that big corporations are lackeys of the monied right wing. Liberal talk has failed not because there is no market for it, but that liberals get their fill simply watching the networks, CNN and MSNBC, and reading the NYT, WaPost, LAT, et. al. I mean really, how much of that can even the most dedicated Huffposter stomach in 24 hours?

    Although Press’ justification is nonsense, the danger is real. What conservatives should do is to prepare for the worst…by being ready to flood the FCC with complaints about the likes of NPR, Olbermann, Brian Williams and The View. Turnabout is fair play, and I suspect that there are no small numbers of liberals who are as fearful of the return of the Fairness Doctrine as there are conservatives.

    Comment by Bob C — 2/17/2009 @ 8:20 am

  19. I say we give the left every other half hour, and spend the alternating ones making fun of them!

    Comment by LMcD — 2/17/2009 @ 11:04 am

  20. Why are the proponents of the FD ignoring its potential to censor every media outlet they control? Will the rejiggered FD apply ONLY to radio?

    I’m tellin’ ya, if conservatives and Republicans let “progressives” know that we’re anxious to vigorously attack liberal media, naming names (CBS, CNN, NBC, ABC, NYT, etc.), they might let this die a quiet death (they won’t “change their mind,” that would be admitting they were wrong).

    I honestly believe “progressives” are too arrogant to have a clue that the FD can work against them. It’s our responsiblity to “educate” them that, if passed, it WILL be used against them at every opportunity. Change the entire dialog on the FD from “You’re attacking Rush” to “We will attack .”

    Comment by DoorHold — 2/17/2009 @ 2:08 pm

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