Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Role of Media in Politics pt 2

In The Role of Media in Politics pt 1 we identified the mainstream media and determined which sources appeared to be used by each political faction. The bottom line was that MSM bias is largely in the eye of the beholder. This post examines the so-called "Alternative Media" in its' talk radio incarnation.

Unlike the major newspapers and broadcast outlets, talk radio clearly favors the right wing end of the spectrum. Radio shows like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity are broadcast nationwide to an audience of millions. Second tier shows hosted by Neil Boortz, G Gordon Liddy, and Mark Levin also have a nationwide audience but not as many outlets.

Left Wing talk radio hasn't fared near as well. The biggest attempt was the abortive Air America. It simply didn't grab a large enough market share and has filed bankrupcy and been sold. There is far more after the read more link.

According to Wikipedia:

On October 13, 2006, Air America filed for protection from creditors, i.e. bankruptcy under Chapter 11, at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of New York.[15] Air America continued broadcasting while the finances were worked out with the creditors. The company had US$4,331,265.30 in assets and US$20,266,056.23 in liabilities. Al Franken alone was owed US$360,749.98 and Rob Glaser, founder of Real Networks, was owed the most at US$9.8 million. The filing had over 25 pages of creditors and showed that the company lost US$9.1 million in 2004, US$19.6 million in 2005 and an additional US$13.1 million by mid-October in 2006.[16][17]

This definitively shows that while liberal/left sentiment might be dominant in the mainstream media coverage hours, the right has no problem dominating the radio airwaves. Why?

The first and most openly credible reason is that more people desire to listen to talk radio dominated by a conservative theme. The evidence presented is compiled by Talkers Magazine.

They (Talkers Magazine) have compiled the 2008 Heavy Hundred listing of the 100 most important radio talk show hosts. The top six are identified as conservative hosts politically speaking and all have a national audience. The first identified liberal/progressive is Ed Shultz at number eight. To see the entire listing, click here.

The profile of the common talk radio listener pretty much tells which side of the spectrum that talk radio is dominant in as well. The mythical listener is a white male, 45-54 years old that makes between 30 and 70 thousand a year. He listens to country music and is an independent who activily votes. This guy is a football/baseball fan who self identifies as basically conservative and he gets his non-radio news from either the internet or fox news. To see the full breakdown, click here.

The other, more sinister, purported reason that right wing talk radio dominates is simply that the broadcasters themselves are conspiring to make it so. An excerpt from makes the case.

But if that were all there was to the phenomenon, a new report by the Center for American Progress and the Free Press on right-wing talk's domination of the airwaves wouldn't be causing as much chagrin among conservative commentators as it has. The report, (PDF), "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio," is stirring up the right-wing squawkers because its analysis flies in the face of conventional wisdom; Right-wing talk doesn't dominate AM radio because of the magical hand of a functional free market, it dominates thanks to multiple market failures. Even worse, those failures represent a strong case for better regulation of what goes out on the public's airwaves.

The report referenced is available here for download.

The bottom line is that no matter which argument you prefer, talk radio is here to stay. But there is no conclusive evidence of it actually influencing its' audience. In fact research indicates that the successful talk radio hosts mirror the core values of thier listening base. It would seem that analyzing the host would provide a clue about each set of listeners. Thus a potential candidate could actually shape his/her image to mirror the largest listener demographic.

Thanks for reading.

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