September 15, 2004

This is Not a Partisan Thing

Some guy in a comments thread today asked something like, "What about FOX News?" I think he was essentially claiming that, in order to be upset about Dan Rather and CBS and those so-obviously-fake-they-make-my-eyes-bleed documents, one first had to justify the existence of FOX News. Which only makes sense if you think about it, provided you think about it after imbibing a fifth of tequila, plus worm.

And then there was a thread I read recently that I apologize sincerely for not being able to track down now (there have simply been too many I've been reading lately, and by the way, the first person who codes up a solid comment-tracking app is going to do booming business) in which a commenter said, paraphrasing, that the first things conservatives do when you complain about a conservative media is (1) deny that it's conservative, i.e., FOX News, or (2) deny that it's truly "media," i.e., talk radio.

Okay, I can see the point with that. In fact, I'll concede that I find FOX News to be a little less than "fair and balanced." But then, I'm not really the best judge of it because, see, I don't watch it.

I don't have cable, see.

So maybe I just don't get how three networks vs. one cable-only news network equals this great imbalance in how we report the news, an imbalance so overwhelming that our lawmakers have to send letters of rebuke to FOX News and hint at legislative action against them.

(Fairness note: I don't support a congressional investigation of CBS, either, as I said rather angrily in the update here.)

As for talk radio not "really counting" as media, I've made that argument myself. Figure roughly how many people get their news from the wire services--AP, Reuters--and now look at the sidebar on this analysis of American listening habits:

The most popular source of news on radio is music stations
And you know what that means? That means most radio listeners are getting their news from the same root sources, the wire services, that eventually feed all the mainstream papers and all the network news outlets. Most of us are getting our radio news via the 5-minute wire-service reports that music stations run at the breaks, not via Rush Limbaugh.

This is usually about the point at which someone hollers, "yeah, but the audiences for this konservative krap on our nation's airwaves are friggin' HUGE."

Yes. Yes, as nearly as I can tell, they are. This page lists numbers from 2002, which isn't very current data; also, I'm a little wigged out by the organization providing this data. (You'll see what I mean if you hit up the home page.)

All caveats aside, you still wind up with numbers that qualify as "huge:"

The G. Gordon Liddy Show: 2.25 million weekly listeners

The Rush Limbaugh Show: 14.5 million weekly visitors

The Sean Hannity Show: 5 million weekly visitors

So yeah. That's a lotta visitors just from that small sample.

Here are the weekly viewers for the evening network news broadcasts in July 2003. I've added emphasis below:

The longtime anchor of the "CBS Evening News" averaged a paltry 6.5 million viewers last week, according to Nielsen Media Research - the smallest audience for the program in at least 10 years.

That put Rather 2.4 million viewers behind NBC's "Nightly News with Tom Brokaw," which led the race with 8.9 million.

And Brokaw wasn't even at the anchor desk last week: Brian Williams was sitting in for him. ABC's "World News Tonight" with Peter Jennings was also far ahead of Rather, with 8.2 million viewers.

So here we have the numbers for what is apparently one of CBS's bad weeks, and we're just slightly over the weekly numbers for three of the top talk radio hosts. 14.5 + 2.25 + 5 = 21.75 million weekly talk radio listeners. 6.5 + 8.9 + 8.2 = 23.6 million weekly network news viewers.

So I can see why some people object that talk radio "does too" count as "media." I mean, I didn't even add in Drudge's show, or O'Reilly's, or Medved's, or . . . I'm sure if you kept on going, you'd dwarf the numbers for the nightly news broadcasts easily.

'Course, that doesn't take into account how many people read the New York Times, the Washington Post, the L.A. Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe, Time, Newsweek . . . on a weekly basis.

Or how many viewers tune into 60 Minutes, Dateline, 20/20, or Primetime . . . .

But most importantly, it doesn't take into account that the talk radio audience knows what it's getting into when it dials up Limbaugh or Hannity. Talk radio isn't pretending to be fair, impartial, or objective. You know you're never going to hear Limbaugh fret about vanishing reproductive rights, unless maybe it's April Fool's Day and he had the extra-strength Vicodin that morning. You know when you tune in where the host is coming from.

This is why conservatives got the giggles so badly over Air America. Look, launching Air America was like going to a comic book convention and trying to sell Joni Mitchell albums there, all right? It's the wrong freakin' audience for that stuff. Talk radio is where conservative people go to get away from the kind of liberal insularity that they feel pervades the so-called mainstream media. Talk radio is where conservative people go to hear a story about a gun being used to save someone's life, not end it tragically. Talk radio is an outlet and a reaction to the kind of world that put Rosie O'Donnell on television (and thank God that nightmare's over).

You don't have to like it. I don't like most of it myself, if you want to know. Talk radio is not really my thing.

But you could quit pitching fits about it. That'd be very welcomed. Buck up, be strong, and console yourselves that at least you have virtually every other news source all sewn up. Hell, you even have something on cable to counter FOX News--it's called CNN. Conservatives used to refer to it as the Clinton News Network. Now either that was because (1) all conservatives who dislike the coverage on CNN are raving paranoid fruitcakes, or (2) maybe, just maybe, there was a little something to that.

I don't have to justify the existence of talk radio and FOX News to note that CBS has screwed the pooch with this one. In fact, I might just point out that if I were John Kerry or one of his supporters, I'd be even more furious about this. It reflects badly on all involved. And you guys who are complaining that Memogate or Rathergate (or whatever we're calling it these days) detracts from the "real issue" of Bush's guard service?--Bingo! That is about the only thing I've seen you get right. Because it certainly does do that. It's vastly more interesting to hear about a major network plunging its news division down the toilet than it is to wonder whether the President of the United States missed a friggin' physical. That's just human nature, fellas. That's how news is.

The sooner you acknowledge that, the sooner you could begin doing some good for your candidate and your party.

CORRECTION, FROM THE COMMENTS: According to a fellow named Mike, only mezcal includes a worm. I found this of interest, however:

In 25 years we have never met a palenquero who has offered a sip of his mezcal with: a Worm, a Lime or Salt. In our experience the only use of the worm besides a marketing gimmick is to mask the chemical taste of poorly produced mezcal.
There's some history included on the site that may be of interest as well.

Can I say "we report, you decide," now? No, you know, on second thought, I'd rather just stipulate that what I wrote was true in the larger sense.

Posted by Ilyka at September 15, 2004 08:55 PM in i don't know you tell me

A small point, sure, but one that I am sure is at the heart of pride of a small community in Mexico. Tequila, as the appellation defines it, never has a worm. Some Mezcal (a less controlled blue agave beverage) does.

Posted by: Mike at September 15, 2004 10:49 PM clungglisteningkeyboard

Posted by: voices at October 20, 2005 01:11 PM