Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity have turned to Twitter in recent weeks, seeking to show advertisers they can surmount current protests for controversial or misogynistic remarks. Limbaugh made his first tweet ever, while Hannity for weeks has been promoting his Twitter account hourly, enticing listeners to throw him support online.
Limbaugh has brought on
crisis management expert Brian Glicklich in his hasty embrace of digital media, including offers of free iPads for those who retweet his tweets. Glicklich's firm is noted for having helped Glenn Beck and others recover during public relations crises, but their work rehabilitating the image of Paris Hilton denotes a special irony.
Sean Hannity has also offered multiple iPads to friends of his show in exchange for Twitter support, including "Bigtime A.J." who wanted nothing to do with the popular gadget, typifying the sentiment of many older Hannity supporters who shun digital media.
Hannity then tried adopting a new policy of "conversation, not confrontation", allowing a smattering more liberal calls on the air, but this only made it more evident how his usual policy to prune them out was grievously imbalanced.
One of the first such callers suggested the host was "truth-challenged", prompting an unnerved Hannity to hang up on him in an instant failure of the new policy. But this is also what his screeners do behind the scenes.
Hannity next announced he would not entertain anyone who began a call by characterizing him as "a liar" -- because, he said, he did so much research and preparation for his show.
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If you listen to Hannity in small markets like Taos, Sheboygen or Kayson Springs, you might be used to hearing "filler" spots such as "FBI stories" with content provided free for stations that don't have enough advertising to fill all the available slots. In the weeks following Flukegate, these PSAs and even dead air late could be heard on both Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity's shows in major markets like NYC, causing a mad scramble.
Recognizing the importance of the female demographic, Limbaugh and Hannity's parent company Premiere Radio Networks reacted swiftly
to prolonged protests over Rush's comments about Sandra Fluke his and facetious apology which retracted only the words "slut" and "prostitute" but doubled down on the premise.
Fluke fought for for a whole class of women's medically necessary prescriptions, denied if they work or study at Jesuit institutions like Georgetown. Limbaugh and Hannity unrepentantly portrayed Fluke as having an unquenchable desire for sex with multiple partners and free recreational prophylactics. This is what Limbaugh's apology missed, to focus only on his decidely anti-woman vocabulary.
As we learned, advertisers expressed concern in the wake of popular backlash, prompting Premiere to issue a memo ensuring certain barter ads keep away from shows deemed "offensive" or "controversial". The memo sent by Premiere to it's ad managers specifically listed Hannity, Mark Levin, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck and Limbaugh as examples.
These "concerned" advertisers include McDonalds, Subway, Toyota, Geico, Allstate, Ford and GM and many others.
Following days of disparaging comments, Sean Hannity went to bat for Limbaugh, maligning Fluke and justifying the slurs as somehow forgiveable because liberals had also used made nasty comments going back through the years.
To wit, Ed Schultz also called Laura Ingraham a "right wing slut", but Schultz was instantly suspended - he was also using the term figuratively, implying Ingraham easily changes her stripes in political sentiment, not that she was literally sleeping around, a deviant nympho with multiple partners.
A better example pointed to the vulgar "c" word used by Bill Maher in referring to Sarah Palin. This was again different because Maher's HBO show is not broadcast over FCC-regulated public airwaves, but over private cable lines in which customers pay HBO specifically for adult oriented content. Some say Maher gets a "comedian" exception because he sometimes curses for effect in garnering laughs, but Maher's long personal history of womanizing is also well known. So let's call this a valid complaint on balance - Maher shouldn't use the "c" word in political commentary and in my opinion, should also apologize.
Limbaugh was dropped from two stations after the Fluke controversy, causing the executives at Premiere to ponder the general user experience - can radio hosts like Hannity or Limbaugh who are so biased be trusted at all when they are not willing to explore all of the reporting on a given issue? Can they pretend they have not been debunked in the online press and forge ahead?
Yes, they can, according to the CEO of Premiere's parent corporation Clear Channel, Robert Pittman who said this widespread public outrage was simply "part of the normal day-to-day of talk radio." In otherwords, we can expect it again and again.
Limbaugh and Hannity's record of undue and intentional bias has been well documented, misrepresenting checkable facts or limiting the perspectives heard unreasonably.
For months, Hannity has had Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum on as live guests in weekly rotation, even giving Herman Cain ample air-time, with no notable Democratic or third party candidates or representatives heard during this period.
This imbalance may fuel calls to make such lopsided programming fall under the umbrella of "electionering communications" when only one party is granted so much air time -- without including well publicized tough questions.
