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Travis Rowley: In Defense of Talk Radio

Friday, January 21, 2011


Governor Lincoln Chafee doesn’t comprehend the true nature or evolution of talk-radio. And a recent Providence Journal editorial (1.18.11), seemingly venting years of pent-up frustration and jealousy of the conservative media, exhibited equal ignorance concerning the airwaves. Snubbing its nose, the Projo mocked, “We wouldn’t call many talk-show hosts these days members of the ‘news media.’” “You don’t always learn much from them,” the Projo added.

Studies suggest otherwise. Contact with talk radio has proven to be connected to political wisdom. In 2002, political scientist Stephen Bennett reported, “Several studies have linked exposure to talk radio and political information levels…These studies typically found that exposure to political talk radio shows resonates with knowledge about public affairs. Based on these studies, one would hypothesize a statistically significant, positive relationship between listening to talk radio shows and political knowledge.”

After the Arizona shooting, joining a chorus of progressives nationwide, Governor Chafee used the massacre to malign the entire talk-radio world, appealing to advertisers to pull their ads in order to “shut them down.”

By the way, in addition to legalizing gay marriage and recruiting more illegal aliens to the State, calling for the total decimation of an entire industry is now being officially recognized as Chafee’s third leg to his economic recovery plan.

Chafee shares an opinion that has been expressed by many on the political Left, that conservative talk-show hosts don’t even believe what they espouse, but are mere “ratings-driven” entertainers. Their “divisive” and “hate-filled” rants serve to “rile up” the impressionable audience and keep them tuned in. The hosts are crafty, and the listeners are dumb.
The Projo explained, “Most of these hosts are far more motivated by ratings (and money) than any political principle.” The Governor agrees: “My view is that some of these people don’t even believe what they are saying, but they are making money off it.”

Chafee is spot on. I mean, who doesn’t think that gay marriage and rampant illegal immigration will be a boon to the Rhode Island economy? These people must be faking it.

Chafee’s perspective reflects the Left’s most common miscalculation when it comes to talk radio. As absurd as it is to conclude that thousands of hosts nationwide are feigning their passion for politics, the point is wholly irrelevant. After all, even if the hosts are pretending, the listeners are not.

And it’s all about the listeners. Just like most of the news media, yes, talk radio is a business that is concerned with ratings and profits. But talk radio wasn’t born conservative. And it wasn’t unfairly bestowed upon the American Right. Nor has there ever been a conspiracy to lock the liberals out. As Chafee and the Projo have made clear, it’s “profit-driven.” And the Left has never been able to compete.

Liberals are not averse to the radio industry. Plenty of them have tried to break into the broadcasting world, only to be continuously outmatched by conservative hosts in terms of the volume of show subscribers. The latest example was Air America, a fabricated talk radio project launched by the Left in 2004 that was intended to neutralize right-wing hosts.

Operating from the same false premise as Chafee, the progressives initially financing Air America believed their campaign would also amass large audiences by way of simply being on the air. After all, conservatives surely don’t have a monopoly on “divisive rhetoric” or on the ability to entertain. There are plenty of entertaining liberals. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, along with comedians Janeane Garofalo and Al Franken, were among the many talented hosts commissioned by the Air America project. And, personally, I laugh every time I see a Democrat.

Yet, Air America soon went bankrupt, and is now off the air.

Liberalism is the common denominator shared by unsuccessful talk-radio personalities. Left-wing hosts have failed miserably at trying to appeal to average Americans inside talk-radio’s open market.

The People – the marketplace – have chosen the content they desire. Conservatives have won the battle of ideas, so liberals are now trying to alter the rules by passing regulatory legislation (see: Fairness Doctrine), and by “shut[ting] them down” altogether.


Despite the Left’s failure to achieve an audience, conservative hosts do their best to present the liberal perspective. In order to exhibit a political contrast, conservative talk radio frequently focuses on the most recent assertions made by progressives and Democrats – actually reading aloud the work of left-wing columnists, playing audio from other news sources, and inviting liberal guests into the studios. And, more often than not, hosts usher their dissenters to the head of the call-lines, allowing them to recite the latest editorial from the Providence Phoenix.

Yes, annoying. But the intellectual conflict that ensues kindles the mind and sparks the debate. And the debate helps to provide the entertainment, the ratings, and the profits.

Likely by mistake, the Projo actually admitted to the overwhelming culture of fairness exercised by conservative hosts. Soon after the Projo accused talk radio of being right-wing “echo chambers,” they predicted that Chafee “might quickly regret his ban” because “there are times in which the governor would find explaining his policies on talk radio useful.”
Whoops! The Projo just let it slip that liberals have open access to our “echo chambers.”

In 2009, Democratic Representative Alan Grayson said that Republicans want sick people to “die quickly.” “I wish cancer on your children and their children and that you live long enough to see them die,” a progressive activist expressed to Central Falls School Superintendent Frances Gallo last year. In 2005, DNC Chairman Howard Dean stated, “I hate Republicans and everything they stand for.” And immediately following the death of Ronald Reagan, one progressive said, “[Reagan] is an ugly soul burning in the deepest bowels of hell, where his fat will crackle and his bones will crack forever and ever in agony...amen.”

It may surprise Governor Chafee to be informed that none of these “divisive” comments were made on talk radio.
All of the Left’s indignation over talk radio is contrived and phony, and has nothing to do with “fairness” or “over-heated rhetoric.” It has everything to do with their failure to appeal to the American voters, and their ongoing attempt to silence and discredit their critics.

Anyone concerned with free speech or the future of this country should fix their attention on the Left’s efforts to impede the speech that Americans have demanded. Talk-radio represents the very best of America’s political discourse – competitive, passionate, spontaneous, unfettered, and intellectually stimulating.

Don’t let them take it away.

Travis Rowley (TravisRowley.com) is Chairman of the RI Young Republicans, and author of The Rhode Island Republican: An Indictment of the RI Left.


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