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The media portrayed Tom Daschle’s little tirade against talk radio last week as a symbol of his frustration. More than an indication of frustration, Daschle’s rant was a warning shot – a statement of intent and resolve. Talk radio is dangerous to the left, and talk radio must be dealt with.
During any given month talk radio is either the first or second most popular radio format. When Shania Twain comes out with a new CD, the minds of normal men slip from politics and talk radio slips to second. When America is threatened, talk zooms to number one. What’s more, talk-radio listeners are more likely than listeners to any other format to actually get out there and cast a vote when the polls open. Boiled down, this means that talk radio reaches more active voters than any other radio format.
Yes, it’s true. The preponderance of the top talk show hosts in this country are decidedly conservative in their outlook. Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, two of the best issues-oriented hosts, both generally follow the Republican line step for step. This Mr. Daschle views as a problem. On the other hand, the anchors for the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts and the editorial page editors of the nation’s largest newspapers are steadfast Democrat supporters. The New York Times, for instance, has never in modern history endorsed a Republican candidate for president. Mr. Daschle does not view this as a problem.
No matter how much leftists would like to think so, talk radio doesn’t skew to the right because of any grand corporate conspiracy. Talk radio is basically conservative because, in city after city, and in ratings period after ratings period, the people who listen to radio have shown that this is what they want to hear. Surveys show that talk-radio listeners are usually better educated and more successful than radio listeners in general. It’s hard to sell these people a political philosophy based on legalized plunder and anti-individualism, so liberal hosts generally fail to bring in the listeners.
Most talk-show hosts won’t admit this, so I’ll go ahead and tell you: Talk-show hosts have one job, and one job only. They are there to attract listeners to a particular radio station so that the station can play commercials for them. The more people who are listening to those commercials, the more the station can charge for them. The owners of those stations, usually shareholders, want to see a nice return for their investments. There are some talk-show hosts, Tom Leykis comes to mind, who are so wildly entertaining that the audience will tune in, even if it means they have to listen to the failed ideas of the left. These hosts are exceptions, not the rule.
Democrats aren’t interested, however, in this lesson in radio economics. If they can’t dominate talk radio, they just want it to go away. If you think that freedom of expression means something to liberals, take a look at the speech codes in those bastions of liberalism, our colleges and universities. A liberal believes that you should only be free to express ideas that aren’t offensive to liberals. Pointing out how liberal ideas fail almost universally seems to be very offensive to liberals. Go figure.
Liberals have two basic tactics in mind for the destruction of talk radio. One, a resurrection of the “Fairness Doctrine” requires legislative control. If Democrats were able to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine, talk stations would have to hire staff who would listen to all ideas presented on those stations by conservative hosts. Then they would have to seek someone with an opposing viewpoint and give them an equal period of time to present their case. This means added expense and lost listeners. At that point, it’s just easier to pull out the country CDs, That’s fine with the left … mission accomplished.
Democrats, though, are experiencing a period of legislative impotence, and the nearest dose of electoral Viagra is two years away. A revival of the Fairness Doctrine, then, is not in the cards. So it’s on to Plan B, that being the so-called Campaign Finance Reform Act.
Sometime before the 2004, presidential-election Democrats will go to court in an attempt to have most radio talk shows – Limbaugh included – declared to be campaign commercials for Republican candidates which the Republican Party paid for with soft money; that soft money being the money that corporate interests pay to advertise on these programs. The Democrats will ask the court to rule that talk-show hosts shall be forbidden from making statements that endorse the positions of Republican candidates or the Republican Party during the last month before an election.
Our one hope? Supreme Court Justices who actually believe in our Constitution.
Sorry, Tom. It would seem that we’re going to be around for a while. Any time you want to come on the air and state your case … the door is certainly open.