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CyberAlert -- 05/09/2002 -- Conservative Talk Radio Succeeds Because It's Simplistic

Conservative Talk Radio Succeeds Because It's Simplistic; JFK Jr: "Political Prince in Waiting"? Liberal Group to Honor Jennings

1) Talk radio is dominated by hosts "whose views range from conservative to more conservative," NBC's Lisa Myers insisted as she attributed conservative success in talk radio to how conservatives offer a simplistic world view: "Where others see shades of gray, O'Reilly and Limbaugh mostly portray the world as black and white."

2) Bryant Gumbel on Wednesday morning set up a segment with Richard Blow, biographer of John F. Kennedy Jr., by referring to Kennedy as "the man who had long been viewed as America's political prince in waiting." But minutes later, Gumbel wondered: "If he had not been a Kennedy, would anyone have thought him exceptional in any way?"

3) The liberal Interfaith Alliance plans to honor ABC's Peter Jennings next month with its "Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award." Cronkite endorsed the group's fight against conservatives, saying it is "dedicated to protecting America's basic freedoms of speech, press, and religion from the fringe groups who cloak in religious garb their challenge to these principles."


1

NBC Nightly News on Wednesday night furthered the media caricature that talk radio is dominated by hosts "whose views range from conservative to more conservative" as reporter Lisa Myers attributed conservative success in talk radio not to conservatives in the public seeking an alternative source to the rest of the media which is dominated by liberals, but to how conservatives offer a simplistic world view.

Wrapping up a piece tied to the launch of a new radio show hosted by FNC's Bill O'Reilly, Myers concluded: "Where others see shades of gray, O'Reilly and Limbaugh mostly portray the world as black and white."

As if liberal advocates in the media like James Carville see "shades of gray"?

Anchor Tom Brokaw introduced the May 8 story, as transcribed by MRC analyst Brad Wilmouth: "When it comes to talk radio in America, Rush Limbaugh is Elvis without the sideburns, the king of his domain -- opinionated, conservative, entertaining, and very rich. That's the same territory that Bill O'Reilly has staked out on television, but now he's taking on Rush on radio. And as NBC's Lisa Myers reports tonight, today was round one."

Myers reported on O'Reilly's launch head-to-head with Limbaugh in many markets and allowed O'Reilly to say that he doesn't consider himself in competition with Limbuagh since he'll concentrate on "social" issues. Nonetheless, on day one, Myers found Limbaugh won: "Hillary Hammond, a fan of both O'Reilly and Limbaugh, had no trouble deciding whom to tune in this morning."
Hammond: "Rush Limbaugh got me through the dark years of the '90s. We call him 'the great one,' fondly. So I can't imagine switching easily."
Myers stressed how talk radio is dominated by conservatives: "O'Reilly joins a long list of talk radio hosts whose views range from conservative to more conservative. Why aren't there more moderate or liberal voices? Well, experts say conservatives are more entertaining because their message fits the media."
Michael Harrison, Talkers Magazine: "The conservatives are more cut out for today's sound bite-oriented, short attention span, media environment."
Myers concluded: "Where others see shades of gray, O'Reilly and Limbaugh mostly portray the world as black and white -- and revolving around them."
The piece faded out with Limbaugh, via streaming video, proclaiming: "As long as I'm here it doesn't matter where here is."

I'd suggest network television news is dominated by journalists "whose views range from liberal to more liberal."

While it certainly is true that Limbaugh is the biggest syndicated talk radio host and is conservative, NBC exaggerated how conservatives dominate talk radio. There is no one on radio with as many listeners or carried by as many stations as is Limbaugh. Other nationally syndicated conservative hosts, such as G. Gordon Liddy or Laura Ingraham, have but a fraction of Limbaugh's audience.