Can this possibly serve the public interest? According to voters, the #1 election issue is the economy. Hannity claims the Bush tax cuts encourages the rich to create jobs. He would be wrong.
From 1984 to 2009, the average net worth of Congressional reps went from
$280,000 to $725,000 (not including home equity) while the wealth of the average American household slipped from $20,600 to $20,500 (WaPo).
The "Reagaonomics" policy of "trickle-down" puts hundreds of thousands per year right into the pockets of rich "freemarket" proponents like Limbaugh and Hannity, but contributed to trillions in decifits that resulted in wave after wave of layoffs.
When I got through to Hannity's call screener earlier this year asking for a source for his claim that the rich are the job creators, the screener said "I'll pass it on" and hung up on me. I called right back to complain about the rude treatment and the selective inequity, being that this unfounded claim of Hannity's has become so crucial to the public interest and upcoming elections today. Then, they hung up on me again.
Another four calls over weeks and months to Hannity's screeners to ask critically important questions on the air met the same fate. When I asked to dispute the claim we must start a new war with Iran, the screener hung up on me. When I asked to speak about White House/partisan media coordination, I was hung up on. I asked why those who observe "Thou Shalt Not Kill" should have their tax dollars used to kill people against their religious beliefs, and I was hung up on.
Conversely, Hannity embraces the most radical viewpoints from the fringe, for example repeatedly hosting a pastor who said
Obama's mother was a trashy whore, or one caller given more than ten minutes to expound on his claim that the FBI told him
President Obama was on a first name basis with the brother of a convicted FALN bomber.
Even before the Fluke incident, John Avlon of The Daily Beast asked Is Right Wing Talk Dying?
as he noticed sliding ratings, flat growth and huge losses, noting audiences looking for one-sided talk are flatlining while new listeners are rejecting the instantly recognizable taint of propaganda. There are also so many right-wing clones all over the dial, it seems the market it now oversaturated.
Limbaugh was put on something of a two-week probation as the executives behind Premiere, Cumulus, Clear Channel (partially owned by Bain Capital) and other syndicators, distributors and stations acertain whether or not Limbaugh will be a net loss or gain for them. Though Limbaugh is enjoying a $400 million contract, stations like WABC have been bleeding cash
throughout this debacle. But even before this, Clear Channel was almost $20 billion in debt, losing $200 million in 2011 alone (Forbes
Lest anyone think the solution for Limbaugh and Hannity is censorship, I disagree. I believe the public interest would be best served not by "hushing Rush", rather challenging him to defend his arguments in the light of day.
Imagine him with a quick-witted, well-informed female liberal co-host like Laura Flanders, Katrina vanden Heuvel or Jane Hamsher. We all know Limbaugh is too cowardly to debate articulate callers
openly, but Hannity flirted with the idea before it bit him in his ass.
With the public now more attuned to radio propaganda, and Twitter giving a powerful lift to transparency and democracy, we'll see if sponsors, stations and program directors come to see the benefit of open debate.
Just saw Politico ran a statement
crafted by crisis management expert Brian Glicklich, "Spokesperson" for Rush Limbaugh.
Among other exhortations spun by the hired gun, we hear that anti-Rush boycotts are an attack on small businesses and workers, not Limbaugh, who Glicklich says helped build these companies.
Mostly teeing off on David Brock, Glicklich's closing lines make no sense, grammatically or otherwise, suggesting he didn't even proofread:
"Limbaugh has broadcast his passionate beliefs to the largest audience in the history of radio for decades. Because they choose to listen, to participate and to disagree -- when that is what they believe."
This release seeks to be damage control anticipating press breaking today
which shows it's talk radio that has been killing jobs - commenting on Clear Channel's debt and job-killing, NY Times Brian Stelter of the NY Times writes:
"For years they have been squeezing costs out at stations by laying off employees and cutting local programming."
If your local station runs Hannity or Limbaugh, they might have replaced a local host taking calls about your community and airing your opinions...
Update (4/12/12): Sean Hannity announced this week his own hashtag #LNYHBT, short for 'Let Not Your Heart Be Troubled' and continues to offer supporters free gifts for making him more popular on Twitter, this week announcing a t-shirt.
Credit Hannity for trying a semi-honest way to get Twitter support, where Newt Gingrich reportedly had a marketing firm fake accounts to get him over 1.4 million followers, three times as much as any other GOP candidate.
You could on the other hand, just appeal to tech savvy people. Stephen Colbert boasts 3.3 million while Rachel Maddow has a respectable 2 million.