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Rage on the Radio
September 12, 2008

What happens when America's airwaves fill with hate? BILL MOYERS JOURNAL takes a tough look at the hostile industry of "Shock Jock" media with a hard-hitting examination of its effects on our nation's political discourse. The JOURNAL traveled to Knoxville, where a recent shooting at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist Church has 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," says 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."

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, over 13 million; Michael Savage, more than 8 million.

With such a large and devoted audience, 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.

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. But talk radio's agenda is not always in step with the administration. For example, the top-rated conservative hosts opposed a 2007 compromise immigration bill backed by President Bush. According to a report by the non-partisan Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ), Limbaugh, Hannity, and Savage devoted the single largest chunk of their airtime to immigration in the second quarter of 2007, with immigration consuming 16% of the airtime of conservative talk radio as a whole.

The PEJ stopped short of saying the hosts helped kill the bill, but they did report that others felt that way:

"Talk radio is running America," complained Mississippi Republican Senator Trent Lott. "We have to deal with that problem." On June 28—more than 40 days after the introduction of a compromise immigration bill backed by President Bush and some senators—the year's most ambitious domestic legislative initiative was defeated in the Senate. Lott was not alone in attributing the bill's defeat to talk radio. Some Democrats even talked of reviving the long-repealed Fairness Doctrine as a way of potentially balancing the politics on conservative-dominated talk radio. In talk circles, this became known as the "Hush Rush" bill, a reference to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh, who was a vocal critic of the immigration bill.
But others argue the conservative talkers are beholden to their audience — that they amplify rather than invent conservative sentiments. The NEW YORK TIMES reports: "When conservatives are agitated at the president, radio hosts feel pressured to stand with the conservatives against the president to prove their independence," said Tim Graham, an analyst at the Media Research Center, a conservative news monitoring group.

What is the influence of talk radio in your community? Talk back on the blog

>>More on the history of talk radio

Published on September 12, 2008.

References and Reading:
Talk Radio's Influence
"Immigration: Did Talk Hosts Kill the Bill?"

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

"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.

"With Brash Hosts, Headline News Finds More Viewers in Prime Time "
by Noam Cohen, for the NEW YORK TIMES. December 4, 2006.

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

Heritage Foundation Talk Radio Forum
Twice a year the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation hosts a talk radio forum in conjunction with TALKERS magazine.

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

Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations

Also This Week:

What happens when America's airwaves fill with hate? BILL MOYERS JOURNAL takes a tough look at the hostile industry of "Shock Jock" media with a hard-hitting examination of its effects on our nation's political discourse.

Media experts Brooke Gladstone and Les Payne take stock of how the media has fared in the 2008 cycle. Do political partisans on both sides prefer propaganda to the facts?

AFTER 9/11
A Bill Moyers essay.

A Web exclusive interview with Chinese blogger Michael Anti. Microsoft gave into government pressure to shut down his site in 2005. He spoke with JOURNAL producer Jessica Wang in August 2008.

Find local guard support resources from our interactive map.

Tell us what's concerning your community on the Moyers on 2008 map.

Bill Moyers mentions Jackie Calmes' September 9, 2008, NEW YORK TIMES article "'08 Rivals Have Ties to Loan Giants." For more information please visit the Center for Responsive Politics database of campaign contribution information

>>And visit our campaign finance resources center.

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