Who Needs Air America When We Have NPR?
Rush Limbaugh used to say that there was no need for a liberal alternative to him because he was the alternative to the mainstream liberal media. Commenting on the impending bankrupcy of Air America, Jonah Goldberg agrees, observing,
Conservative talk radio met a demand in the market that wasn’t being satisfied. That’s why copy-catting the right is such folly for liberals across a wide range of fronts. They don’t understand that they already control universities, for example. But they see conservative success with think tanks, so now they’re investing in think tanks.
Ezra Klein concurs, noting, “The liberal radio market was actually quite crowded, mainly due to the overwhelming popularity of NPR.” Klein updates his post with the disclaimer “I don’t believe that NPR is liberal, I believe liberals listen to NPR” but the two go hand-in-hand.
NPR isn’t the liberal equivalent of Rush Limbaugh, to be sure. Indeed, my clock radio wakes me up to NPR every morning and I frequently listen in the car. Still, on a variety of social issues, NPR simply presumes that its listeners hold a very liberal worldview. From gay marriage to abortion to gun control to environmental regulation to foreign policy, the progressive orthodoxy is accepted as entirely noncontroversial.
Similarly, while the fact that the elite universities are disproportionately progressive is not quite comparable to the more rigidly ideological views of Cato or Heritage, Goldberg is right that the latter arose in response to their views being given short shrift in the former. Ditto, Fox News, the Washington Times, and other mostly conservative media outlets.
The bottom line is that Limbaugh, Fox News, and others filled chasms rather than niches. There were oceans of people in the Heartland that simply felt ignored by the old media.
The reverse phenomenon, by the way, explains why the Angry Left dominates the political blogosphere, despite it essentially being invented by the moderate Right. While the, as one of Klein’s commenters put it, “Cokie Roberts/Conventional Wisdom view of US politics” is still available in abundance, there was nowhere that the people who were genuinely angry about the 2000 election and what they perceived as the tyranny of the Religious Right to turn to get their views echoed forcefully. No conservative DailyKos will emerge until and unless the Left comes to dominate American politics.
Ironically, though, the existence of DailyKos and its progeny probably helps explain why Air America has done so poorly. Radio is much less communitarian than the blogosphere, since interaction requires getting past busy signals and being put on hold for long periods of time. And, frankly, anger works better in print than on radio, Michael Savage notwithstanding.