|SEAN HANNITY & ALAN COLMES|
Terence Smith speaks with Alan Colmes and Sean Hannity about what makes a talk show about politics successful.
The NewsHour Media Unit is funded by a grant from the Pew Charitable Trusts
TERENCE SMITH: Sean, if you look at the 2000 elections, as close
as they were, the country looks pretty evenly divided politically -- and yet on
talk radio, the overwhelming amount of talk radio is conservative. Why and how
is that the case?
SEAN HANNITY: Well, you look at the mainstream media, and most of the major newspapers in this country slant solidly to the left. I'd argue the three major news organizations -- ABC, NBC, and CBS -- slant solidly to the left. You have two cable channels that slant solidly to the left.
I kind of get a kick out of it. Here is one avenue
of the alternative media that does have more conservative dominance only because
people choose to listen to it, and people want to bring up the idea that somehow,
you know, why is this happening? How is it?
TERENCE SMITH: So you see it as a reaction?
SEAN HANNITY: I think over time it's developed into that, sure. Absolutely. And I think you know what's happening, there's a dramatic shift in audience happening, not only in radio, but in television, in news and everywhere pretty much.
People now have more options than they ever had.
When I started in radio in 1987, there were only a couple hundred talk radio stations in the country. Now, we have a couple of thousand of them. That's a dramatic increase in choices available. Matt Drudge, the Internet, more choices available. Cable news -- three news channels -- and more choices available for the consumer.
And I say let the free marketplace decide who the winners and losers are going to be here, but certainly there is a market, and there is an audience out there for people that feel that there is an institutionalized bias.
|How did talk radio become dominantly right-wing?|
SMITH: Alan, what's your take on this? Why do you think that talk radio, specifically,
is so predominantly conservative?
ALAN COLMES: I think,
for one thing, the people, the hosts on talk radio, like Sean, are very talented
people who greatly articulate a point of view I think --
HANNITY: Thank you, Alan...
ALAN COLMES: -- I think there are fewer liberals who have been attracted to the medium who can actually do that.
I also think that for years -- during the '60s and '70s -- the liberals were perceived as the angry people who were anti-establishment, and then liberals, to a large extent I think, became the establishment, became entrenched in power.
And conservatives, feeling a sense of lack of empowerment,
I think found this medium as a place to speak and be heard. Liberals, I think,
kind of sat on their laurels and figured, hey, we won. You know, we won everything.
We won civil rights; we passed Roe v. Wade. We don't have anything to fight any
more. And, so conservatives became the fighters.
In some respects, I think some of them I think are angry. I think that sells well, and they were able to -- because of their passion and because they were able to attract talent like Sean, who are strong and articulate in their views -- attract an audience that felt it was not being heard elsewhere and became a magnet.
like Sean become a magnet for people who have felt disempowered.
SEAN HANNITY: Can I add one thing? I just don't think Alan is talking about me, Alan and I are friends.
There are some angry voices on talk radio,
and I'm not going to name names here, but the vast majority of popular mainstream
conservative hosts on the radio today, we're not angry. We're laughing. We're
having fun. We have serious substantive discussions about important issues of
our day, passionate discussions.
There is a distinct difference
between genuine, real principled passion and anger. I am not an anger person.
ALAN COLMES: Clearly, that was not meant to be directed --
SEAN HANNITY: No, I'm not saying that.
COLMES: What I'm really saying here is I think there are many conservatives who
are angry, and I think a lot of the people who listen have felt anger. And so
they have found talk radio is a place to vent that anger. I'm not suggesting that
the very successful hosts, the ones who are most successful, like Sean, like Rush,
if all they were, were angry, they wouldn't attract the huge audiences they do.
SEAN HANNITY: I agree.
|Do radio owners prefer conservative talk shows?|
| TERENCE SMITH:
Sean, do you think that the owners of radio networks that put on talk radio, do
you think are they basically business people who prefer to promote the conservative
SEAN HANNITY: Absolutely.
SMITH: -- rather than liberal view or message or is it simply a matter of money,
and ratings and the bottom line?
SEAN HANNITY: It's all
about money, ratings, and the bottom line. If you produce a show that will draw
an audience, if you can get an audience, and you can keep them for as long as
possible and generate ratings, then you will also generate revenue, and that's
the bottom line for these station owners.
The best shows
are getting on the stations today, and there's nothing stopping that.
