All talked out

By JAY AMBROSE

When it began broadcasting back in 2004, Air America was supposed to be the great leftist hope, the radio network whose hosts would floor the dominating conservatives on political talk shows, especially Rush Limbaugh, the undisputed champion of the genre.


But things went from bad to worse as the network received low ratings in too few markets and was involved in a scandal because of borrowing money from a nonprofit organization. Lately, there have been rumors that it will soon declare bankruptcy. Those reports have been denied, though the network’s chief on-air personality, comedian Al Franken, concedes that cash-flow problems have kept him from being paid.

Having seemingly failed to knock Limbaugh out in the free market, where, oh where will the liberals turn? We already have the answer. If Democrats win control of Congress, the plan of some is to legislate radio time for liberals through reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine and thereby, in all likelihood, silencing Limbaugh and conservative friends. In other words, if speech gets too free to make you happy, bring your heel squarely, forcefully, unhesitatingly down on its head.

Let’s have some history here.

The Fairness Doctrine first went formally into effect in 1949 as a regulation of the Federal Communications Commission. The theory was that the limited airwaves belonged to the public and should be used to serve the public interest. The rule essentially said that stations had to provide opportunities for other sides to be heard if someone said something politically controversial on TV or radio, and that fines could be imposed and licenses yanked if the stations didn’t do it. The consequence, if not a total avoidance of strongly voiced views, was timidity in the face of hazards, a quietude strikingly at variance with this sprawling continental democracy of ours.

Then came the presidency of Ronald Reagan, with its understanding of how governmental controls so often diminish us and its trust in a free people to find their way without the instructions of know-it-all bureaucrats. In the ’80s, the administration dropped the regulation along with many others, and guess what? Talk radio began to flower. Other forces were at work, but there was no mistaking the effect of being free at last. Talk shows came to constitute something like one-fifth of all AM radio in less than a decade, after being something like 5 percent before the Fairness Doctrine was replaced by the principles inscribed in the First Amendment.

You would think believers in our democracy would rejoice in the burst of debate, information, questioning, preaching and pleading on public issues, but many liberals didn’t.

A chief reason was that the most popular hosts of these shows were conservatives. There is no major mystery why that’s the case. Millions of Americans happen to be conservative in at least some roughhewn way, and when they looked at the major TV networks and the most widely circulated newspapers and magazines, they didn’t see much of their point of view reflected. In talk radio, they gained a voice, frequently a rambunctious one that sometimes skipped over the niceties of the issues, but a voice that was subject to correction in the marketplace of ideas, where the false will generally get found out. That’s especially true in an era of the Internet, cable TV, satellite radio and other outlets that provide the public with a wider variety of news and opinion than available at any previous time in the history of humanity.

The conservative cause was also helped by personalities such as Limbaugh, who comes by his 15 million listeners a week not through accident, but because of endless energy, extraordinary alertness, quickness of mind and, most of all, a great, good humor and wit that the pompous among us miss and the leftist ideologues among us despise. He is funnier than Franken, and seriously, folks, Franken is not to be taken seriously on any level, least of all in his simplistic political formulations. The public isn’t having any on radio, at least not in sufficient numbers to make Air America a likely success, and so here come the liberals in Congress to fix things.

Democratic members of the House _ encouraged by any number of outspoken Democrats on the sidelines _ have already introduced legislation that would restore the Fairness Doctrine in such a way that radio stations carrying Limbaugh at great financial advantage would have to carry someone like Franken for an equal length of time at what would almost certainly be a great financial disadvantage. Hey, the stations might decide, let’s go with rock music _ or whatever _ because it’s easier and more profitable. If Democrats come to control Congress this fall, this anti-speech legislation could have a good chance of enactment, something to keep in mind when you enter a voting booth.

(Jay Ambrose, formerly Washington director of editorial policy for Scripps Howard newspapers and the editor of dailies in El Paso, Texas, and Denver, is a columnist living in Colorado. He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com.)

25 Responses to "All talked out"

  1. Rice Farmer  September 17, 2006 at 2:03 am

    Although the writer is dead wrong about Limbaugh (whose popularity symbolizes the childishness and ignorance of his audience), this progressive admits that Air America is a flop. I too had high hopes, but was quickly disillusioned. Whatever fate befalls AA, it is well deserved.

    So, what happened? AA is a microcosm of America’s liberal mainstream, which quite simply practices self-censorship. For example, you cannot criticize Israeli policies or Zionism without being called an “anti-Semite.” And you cannot discuss alternative theories about 9/11 without being called a nutcase (same for this site, BTW). This policy of self-censorship recently brought about the firing of Mike Malloy, who was outspoken about both these issues. I personally did not agree with everything Malloy had to say, but he should be allowed to say it.

    Another serious problem is that much of the debate on AA is simply partisan. Does being liberal mean you have to support the Democratic Party candidate no matter how bad he or she is? Listening to AA, you sure would think so.

    Conservative broadcasters like Limbaugh and O’Reilly boldly lie. So why can’t liberals boldly tell the truth? Instead they censor themselves! All I can say is, AA deserves to die.

