There have been several studies (e.g. this one) over the last few years that have shown that Fox News viewers are not just more misinformed than consumers of other news outlets; they are more misinformed than people who watch no news programming at all. In other words, if you watch Fox News, you are going to be misled and you will form opinions based on lies. This fact alone should lead civic-minded citizens to worry about the negative impact of right-wing news organizations, including Clear Channel’s Premiere Radio Networks. It’s one thing, after all, to disseminate news with a political perspective. It’s quite another to simply replace news with completely nonfactual information and perspectives. The former is normal political debate; the latter is simple disinformation. It’s this making-people-stupid element of the Mighty Right-Wing Wurlitzer that makes it an appropriate target for more than just Democrats, but concerned and responsible citizens of all stripes.
Having said that, the battle with Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, and the rest of the stable of right-wing media/entertainment figures is part of a larger legitimate ideological war. To understand it, you must first understand that the right-wing has been waging an unforgiving and unrelenting war on the rest of us.
You might consider the attacks on ACORN to have been racist. And there was a major racist component. But the reason ACORN was attacked was not primarily because they registered a lot of African-Americans to vote. It was because African-Americans vote almost uniformly against Republicans.
Likewise, the recent attacks on public-service unions in states like Wisconsin and Ohio are not aimed at teachers, police officers, firefighters, and bureaucrats because of who they are, but because of whom they tend to support politically.
This is also true for the attacks on private sector trade unions in places like Indiana. You can say the same about the coordinated efforts to marginalize MoveOn.org and Media Matters for America. The right is attacking any and all organizations that work against them politically. This even informs their work against Planned Parenthood.
For the most part, the Democrats do not reciprocate these tactics. There is no sustained and coordinated effort to delegitimize The Cato Institute or the Heritage Foundation or megachurch registration drives or the Weekly Standard and the National Review. We aren’t going after racial or religious majorities, nor are we attacking the U.S. Chamber of Commerce or the National Rifle Association. We aren’t trying to defund right-wing organizations or use the budget process to eliminate their jobs or benefits.
The fact that the left has seized on Rush Limbaugh’s outrageous behavior recently to go after all right-wing radio outlets is something new. It’s legitimate on its own terms. What Limbaugh did was despicable even by his own low standards. But it’s also an example of the liberals finally waking up and realizing that two can play at this game.
But some in the talk business suggest things are different now.
For one thing, the Limbaugh flap has demonstrated anew how individuals and interest groups, such as the liberal Media Matters for America, can gin up and sustain outrage via social media (in Limbaugh’s case, President Obama’s consoling phone call to Fluke probably helped fan public revulsion, too). The group waged a sustained campaign targeting Glenn Beck’s advertisers that drove many off Beck’s highly rated Fox News program and ultimately ended Beck’s association with the cable network. Similar campaigns drove Don Imus and Dr. Laura Schlessinger from the air after they made inflammatory comments.
For another, some see the radio industry as uniquely vulnerable to sustained pressure. A long period of consolidation has left industry giants such as Clear Channel with a vast portfolio of stations but also deeply in debt, making them extra sensitive to anything that might disrupt their revenue (for the record, Premiere has issued a statement generally supportive of Limbaugh).
And it is working:
The trade publication Radio-info.com reported last week that Premiere has circulated to station managers a list of 98 blue-chip advertisers that had requested their commercials not air during programs “that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial” or are “likely to stir negative sentiments from a very small percentage of the listening public.” The programs include not just Limbaugh’s but those hosted by many of the leading conservative talkers on the air: Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, Glenn Beck and Michael Savage.
Such edicts indicate that “all of talk radio, or all of conservative talk radio, is being tarred” in the reaction to Limbaugh, said Michael Harrison, the publisher of Talkers magazine, which covers the talk-show business.
Again, this is happening for a legitimate reason. Promulgating hate and misinformation is bad for the country regardless of who is doing it. But it is also tit-for-tat. What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. For a long time, the right attacked us and we just wondered what was going on. Now we’ve taken the attitude that if you attack us where it hurts, we’ll attack you where it hurts, too.
It’s instructive that Bill Maher doesn’t see this fight clearly. He thinks it’s partisans against entertainers’ right to be controversial. But he didn’t lose his job with ABC Television for being controversial. He lost it because he said something the right didn’t like.