SMITH: Alan, is there something to explain why conservative talk sells and liberal
ALAN COLMES: Well, I think it sells for some
of the reasons we just talked about, and I think if you found the right liberal,
I mean, I happen to be a liberal --
SEAN HANNITY: You're
the right liberal.
ALAN COLMES: I happen to be a liberal
hosting a talk radio program. You know, we've been successful, and we've only
been on for six months. We've got some top stations around the country.
think it's not so much about your ideology, as it is about, you know, are you
entertaining? Are you a good host? It's not are you liberal or are you conservative?
I think Rush Limbaugh or Sean Hannity, if they were liberal and doing the kind
of shows they're still doing, they would still be successful because they are
broadcasters who understand the medium.
It's not about
whether you're left or right, it's what you bring to the table that attracts an
audience. And an audience is going to listen, if you're entertaining, and I don't
think it's about being left or right. And I think that's what a lot of people
TERENCE SMITH: Sean, how many stations are you on
and how many listeners do you reach, on the average?
HANNITY: We are approaching 400 stations, and we estimate, in-house -- Michael
Harrison had us at ten-and-a-half million -- we think we're up around the 12 million
TERENCE SMITH: On a daily basis.
HANNITY: Well, an audience weekly basis, yeah.
SMITH: Alan, what about you?
ALAN COLMES: I haven't been
on long enough to really have any--
SEAN HANNITY: Yeah,
Alan's just started.
ALAN COLMES: We just started. A couple
of dozen people, but I don't honestly, but, honestly, we don't know yet. I couldn't
give you a valid statistic at this point.
Well, what about stations? You do know that.
Well, we started with only 10 stations about four months ago, and we're now about,
we're in 36 markets now.
TERENCE SMITH: So that's a huge
-- Alan, that's a huge difference.
ALAN COLMES: Yes. We
know. We're tracking stations where we're growing. We're growing exponentially,
and, you know, hopefully, we'll continue to grow.
SEAN HANNITY: Yeah, but we've on two years. We'll celebrate our two-year anniversary this week.
I don't know if you know this, Terry, but we actually
syndicated our show for the first time on September 10th, 2001, and we all know
what happened on September 11th.
It, you know, it has been an extensive amount of work that has led to the amount of growth that we've had, and we've always developed a ratings track record, and that begins to feed on itself once you start showing success in some markets.
|Can a liberal talk network successfully compete?|
SMITH: Now, we referenced this before, Sean, but some, as you know, some wealthy
Democrats are committed to setting up a liberal talk radio network. Do you think
it'll succeed? Do you think it'll compete successfully with conservatives?|
SEAN HANNITY: Come on in. The water is warm.
You know something, I'll tell you why it's destined to fail,
in my estimation. And I'm not going to be the person that decides this. Ultimately,
it will be the audience that listens to talk radio that will decide it. It's going
to be their ability to create programming that stations and people want or feel
that there is a need for.
But the reason I feel this is
destined to fail is for one reason. It seems to be sort of an extension of the
Democratic Party, the way I see it currently configured, that they are actually
out there, as Democrats, trying, "How do we deal with those `waskily wepublicans'
like Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity on talk radio every day?"
know, Bill Clinton said of Rush, who's a dear friend, "Rush Limbaugh is three
hours a day, and there's no truth detector."
know, they think all they have to do is get the right liberal to counter Rush,
and, frankly, I find it amazing. The difference is they will be the arm of and
be beholden to the Democrats that are putting them on the air.
I can tell you right now, Terry, I am beholden to nobody. I regularly -- when I see Republicans and conservatives are wrong -- criticize them.
criticized -- I love this president; I think he's done a great job, but I think
the president has been wrong on some issues, involving Israel, the education bill
with Ted Kennedy, campaign finance. They're spending too much money in Washington.
And I have that level of intellectual honesty that I don't
think will exist in a network that is funded by Democrats, for Democrats to counter,
quote, what they view as a conservative medium. I don't think it's going to work.
TERENCE SMITH: Alan, what do you think? Is there a market
for and an opportunity for a liberal talk radio network?
COLMES: I think there is, but it has to, it has to come out of the free marketplace,
and I think that's where Sean and I probably agree.
ALAN COLMES: Once you say, "We are
the liberal radio network," what happens when I disagree with the Democratic
Party? Do I get called into Terry McAuliffe's office, the chairman of the DNC,
and he says, "Why did you say that about the education bill with Ted Kennedy?