  2. Shag  September 17, 2006 at 2:43 am

    It always amazes me that reichwings follow the lead of someone like the great “moralst” Limbaugh. He’s been married three times, busted for drugs and didn’t take responsibility for it. Busted for Viagra, though not married, and lies and slants reality all the time.
    Where’s the beef?

  3. JPC  September 17, 2006 at 4:26 am

    The fairness doctrine simply makes sure the political debate isn’t controlled by the wealthest entity .

  4. Concrete man  September 17, 2006 at 5:10 am

    Learn to love Big Brother.

  5. bigveg  September 17, 2006 at 9:44 am

    the right wing, as represented by Republican Party leaders and media personalities, are shameless liars. I don’t know how much they truly believe of their own pollution, but they must know, at some level, that they consistently distort, lie and slant. They seem to be motivated, in large part, by the fantasy that white America, particularly white, Christian men, are victims. I am a 48 year old white, Protestant man with an Ivy League education and a law degree. I have gone to school with and socialized with very wealthy people over the years. I’ve worked with lots of middle class, lower middle class, poor, and dirt poor people for the past 21 years. I’ve been in their homes, at their workplaces, and seen people from these various social groups in other environments as well. Let me tell you right wing cry babies something: white Christian men don’t have any business complaining about their lot.
    As for Air America and its failure, all I can say is: so what? How many right wing stations have been bankrolled, subsidized, etc. by plutocrats, robber barons or trust fund babies? They haven’t made it on their own. Like George Bush, they’ve been bailed out by rich people who have the worst of motives: amass as much power as possible by any means; lie about your methods; buy, rent or subsidize any politicians and/or their kids; and finally, change the rules if you can, smear your opponents, and play on people’s worst instincts and fears.

  6. Rice Farmer  September 17, 2006 at 11:25 am

    Spot-on comment by bigveg. Many of these people on the liberal side of the spectrum also seem to be completely out of touch with those living on the other side of the tracks. During the 2004 election campaign I heard Randi Rhodes preaching to listeners about how America was going to be so much better if we voted for John Kerry! Excuse me? Kerry is just another Skull & Bones rich boy like George Bush. What do elites like this know about the lives of people who wonder where their next meal is coming from?

  7. RG  September 18, 2006 at 4:13 pm

    The Fairness Doctrine might not have as big an impact as one might believe at first glance. If radio stations were to follow the example of Fox News (the fair and unbiased news station), they could easily fulfill the requirements of the Fairness Doctrine while simultaneously maintaining a conservative bias.

  8. kiki  September 18, 2006 at 4:48 pm

    After having suffered through several of his columns, I have come to the conclusion that Jay Ambrose is a complete idiot.

    I don’t come to CHB to read drivel like this. If you feel you must adopt the laughable Faux News tagline of “fair and balanced”, can’t you find a right-wing columnist with a little more intelligence than Ambrose?

    Ah well, looks like I just answered my own question.

  9. Doubtom  September 18, 2006 at 7:07 pm

    Sometimes I think that CHB provides material like this crap just to get the liberals’ blood boiling thereby assuring a lively discussion as well as good attendance and bottom lines.

    Grow up and show some standards; no one needs some half-baked drivel about how Limbaugh got to be so famous. Most of the people who come to this site know very well how money speaks and who has it.

  10. Douglaslee  September 18, 2006 at 9:19 pm

    Ambrose is using the same election-by-fear republican playbook, “horrors”…fairness and truth, when will it end? Your kids will pay the price, like those children of the ’50s,[you know how they turned out] then ’60s and the truth of VietNam, or the ’70’s and the truth of Watergate, why if fairness had been in the ’80s Iran Contra would’ve kept Reagan from getting Mt Rushmored, then what? The market will not suffer with fairness, less than 5 min. of facts is all that’s needed to pop Limbaugh’s balloon of lies. At the end of each show it might even get a huge market, like “Page 2″ did for Paul Harvey.

  11. mnjerry  September 18, 2006 at 11:15 pm

    A good bit of the Limbaugh success was based on the fact that he was given an opportunity to build a following by giving the program time away. That led to his increasing cadre of “ditto heads” and allowed him to sell an increasing portion of his commercial allotment of air time to those who support the “conservative” cause.

    How many people here happen to remember “Spatula City” commercials? That was much better than dead-air time and illustrates my point.

    If some promotive support money were to flow to Air America to fund such a free show time for an increasing number of independent stations, the political message time would equalize soon enough, IMO.

  12. JonOxman  September 19, 2006 at 12:42 am

    One aspect of the Fairness Doctrine was limitations on media ownership, nationally as well as locally. And one result was more stations had news staffs which reported independently as well as fairly. Lifting those limitations allowed ranters like O’reilly and liars like Limbaugh and other of like ilk to stench up the airwaves.

