Americans split on Fairness


Rasmussen Reports has taken the pulse of average citizens, and 47% believe that the government should take steps to assure that conservative and liberal viewpoints are given equal time on television and radio. Only 39% think TV and radio ideological speech should remain unregulated. The overwhelming dominance of conservative voices on radio is a large reason for the push to revive the Fairness Doctrine. While there is also sentiment out there to require balanced viewpoints on the internet, 57% think it should be inoculated from content regulation. Democrats polled were more likely to support some form of Fairness Doctrine, with 54% in favor. Republican and independent sentiment was said by Rasmussen to be “fairly evenly divided.”

The state of political discourse on the radio seemed to figured strongly in the results. Rasmussen said, “Democrats have been pushing the Fairness Doctrine in part because of the long-standing complaint by liberals that conservatives dominate talk radio. Conservatives counter that their political foes are just trying to use the government to push liberal talk radio even though it has been rejected by the marketplace. In the new survey, 42% say there are more conservative radio talk shows because they get better ratings, but 28% believe it is because stations owners are biased. Seventeen percent (17%) attribute it to an unspecified other reason, and 13% are unsure.

Regarding both radio and television, Rasmussen found that citizens believe media bias is more of a problem than runaway campaign cash contributions.

RBR/TVBR observation: It’s nice but relatively pointless to hear the uneducated poll-driven speculations on the fairness topic from the lay public. But here’s our take on why conservatives own radio. The political talk niche wasn’t invented by Rush Limbaugh, but he certainly took it to heights unexplored by any who came before him – he is the Sir Edmund Hillary of Talkmeisters. What is important to remember about Rush, though, is that he is first and foremost an entertainer, with radio chops honed paying his dues in Top 40 radio, working twice, in fact, under the PD guidance of RBR Founder & Publisher Jim Carnegie.

Limbaugh’s success created a radio audience for conservative talk. Since Rush cannot be on the air all day long, the door was open for other conservative talkers to fill up the remaining hours of the day and to even go on head-to-head with Rush. A handful of liberal talkers were also able to flourish, but the bulk of the audience was conservative.

The attempt to belatedly create a liberal talk niche has run up against three major obstacles. The first, and this is no small thing, is that liberal talk programmers are trying to start from scratch in new markets with inferior signals – the best stations have long been spoken for. Second, America’s liberal community has not had any reason to tune in to the radio to hear simpatico political talkers – there is no established audience to tap in to; and those liberals that do use the radio are often to be found listening to NPR (or music). Finally, in many cases it seems that liberal talkers have been hired for their liberal credentials, not their entertainment creds, and very very few have paid their dues and learned how to keep an audience from changing the channel for three hours at a stretch.

These three factors are all you need to explain the radio situation. There’s no need to invent a conspiracy theory. We remember listening to Mel Karmazin, then at CBS/Infinity, talking on Capitol Hill after the controversy over the Dixie Chicks airplay ban, or alleged ban, depending on which company we’re talking about. Karmazin told the Senate Commerce Committee that if somebody tells him that the Dixie Chicks will help him defeat Clear Channel in New York, then he’s all over the Dixie Chicks.

That’s how broadcast professionals think, and if a liberal talk show will help any one of them defeat whomever wherever, the show will be on the air just as long as it continues winning the ratings war and selling ads.