I Get Emails

I received this email today.

The City Wide Coalition urges its supporters to support the demonstrations taking place this week to protest the firing of WYPR talk show host Marc Steiner. For information, there are two articles in the Baltimore Sun over the last two days as well as a couple in the Baltimore Examiner.

The demonstrations will be taking place from noon to 1 p.m. in front of WYPR at 2216 N. Charles every day this week. The “fat cats” who guaranteed the $5 million loan for the station have decided to fire Marc without any warning or giving him a chance to appeal to his listeners.

In our view, they don’t like him because of how progressive he is.

It is important to the community that he be reinstated. It goes without saying, that we urge members of WYPR to withhold funding to the station until Marc is reinstated.

Also, WYPR, as “your public radio” should be democratized. It should be turned into a genuine cooperative where those who give their membership donations get the vote as to the set-up of the Board of Directors. This would ensure that the Board is answerable to the listeners of the station and programming changes are made with the permission of them. Baltimore should lead the way in this for the other public radio and public television stations throughout the country.

In struggle,

Name withheld

I don’t have an opinion on Marc Steiner one way or the other, I don’t listen to WYPR. I’m a WBAL guy. However, I doubt that Steiner was let go because he was too “progressive,” or that deueling political philosophies played a role. Why would the “fat cats” drop $5 million to save WYPR if they did not like its progressive tilt? If their intent was to change the format they would have done it six years ago when they intervened to guarantee the purchase loan.

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Even though Steiner is indeed a progressive, I have heard that he was always fair and honest moderator, and I tend to believe that. The two times I did tune in Steiner seemed to confirm that.

Hint: when someone uses the Marxist sign off “in struggle,” its a sign that their thinking is severely constrained.

However, the thing that bothers me in press and opinion accounts of the story are the comparisons of Steiner’s show with commercial talk radio (i.e. conservative talk radio).

From Michael Olesker:

When Steiner led the effort to buy the old WJHU station from Johns Hopkins University, his intention was to turn it into a community conversation on the airwaves, where smart, informed people shared the news and the cultural trends of the day. And that’s exactly what he made it…

It wasn’t a chorus line of ditto-heads echoing each other’s cheap shots; it was a true marketplace exchange of ideas.

Dan Rodricks:

I have never understood why people who work in public radio seem determined to appeal only to the informed 2 percent of Listener Land

The Baltimore Sun:

Unlike typical talk-radio shows with shrill voices and blatant political slants, Steiner engaged in controlled discussions that appealed to both sides of the aisle.

Give me a break. This intellectual snobbery reaks to high heaven. Its the typical progressive trope that the people who listen to conservative talk radio are knuckle dragging trogolodytes who lack the abililty to think for themselves. Or, they fall into the tinfoil hat conspiratorial category like this anonymous intellectual giant on Rodricks blog:

The right-wing has long been critical of NPR for not slanting things their way and has led the effort to disembowel Public Radio. Marc is as even-handed and fair as they come, so he had to go in favor of some more inflamatory right winger who may be subsidized by some billionaire afraid that the truth about his exploitation of the poor and middle-class will be honestly reported. I suspect that a little digging would uncover a letter writing campaign against Marc spawned by a right-wing organization. They get both Marc and possibley kill WYPR too.

According to Olesker, Rodricks, and the Baltimore Sun only the “smart informed,” “2 percent” of the population listen to Steiner and NPR. The implication being that conservative talk radio is nothing more than an echo chamber for the rest of us cro-magnons.

This reveals a two things; they don’t know anything about conservative talk radio beyond what Media Matters tells them, and they don’t understand why conservative talk radio is successful versus its liberal counterparts like Air America or NPR.

Contrary to Olesker, conservative talk radio is not an agreement factory full of Rush Limbaugh “ditto heads’. In fact there is a wide range of opinion within conservative talk radio. Not all “ditto heads” agree 100% with Limbaugh. There is disagreement between conservative talk show hosts. Ron Smith and Bruce Elliot at WBAL couldn’t be farther apart on the Iraq War. Salem radio personalities Hugh Hewitt and Michael Medved are at odds over the GOP nominaiton. Hewitt supports Mitt Romney, Medved supports John McCain. Conservative talk radio is not a complete shill for the GOP either. Almost to a man, national conservative talk show hosts castigated the Bush administration on amnesty and spending

Furthermore, conservative talk radio does not shy away from debating opposing points of view. Dennis Prager debated Howard Zinn, Hugh Hewitt debated Sunsara Taylor from World Can’t Wait. Locally Peter Bielenson, Curt Anderson, Allan Lichtman, and Ben Cardin are regular guests on Ron Smith’s program.

The main reason that conservative talk radio is more successful is that its various messages resonate with a larger audience. Its one thing to try and replicate Salem or EIB, but as we saw with Air America, Al Franken ranting about racist conservatives or Randi Rhodes waxing poetic about an assasination of George W. Bush does not make successful talk radio.

I’m not saying Steiner’s show was like that, clearly it wasn’t. However, Steiner’s ratings did drop 21% along with 17% for WYPR’s overall ratings. Obviously something wasn’t working and people stopped listening. Where as conservative talk radio is expanding.

Not surprisingly the same crowd that bemoans the loss of “public radio” also favors restoring the fairness doctrine. They complain that the market has failed to bring about diverse (read progressive) voices and opinions over the airwaves. They forget that markets are essentially about consumer choices, and as George Will quipped liberals define market failure as “consumers’ not buying what liberals are selling.”

crossposted on The Main Adversary

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