  13. Glenn  September 19, 2006 at 5:05 am

    The mainstream corporate media is not liberal but corporate and it doesn’t represent the average people but serves the interests of corporate elites.
    They do not give real answers to the problems facing Americans. It gives us wishy washy personalties that were not really liberal but play liberals on TV and give weak vague double talk answers to real problems.
    Conservative talk show hosts gave tough talk and easy simple answers to tough complicated problems. The answers were not real answers and also only serve the interests of the corporate elite’s but sound like quick and easy solutions.
    They also use anger to get points across.
    The real progressive voices were purged or shut out all together.
    I don’t listen to Air America but I do listen to Pacifica radio where they have real people give real answers to real problems.

  14. Mary  September 19, 2006 at 8:03 am

    Remind me not to read THIS author again.

  15. CB  September 19, 2006 at 5:16 pm

    I love Air America and where I live it is carried by conservative Clear Channel. They tell me it is not going off.

    I hope it continues because it has saved my sanity.

  16. Jay Ambrose  December 27, 2006 at 6:12 pm

    Boy, if you ever wanted proof that the left doesn’t believe in free speech, here it is above. Thanks, lefties.

    Jay Ambrose

  17. linda g  September 16, 2006 at 4:39 pm

    The Fairness Doctrine did not repress discussion. It eliminated outright lies and half truths. Speakers were more apt to back up their “side” with facts instead of spin. I see this as a winning scenario for truth and fact based information dispersion. The demise of the Fairness Doctrine has ushered in the era of biased news reporting and gray area entertainment newsiness. For citizens searching for the news without editorializing, this policy was a bonafided help! Name calling and fear mongering was absent…it was just the boring old facts!

  18. PW  September 16, 2006 at 4:43 pm

    You’re ignoring the influence and support of conservative media corporations which more than equals the number and power off “rough-hewn” conservative listeners. Come to that, most surveys show a large majority of Americans to be social and cultural liberals. No one can deny Limbaugh’s popularity — he’s a clever and lively entertainer. But he couldn’t have done what he’s done without the support of well-oiled rightwing machinery. From Scaife to the boardrooms of media conglomerates, Limbaugh’s had a golden crutch throughout his endless drug and marital and other problems — the kind of sleaze real conservatives find intolerable.

    The Fairness Doctrine isn’t some leftist piece of social engineering. Aside from anything else, it reflects the basic reality that the public owns the airwaves, and well over half the public — not to mention the law — wants it to stay that way.

  19. LoudPatriot  September 16, 2006 at 5:20 pm

    What a crock! Most americans do believe – “You would think believers in our democracy would rejoice in the burst of debate, information, questioning, preaching and pleading on public issues, but many liberals didn’t.”

    You been listenin’ to Rush and Bill to much.

    The issue is that almost all media in this country is owned by 6 conservative companies that preach the rightwing fascist crap continually. There is no dissenting viewpoints just the propoganda of the reich.

    fas·cism
    1 often capitalized : a political philosophy, movement, or regime (as that of the Fascisti) that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition
    2 : a tendency toward or actual exercise of strong autocratic or dictatorial control

    And by the way there are a lot of radio shows out there that are “liberal” that are doing great. Thom Hartman and Ed Shults are two that come to mind.

    Heil Bush

  20. considered  September 16, 2006 at 5:24 pm

    My understanding is it took years of subsidized broadcasting for Fox News to turn a profit. They had the funding to ride out the start-up.

    While I’m not a big fan of the Air America personalities that spend more time talking about how awful the right is than they do reporting on substance and offerring background, I am a big fan of the effort overall. When people try to tell me the media is liberal, I tell them it’s obvious they’ve never listened to real liberal media. Air America gives something to point to so people can see how not liberal the networks are.

    If you haven’t heard Thom Hartmann, whom they syndicate, check him out. He provides perspective I haven’t heard elsewhere.

    I hope Air America can ride their financial difficulties out.

  21. LoudPatriot  September 16, 2006 at 5:25 pm

    Ooops. Meant to say most Americans agree with “debate, information, questioning, preaching and pleading on public issues,”

    Heil Bush

  22. Elaine Pile  September 16, 2006 at 6:25 pm

    Rush Limbaugh is so noted for his Republican rant and slant that few take him seriously except for those hungry to hear good news about a president who is so out of touch with the American people.

  23. DaveR  September 16, 2006 at 6:43 pm

    This article confirms that this isn’t some radical lefty website!! They will even carry a slanted rightwing take on Air America !!

  24. Lysistrata  September 16, 2006 at 8:32 pm

    Free market is not equal free speech, it is the amount of money equals amount of speech.
    Anyone who depends on a dopehead like Limbaugh for information must have very low standards and nerves of steel to listen for even a few minutes. What is the IQ of his audience?

  25. Lardy  September 17, 2006 at 12:08 am

    [b]FOX Network and USA Today took years to become profitable. AAR will be around despite (and to spite) those who are offended by the concept of competition in the political arena. I love the fact that their very existence annoys 30% of the population who still think Saddam ordered 911 and could strike with nuclear tipped missles within 45 minutes. Mega Dittoes![/b]

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