That's not our position."
I have credibility because I work for a broadcasting company.
In fact, I work for a broadcasting
company that too often is criticized for being an arm of the GOP. And if that's
the case, why did Fox News decide, as its first venture in radio, to syndicate
me, you know, someone who is defined as a liberal?
HANNITY: Good point.
ALAN COLMES: So this idea that if
I could only get on that liberal radio network to get the liberal word out there
-- I, like Sean, am not a party animal, as much as I am proud to say I'm a liberal,
I'm less proud to say I'm a Democrat. I like to say it as I call it.
for example, I may be critical of Bush. I think he's done a great job in terms
of his road map for peace in the Middle East. We probably disagree --
HANNITY: I actually disagree.
ALAN COLMES: I would agree
with Sean or I would disagree with Sean where he actually disagrees with the president.
So each of us, I think, will take views that are not in keeping with our particular
SEAN HANNITY: Can I say one thing?
COLMES: -- and I think that that gives us some credibility.
HANNITY: I want to say one thing, Alan, too.. and we're friends, and we've been
friends a long time, Alan is a broadcaster. You know, you've been on the air since
ALAN COLMES: '01-- that's 1901 -- no...
SEAN HANNITY: You've been, what, 30 years?
COLMES: Yeah, something like that, since I was in college in the '70s.
HANNITY: I've been on the radio since 1987. I understand people think this is
an overnight success story, but it's anything but an overnight success story.
I mean, I worked for free. I was fired. I worked for $19,000 a year. I moved to
states where I didn't know a single person that lived there. I traveled this country
fairly extensively to build up this career.
You know, the idea that you're going to pick somebody that has a particular name with no broadcasting skills and put him on the air and turn him into a big success, well, maybe it'll happen, maybe they'll strike gold.
one other component. As a broadcaster, Alan understands. Alan has a sense of humor.
Alan is smart. He has the ability to deal with callers. He's just wrong politically.
SEAN HANNITY: That's his only problem.
ALAN COLMES: Look, for example, in the past, there have been
liberals who have done shows. They pick people like Alan Dershowitz or they pick
somebody like --
SEAN HANNITY: Mario Cuomo.
COLMES: -- Jerry Brown or Mario Cuomo. They use that as an example of why liberals
They haven't chosen broadcasters, for the most
part, to do this. And, you know, if this so-called liberal radio network doesn't
use people who are skilled in broadcasting, I think it may be, as Sean said, doomed
And it's not about an agenda, and it's not about
someone who is the great liberal because they're a great political pundit -- it's
about entertainment value in a broadcasting medium hosted by somebody who understands
TERENCE SMITH: Let me ask you, specifically,
both, their headliner at this point is Al Franken. Is he the broadcaster that
you're talking about?
SEAN HANNITY: I have no idea. I've
never heard him.
ALAN COLMES: He's never done radio, so
TERENCE SMITH: He had some kind things to say
about both of you in the interview that we did --
HANNITY: Hey, Terry, I'm not going to respond to anything he has to say, so you
can move on.
TERENCE SMITH: Well, let me just ask.
SEAN HANNITY: No. Terry, there's no point in asking because
I'm not going to respond.
TERENCE SMITH: Alan?
COLMES: I have nothing to say about him.
All right, then don't respond to being called a right wing propagandist, Sean,
who does the bidding of the nutcase right.
Okay. So you've asked it. Next question?
Yeah. He did assert one thing, both in the book and in my interview, that I as
a matter of fact am curious about, that, Alan, you had told him that you and Sean,
as a matter of format and practice, don't attack one another.
SEAN HANNITY: That's nice.
SMITH: In other words, you may differ, obviously --
TERENCE SMITH: But that you don't go after
the arguments of the other.
ALAN COLMES: I have nothing
to say about Al Franken, really. I mean, I'm not --
SMITH: Well, I'm seriously asking you that independently.
SEAN HANNITY: Terry, we're not here to talk about him or promote his book, Terry. So, if you have any other questions, I'll be glad to answer it. Otherwise I've got a show to prepare.
|Elements of a popular talk radio program|
TERENCE SMITH: I understand that, and I won't hold you, but I'm
asking whether that is true about your broadcast, that you and you two avoid,
generally, attacking one another.
ALAN COLMES: Well, we don't make it personal. I mean, Sean and I have very strong disagreements on the issues.
