Conservative dominance of talk radio
Nationally, virtually all of the leading political talkshow hosts are right-wingers: Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Oliver North, G. Gordon Liddy, Bill O’Reilly and Michael Reagan, to name just a few. The same goes for local talkshows. One product of the post-Fairness era is the conservative “Hot Talk” format, featuring one right-wing host after another and little else. Disney-owned KSFO in liberal San Francisco is one such station (Extra!, 3–4/95). Some towns have two.
When Edward Monks, a lawyer in Eugene, Oregon, studied the two commercial talk stations in his town (Eugene Register-Guard, 6/30/02), he found “80 hours per week, more than 4,000 hours per year, programmed for Republican and conservative talk shows, without a single second programmed for a Democratic or liberal perspective.” Observing that Eugene (a generally progressive town) was “fairly representative,” Monks concluded: “Political opinions expressed on talk radio are approaching the level of uniformity that would normally be achieved only in a totalitarian society. There is nothing fair, balanced or democratic about it.”
For citizens who value media democracy and the public interest, broadcast regulation of our publicly owned airwaves has reached a low-water mark. In his new book, Crimes Against Nature, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. probes the failure of broadcasters to cover the environment, writing, “The FCC’s pro-industry, anti-regulatory philosophy has effectively ended the right of access to broadcast television by any but the moneyed interests.”
Instead of denying the dominance of conservative talk radio, conservatives try to excuse that dominance by claiming that it is counterbalanced or even overbalanced by liberal dominance in other areas. Columnist George F. Will said, "Conservatives dominate talk radio — though no more thoroughly than liberals dominate Hollywood, academia and much of the mainstream media." But what is "thorough" about liberal domination of these other areas? Will gives no examples of how these other areas are dominated by liberals. Do Hollywood movies and TV shows try to send a liberal message? Are Hollywood entertainers and executives mostly liberals, and if they are, then how do they exert liberal influence? As for the mainstream media, how biased are typical news reports? To conservatives, any negative news report about the Bush administration is evidence of extreme bias. Are the editorials, op-eds, and letters to the editor in newspapers and magazines overwhelmingly liberal? And what is the evidence of liberal bias in academia? I am not talking about moderate biases in these other areas -- I am talking about extreme bias such as exists in talk radio.
I tried to explain this conservative talk show dominance by claiming that the radio stations and commercial sponsors are trying to promote the conservative talk show hosts' pro-business positions on the environment, labor, business regulations, business taxes, the fairness doctrine (yes), etc.. But publicized commercial sponsorship of a very narrow-minded conservative talk show host could backfire by antagonizing many of the sponsor's potential customers. And conservative positions on many controversial issues -- e.g., abortion, separation of church and state, and gay marriage (except in regard to fringe benefits for gay employees) -- are of no use to big business but could antagonize many of a publicized sponsors' potential customers. So I suspect that a lot of commercial sponsorship of radio talk shows is secret -- i.e., not announced on the radio.
Labels: Fairness Doctrine