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RAGE ON THE AIRWAVES
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July 24, 2009

Last year the JOURNAL traveled to Knoxville, where a shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church had left the pastor asking what role hateful speech from popular right-wing media personalities may have played in the tragedy. "A lot of people are hurling insults from the safety of television studios, the safety of radio studio, the safety of cyberspace," said Rev. Chris Buice, "So that's a void in our community — the chance to be in the same room and to have these exchanges and remember the humanity of the person on the other side."

It's been a landmark year for the shock jock industry. Rush Limbaugh has been lauded as the "real" leader of the Republican Party. Great Britain banned radio host Michael Savage from entering the country for his "extremist views." And, the killings of three police officers in Pittsburgh and of Dr. Tiller in Kansas have raised new questions about the role played by virulent speech may have played in their genesis.

The Reach of Talk Radio

Talk radio is loud — very loud. According to TALKERS magazine, the leading publication of the talk radio industry, Rush Limbaugh attracts more than 14 million listeners across the nation each week, one of the largest audiences in any broadcast medium; Sean Hannity, more than 13 million; Michael Savage, more than 8 million. Not all talk radio is politically conservative, but in TALKER magazine's list of top ten personalities by audience, nine are conservative, and one is lifestyle and finance. And, presidents and policy-makers alike know that the power of talk radio is important to energizing the conservative base, especially now that conservatives are in the opposition.

With large and devoted audiences, the topics the hosts focus on may significantly impact the national discussion. Media expert Kathleen Hall Jamieson noted during the last election cycle that talk radio may well wield the power to set the agenda:
When something gets into mainstream media, it has a half-life of about 30 seconds. Where something that moves into talk radio can have a half-life of two or three years.
Hot Topics

Getting a lot of play now on talk radio and cable is the fringe theory advanced by "The Birthers" a group who maintains — against evidence to the contrary — that President Obama is not a legal citizen of the United States and thus not eligible to be president. Some birthers contend that even the president's Hawaiian birth certificate is a forgery. There's been enough "Birther" talk to attract the attention of THE NEW YORK TIMES, which noted that CNN's Lou Dobbs has added credence by repeating the myth on air.

The "Extremist Report"

Another recent topic that is getting a lot of air time is a report from the Department of Homeland Security "Right-wing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment." The report had been commissioned by the Bush administration, which also commissioned reports on potential left-wing extremist dangers. The release of the report under the Obama administration led to a great deal of consternation and more heightened rhetoric in the cable and talk radio realm:

Rush Limbaugh: "So you have a report from Janet Napolitano and Barack Obama, Department of Homeland Security portraying standard, ordinary, everyday conservatives as posing a bigger threat to this country than Al-Qaeda terrorists or genuine enemies of this country like Kim Jong Il. They wouldn't write anything about Jim Jong Il like this. They wouldn't write anything about Osama Bin Laden like this." April 14th, 2009.

Neil Cavuto on Fox News' YOUR WORLD: "It more or less states the government considers you a terrorist threat if you oppose abortion, speak out against illegal immigration, or are a returning war veteran." April 16th, 2009.

Sean Hannity during an interview with Joe the Plumber: "If you have a pro-life bumper sticker on your car, if you have an 'America is overtaxed' bumper sticker, if you have a pro-Second Amendment bumper sticker, they're viewing you potentially as a radical." April 15th, 2009.
What is the influence of talk radio in your community? Is it counterproductive to civil discourse? Talk back on the blog

>>More on the history of talk radio
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References and Reading:
Talk Radio's Influence
"Immigration: Did Talk Hosts Kill the Bill?"
A report from the PROJECT FOR EXCELLENCE IN JOURNALISM.

Largest audiences from TALKERS MAGAZINE
Tracks the audience sizes of the top radio personalities.

"As Talk Radio Wavers, Bush Moves to Firm Up Support"
by Jim Rutenberg, for the NEW YORK TIMES. October 17, 2006.

"Talk radio helped sink immigration reform"
by Mike Allen for the POLITICO. August 20, 2007.

Michael Savage

Michael Savage's Web site

BBC News Profile: Michael Savage
The collection of reports includes an interview with Savage in the wake of his U.K. banning.

"Savage Stands by Autism Remarks"
by Jacques Steinberg for the NEW YORK TIMES. July 22, 2008.

"Savage Loses Advertisers "
by Jacques Steinberg, compiled by Julie Bloom, for the NEW YORK TIMES. December 17, 2007.

"TV Program Canceled Over Remarks on Gays"
by Jim Rutenberg, for the NEW YORK TIMES. July 8, 2003.

Neal Boortz

Neal Boortz's Web site.

Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck's Web site.

Michael Reagan

Michael Reagan's Web site.

Bill O'Reilly

Bill O'Reilly's Web site.

Jim Quinn

Jim Quinn's Web site.

Rush Limbaugh

Rush Limbaugh's Web site.

"Late-Period Limbaugh "
by Zev Chafets for THE NEW YORK TIMES MAGAZINE, July 6, 2008.

Sean Hannity

Sean Hannity's Web site.

General Talk Radio Resources

ONLINE NEWSHOUR: "The Right Talk"
Transcript of an October 13, 2004 NEWSHOUR special in which Terence Smith explores the success of conservative talk radio shows and the failure of liberal programs, and talk radio's increasing importance in politics. The Web site includes extended interviews with well-known talk radio personalities and the group proposing a new progressive radio network.

Radio Daily News
This Web site provides a roundup of radio-related news and features from print and online radio sources geared toward the radio professional. Each day the site also provides a short summary of the biggest features on the nationally syndicated shows.

TALKERS Magazine Online
TALKERS magazine is the leading trade publication serving the talk radio industry in America. The publication also covers the "New Talk Media" which includes talk on the Internet as well as cable television. The Web site publishes a weekly assessment of the most popular topics on talk radio around the nation. The site also provides the magazine's yearly list of 100 heavy hitters in talk radio.

Additional Resources

Knoxville church shooting
Coverage from the KNOXVILLE NEWS SENTINAL

"Taking the pulse of extremist groups," Bob Drogin. LOS ANGELES TIMES, June 12, 2009.

"The Big Hate," Paul Krugman, THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 12, 2009.
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RAGE ON THE AIRWAVES
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