Dear Rush Limbaugh:
Thank you for writing your open letter to President Obama, published Friday as an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. I know things have been tough for your syndicator and owned stations (Premiere/Clear Channel). First, the banks tried to renege on their deal to take your employer private, and you all had to take less. Then the bean-counters came in and you had that mass firing Inauguration day. Then, the junk bonds keeping your company alive got even junkier. Standard and Poor downgraded them from B to B-.
With so many things wrong in this country, it made no sense when there was suddenly so much hue and cry from the biggest right wing talk networks and station groups over the fairness doctrine. Mr. Obama’s never liked the fairness doctrine, your party is against it, and you can count those in my party who want it reinstated on your fingers and toes. You may not even need your toes.
Last Friday (the same day Clear Channel’s massive debt got downgraded), you dropped your pants in your WSJ op-ed and it suddenly all made sense. Its not about the fairness doctrine at all, is it?
Its about a handful of companies owning the vast majority of powerful radio stations across this country and putting on nearly every station the same imported schlock with no local staffs, minimal local content, and in some cases not even a living soul stationed at studio or transmitter.
Your precise question to President Obama:
Is it your intention to censor talk radio through a variety of contrivances, such as “local content,” “diversity of ownership,” and “public interest” rules — all of which are designed to appeal to populist sentiments but, as you know, are the death knell of talk radio and the AM band?
Requiring Clear Channel to provide local content in their communities of license is not censorship. Its like requiring an investment company to actually buy some stocks and bonds for their investors and truthfully advise those investors about their holdings. Requiring radio stations to serve their communities–regardless of the political leanings of the ultimate content–is only a death knell to weak and poorly managed companies: companies like yours; companies that you would ordinarily, as a free market conservative, demand be thrown under the bus.
Fact is, Mr. Limbaugh, what has happened in the radio business is the same thing that has happened in the banking, the mortgage, and even the automobile industries. We “let the market decide,” by deregulating everything in sight, and the charlatans took over: people who don’t give a rat’s ass about ethics or values or anything but this month’s profit. Your masters bought up every radio station and station group they could find using expensive debt. The interest payments siphoned off the money for local programming and public service.
The decimation of the radio business by firing legions of talented people at the local stations, replacing them with automatons voiced in sweatshops in “cluster facilities” hundreds of miles away is broadcasting’s version of a Ponzi scheme. Its like selling off the locomotive of a train claiming inertia would keep it moving. Now that its ground to a stop, you’re trying to blame President Obama because you’re afraid he’s going to force you to replace the engine.
Your answer is to do what Rove, Cheney, and Bush did to sell the Iraq war. First you teach that the fairness doctrine is a bad thing. You call it censorship. Then you use those terms in a sentence with all the things you want to sully. Fairness doctrine, public interest, diversity of ownership, local content. There’s no connection, but you hope your listeners aren’t sharp enough to catch it. Saddam Hussein, terrorist, 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, Iraq, axis of evil, mushroom cloud.
But this time, they might catch on. All those words strung together to get us into war were either bad or unfamiliar and foreign sounding. Local content, local ownership, local people behind local mikes discussing local issues—what we once called full-service radio—are things people understand and many of us even remember. It will not be easy to redefine them as a negative when a lot of people will see them as an old friend, and it would truly be karma to see the “populist sentiment” that you’ve played like a violin for 20 years be the thing that puts your stations back in the hands of people who care about serving their communities, and takes you off the air for good.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if your denouement came the very first time you got caught red-handed at the Shock Doctrine? Rush Limbaugh, Saddam Hussein, Sean Hannity, Clear Channel, Terrorist, 9/11, mushroom cloud.