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Sunday, September 24, 2023

All talked out


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.



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)

25 thoughts on “All talked out”

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

    Jay Ambrose

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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. 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.

  10. 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?

  11. 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.

  12. 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?

  13. 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.

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