Liberals take to the air

Posted 11:56am April 12

by Aaron Huertas
U-WIRE Washington Bureau

Al Franken has gone from “Saturday Night Live writer” to the author of popular liberal books like “Rush Limbaugh is a Big Fat Idiot” and “Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right”.

Franken has been railing against the right for years, but his latest venture, in the workings for over a year, is to host the flagship show on a liberal talk radio network, hoping to stake out a voice for liberals in a largely conservative dominated medium.

Franken told the Washington Post that the station was part of “a battle for truth, a battle for justice, a battle for America itself.”

He added, “Not to be grandiose about it.”

Talk radio listeners tune into conservatives like Sean Hannity and Limbaugh, who combine for 30 million listeners daily. Other popular conservative radio hosts include Michael Medved, Dr. Laura and Michael Savage.

The network, Air America, is being funded by businessman Mark Walsh, who worked for John Kerry’s presidential campaign and was an executive at HBO, and Manhattan financier Evan Cohen. Walsh said he expects Air America to lose 30 million in start-up money in the next few years. He and the rest of the company’s less than 100 employees are hoping the network will start to attract disenfranchised liberal radio listeners.

Walsh’s hosts include entertainment figures such as Franken, rapper Chuck D, comedian Janeane Garofalo and Lizz Winstead, one of the creators of “The Daily Show.” Walsh paired these radio novices with more experienced co-hosts.

The network’s signal can be heard in Chicago, New York, Portland, Los Angeles and other areas of Southern California. It can also be accessed through XM Satellite Radio and its Web site, airamericaradio.com.

Jay Severin, a conservative radio host wrote in op-ed in the Boston Globe, challenging the potential success of the network. “Yes, we know you believe with utmost sincerity that we are monstrous Neanderthals,” he wrote, “but do you really believe your left-wing/pacifist/United Nations/French worldview will win a big middle-class audience? In America?”

Although both sides take part in such caricaturing of one another’s views, Severin brings up a point. Conservative talk radio hosts are known for their vigor and vitriol in defending their positions and attacking their opponents. Liberals are often portrayed as wishy-washy and unable to draw a line in the sand over which those who cross are simply in the wrong.

Call it moral relativism or simply the great divide over which political philosophies fall. The question is, can liberals make for exciting radio? The jury, that is to say the ratings, is still not out. And Walsh and other liberals are taking the long view, hoping the network can start snowballing, slowly gathering a following of loyal liberals.

The New York Observer reported that Al Gore, who was a booster for the radio station, is looking into liberal television, too. He and Joel Hyatt, a Democratic fund-raiser, are planning on paying $70 million to the French-owned Vivendi Universal to buy their digital-cable news channel, Newsworld International.

Increasingly, news organizations might be following in the steps of radio. Fox News has almost declared itself conservative, while CNN sheepishly offers a liberal counter frame. MSNBC is finding there is little room in the middle for grabbing an audience. People already pick and choose the media they expose themselves to, thus reinforcing their own beliefs.

As media outlets become more specialized and start targeting smaller sections of the population, and perhaps become more openly biased, there might be greater implications on public opinion in the future.

But for now, at least, all we know is that some people in radio-land are starting to have the options that television viewers and newspaper readers have had for years.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.