It's not personal. It's not about Sean and I, who
are friends off the air. It's about how we stand on the issues. And often we have
guests on, and we debate our guests. It's not an issue of Sean and I going after
SEAN HANNITY: There's one other point. You
know something, you know something, Terry, one of the things that I think has
made this one of the most successful shows on cable television, and we're very
proud of it, is we like each other. I like Alan Colmes. I think he's a great person,
a great human being --
ALAN COLMES: Just read it off the
card like I wrote it.
SEAN HANNITY: Yeah. He's funny.
He keeps me laughing during the show, after the show. I disagree with him on just
about everything politically speaking that's out there. And we don't make it personal.
And we bring our humor to the show as often as we can.
think there is, there is, there is a class liberalism out there. The names that
I hear being bandied about, about this liberal talk radio network, they're all
And I just, there are two things I look
for when I listen to radio, and I think the best person out there today is the
person that has the biggest audience, and that's my friend, Rush Limbaugh. And
he brings warmth, and he brings intellect, and information every single day. And
I think that that warmth and that range that he has is what has contributed to
his success and his ability to give you a take on the news that you're not likely
to get anywhere else.
We try and bring that to the TV
show every night, also, and we do it in a friendly way. I mean, we get passionate.
Sometimes it gets a little loud, but generally speaking, at the end of any debate,
you know, we're all friends. And that goes for guests, and that goes with us personally.
ALAN COLMES: As one of Sean's heroes, Jesse Jackson, said,
we can agree to disagree and disagree without being disagreeable.
HANNITY: Right. Absolutely.
TERENCE SMITH: Alan, finally,
you referred to yourself earlier. You said, "As someone who is described
as a liberal --"
SMITH: I found that an interesting formulation.
Well, I guess I said it that way. I am a liberal, and I'm proud to be a liberal,
but I guess I should have put the word in quotes, but you can't do that when you're
speaking, I think what happens is a lot of people demonize the word and use, they
call it the "L" word or "lib," and they try to make it a very
bad word, as if liberal is something you just stepped in that you have to get
off your shoe.
And my point is that I'm
proud to be a liberal and people often misuse the word and try to make it into
a pejorative, which it should never be. Liberal --
HANNITY: That's his only fault --
ALAN COLMES: Liberals
ought to stand up and be proud of the fact that they're liberals.
SEAN HANNITY: I actually agree with that. I think conservatives are more proud of that label "conservative." I don't duck it. I am a proud conservative.
a conservative before I'm a Republican. And, Alan, you say it often. You're a
proud liberal. And that's the only thing wrong with you. You're perfect otherwise.
ALAN COLMES: Yeah.
SMITH: But the most important thing between -- and there have been different people,
David Gergen, Paul Gigot, various people -- the chemistry between the two has
got to be good for the audience to enjoy it.
ALAN COLMES: The audience doesn't want to
see people that don't like each other, and they can sense it if they're watching.
TERENCE SMITH: Yeah. I mean, there's a difference between
an argument that is heated and one that is either personal or angry, and that
is a big difference. And so it's something that comes into play on this broadcast
as well. So I take it as you describe it because I think that's quite true.
SEAN HANNITY: No. First of all, there are more options than there ever have been for people seeking whatever viewpoint they want to hear, and in most markets, there are 50-plus radio stations -- I know in the New York area, 5-plus options -- and if you added XM and Sirius, and the cable options and everything else out there, there is no need for it.
The only reason some Democrats would
want such an option would be to silence this one venue where conservatives have,
have done very well, and that would be politically motivated to silence free speech.
And I think liberals should run from that as fast as they can.
ALAN COLMES: I would agree with Sean in the
respect, when I first started in talk radio, you had to write down, if anybody
said anything controversial, you had to write it down. You had to make an effort
to get the other side on. That should be automatic. I mean, we do it, we're fair
and balanced. We do that. But the free marketplace should ultimately decide what
ideas fly with the public and what ideas don't.
day talk radio would not thrive if there were a Fairness Doctrine and the bureaucratic
nightmare that's involved in the kind of paperwork you need to do that. The free
marketplace should be the arbiter of what flies on talk radio. And liberals should
make, one to compete in that venue, not, you know, look for unfair advantage.
TERENCE SMITH: You guys are great. Thank you
both very much.
SEAN HANNITY: Thank you, Terry. Appreciate
ALAN COLMES: Thanks very much.
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