But in complaining about conservative domination of talk radio as symbolized by one nationally-syndicated host, mainstream media outlets like NBC overlook several realities:
-- a) Conservatives are popular on commercial radio, which may say something about what the public wants, but public radio is dominated by liberals. Every talk show now or recently carried by National Public Radio or Public Radio International, or distributed by them, has been hosted by a liberal or at best a liberal-leaning moderate. Commercial AM talk radio has more ideological diversity than public radio.
-- b) Virtually every major city in the U.S. with at least one all-talk commercial radio station has at least one prominent local liberal talk show host. Liberals may not do well in national syndication, but they have found popular homes on local stations around the nation.
-- c) Don Imus, whose nationally-syndicated show is on in the morning drive and who has the benefit of the MSNBC simulcast, is hardly conservative. Much of his show time is turned over to pontificating from mainstream media reporters.
-- d) Many talk show hosts, both nationally, such as O'Reilly's Westwood One colleague Jim Bohannon, as well as many local hosts, aren't particularly liberal or conservative, they're moderates or people without any strong views.

And now liberals have a new hope in national talk radio land: Last fall ABC Radio started to distribute a daily two-hour show hosted by Sam Donaldson.

2

Bryant Gumbel on Wednesday morning wrapped up an interview with Richard Blow, biographer of John F. Kennedy Jr., by wondering: "If he had not been a Kennedy, would anyone have thought him exceptional in any way?" But minutes earlier in setting up the segment, Gumbel referred to Kennedy as "the man who had long been viewed as America's political prince in waiting."

As MRC analyst Brian Boyd noticed, Gumbel introduced the May 8 Early Show interview segment: "The 1999 plane crash that ended the celebrated life of John F. Kennedy, Jr. left many people theorizing about what might have been for the man who had long been viewed as America's political prince in waiting."

After talking with Blow, author of American Son, about the controversy over how he violated a confidentiality pact he signed when he joined George magazine, which Kennedy published, and how Kennedy handled fame and perceived public perception of him, Gumbel took this shot: "I don't mean to belittle George magazine because it did accomplish some things, but basically, if that's his legacy, it isn't much."

Minutes after referring to Kennedy as "America's political prince in waiting," Gumbel ended the segment by asking Blow: "If he had not been a Kennedy, would anyone have thought him exceptional in any way?"

3

Next month a liberal group, the Interfaith Alliance, plans to honor ABC's Peter Jennings with its "Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award." Former MRCer Tim Graham, now with World magazine, alerted me to this bit of news published in his magazine.

An excerpt from "The Buzz" section of the May 11 World magazine:

Who is the religious left's favorite person this year? Peter Jennings. The liberal Interfaith Alliance plans to honor the ABC anchorman on June 12 with the "Walter Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award" in a ceremony at Rockefeller Plaza in New York.

In the publicity surrounding the award ceremony, Mr. Cronkite took a shot at religious conservatives, saying that the Interfaith Alliance is "dedicated to protecting America's basic freedoms of speech, press, and religion from the fringe groups who cloak in religious garb their challenge to these principles."

The group is honoring Mr. Jennings for having "embodied the values of civility, tolerance, diversity, and cooperation" in his coverage surrounding the Sept. 11 attacks....

The awards are selected by a committee of mainly leftist celebrities including PBS star Bill Moyers, Joan Brown Campbell of the National Council of Churches (who last month dined with that great respecter of free speech and religion, Fidel Castro, in Havana), former Carter official Andrew Young, Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), and former President Gerald Ford.

END of Excerpt

For the entire World item: http://www.worldmag.com/world/issue/05-11-02/opening_5.asp

For the April 22 Interfaith Alliance press release announcing their award for Jennings: http://www.interfaithalliance.org/Newsroom/press/2002/020422f.htm

The Cronkite quote endorsing the liberal group, in full: "The Interfaith Alliance Foundation is dedicated to protecting America's basic freedoms of speech, press and religion from the fringe groups who cloak in religious garb their challenge to these principles. In this important -- nay, essential -- cause, the Alliance deserves the support of our concerned and thoughtful citizens."

