As many of you know, Peter Funt discussed in a recent column the relative success of conservative versus liberal talk radio in reaching large audiences. You can read Peter’s piece here: http://www.montereyherald.com/opinion/ci_17095168?source=rss. The Herald published my response today and I am very grateful for that. You can read it here: www.montereyherald.com/opinion/ci_17135668. Because the Herald edited slightly my original submission, I am posting it here.
Until I read Peter Funt’s column in Friday’s Herald, I was pretty confident that there really is no such thing as bad publicity, now I’m not so sure. Peter, who is a friend, and has made valuable contributions to my radio show on KRXA, riffed on a recent appearance to explain in print the vaster audience of conservative television and radio hosts relative to their liberal counterparts. While I share some of Peter’s antipathy towards television hosts Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann and agree that conservative listeners are less discerning than liberal ones, he ignores the critical systemic advantage that right-wing hosts have based on conservative ownership and management of most media outlets and he fails to justify his broad swipe at progressive radio.
Starting with our points of agreement, Peter is absolutely right that progressive television and radio hosts spend far too much time and energy debunking the dangerous nonsense in which right-wing hosts traffic. It is now or certainly should be apparent that Limbaugh, Beck, et al., are sociopaths lacking any common decency and with a complete disregard for the truth. Like Peter, I wish some of our hosts on KRXA would stop feeling the need to keep proving this. The real question isn’t whether or why they lie but why a significant cohort of Americans choose to believe them. That is a question that I regularly pose on my show.
I also agree that some of the right-wing hosts are entertaining. They use props. They mock the sick, the less fortunate, people of different races and sexual proclivities. For people whose lives may not be going well, such hosts paradoxically provide both a welcome dose of schadenfreude and legitimize their audiences’ sense of victimization by “elites.”
But Peter refuses to acknowledge that conservative hosts have a huge house advantage. The number of radio station owners has shrunk dramatically over the past 20 years with Clear Channel – also a television station owner – the largest by far. Its founder Lowry Mays is a hard right conservative. Another big player is Viacom/CBS whose CEO Sumner Redstone famously said in 2000 that although he had always been a Democrat, Republicans were better for Viacom and since Viacom was his life he was supporting George Bush for President. Conservative politicians have generally been more congenial to media consolidation than liberals and because media owners tend to be extremely wealthy, they are very receptive to the anti-income and estate tax message that all conservative hosts routinely send. For these reasons, media owners, who ultimately decide what you hear on radio and see on television, favor conservative hosts regardless of ratings.
Finally, Peter simply does not justify his snide dismissal of liberal radio as “better for those behind the microphone than for those expected to sit and listen.” He does not describe any radio shows at all. He ignores the fact that far from expecting our listeners to sit and listen we encourage them to call and challenge us. Most importantly, Peter ignores the excitement and even joyful astonishment that so many KRXA listeners express at finally finding a media outlet that addresses in a forthright and honest manner our nation’s very significant challenges.