You can find that online at: http://www.interfaithalliance.org/cronkite/award_past.htm

The group hardly sticks to religious issues. The headline over its latest press release: "The Interfaith Alliance Releases New Publication on Campaign Reform." You can see that at: http://www.interfaithalliance.org/Newsroom/press/2002/2002-05-01.htm

It's not just those awful conservatives who disgust Cronkite who weren't impressed by Peter Jennings' last foray into religious issues. In reviewing Jennings' June of 2000 two-hour prime time "Search for Jesus" special, the AP's Richard Ostling asserted: "In Jennings' lopsided lineup, the key talking heads consist of five American liberals, a middle-roader in Israel and a lone traditionalist from England." An excerpt from Ostling's review:

....Jennings, an occasional Episcopal churchgoer, displays his continuing interest Monday night by personally reporting on The Search for Jesus. He developed the ambitious two-hour documentary off and on over two years.

The Search in question is for what scholars call the "historical Jesus." Putting matters baldly: Do we have reliable material about Jesus in the four New Testament Gospels, or do they mix fact and fiction? If the latter circumstance, how do we tell one from the other?

Typically, network news is late on this vital religion story. Liberal scholars have been questioning biblical history for two centuries and major print media have given considerable coverage over the past decade or two.

Television's hesitation is understandable, however, since the topic has complexities within complexities that are ill-suited for video treatment. Sure enough, ABC's camera and sound work is clever and the script skips along, but the substance is quite problematic.

One pitfall is that Search indiscriminately mingles folkways (did Mary really sit on this rock?) with essentials (did Jesus have a Last Supper and what did it mean?).

More importantly, ABC's implicit plot line pits the touching faith in the Gospels among common folk in Bethlehem, Nazareth or Alexandria, against the experts, who supposedly know better. That's a hugely distorted picture.

But, as the old saying goes, a reporter is only as good as his sources. In Jennings' lopsided lineup, the key talking heads consist of five American liberals, a middle-roader in Israel and a lone traditionalist from England.

Jennings seems to have discovered none of the estimable moderate and conservative scholars in America. And even on the liberal side, the show doesn't visit the blueblood campuses where biblical history is being undermined, nor does it hear from some prime figures in the debate.

Though viewers aren't told this, four of the five Americans on-screen come from the "Jesus Seminar." As fundamentalists scowled and scholars smirked, this group organized to take votes on whether each passage in the Gospels is true or false. Given the group's methods, skeptical presuppositions and special ideologies, falsity was bound to win most of the ballots.

In just the same way, ABC's conclusions are predictable, given its sources:

-- "It is pretty much agreed" that the Gospel writers "were not eyewitnesses" and that the texts "were probably written 40 to 100 years after Jesus' death." (Actually, the question is not whether the writers were eyewitnesses but whether they drew upon eyewitness material. Only radicals push the writings more than 70 years after Jesus.)

-- "The only things we can say with some certainty" about Jesus' birth are that he was Jewish, and there was political tension at the time.

-- "Most scholars we talked to" think that Jesus' nature miracles "were invented by the Gospel writers as advertisements for Christianity."

-- "Jesus was executed, not for blasphemy as the Gospels indicate, but as a political revolutionary."

-- Jennings reports that "some eminent scholars" believe Jesus rose from the grave. And though the show doesn't make the best use of its conservative, Canon Theologian N.T. Wright of Westminster Abbey, he gets in one zinger: If Jesus didn't rise from the dead, Wright asks, how do we explain the explosive growth of early Christianity?....

The Jennings program is being praised by an Orthodox Jewish educator, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield of the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership (CLAL). "I was extremely impressed and moved," he says. "It made a great religious leader very available."

By contrast, traditional Christians will probably loathe the show, which will only reinforce their already profound distrust of establishment media empires....

END of Excerpt

For more about the Jennings special: http://www.mediaresearch.org/cyberalerts/2000/cyb20000629.asp#5

> Later today the MRC will be releasing a Special Report about CNN's coverage of Cuba. This afternoon I'll distribute it by e-mail. -- Brent Baker


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