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Context of 'January-November 1996: Study Shows that Limbaugh Listeners Distrust Mainstream Media Even as They Make Heavy Use of It'

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The Annenberg Public Policy Center conducts an eleven-month survey of political talk radio, focusing primarily on broadcasts by conservative Rush Limbaugh. It obtains, or creates, daily transcripts of Limbaugh’s shows. Subjected to content analysis, the researchers find that Limbaugh focuses most strongly on the following topics:
bullet President Bill Clinton (100 percent, or discussed every day).
bullet The mainstream media (100 percent), focusing on the New York Times (83 percent), the Washington Post (66 percent), CNN (57 percent), and the three major broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, at least 39 percent. Many, but not all, of these mentions are negative. Limbaugh also positively cites the Wall Street Journal (48 percent) and the Washington Times (32 percent), and often directs listeners to these news producers’ content.
bullet Democrats (96 percent).
bullet Republicans (94 percent).
bullet Senator Bob Dole (R-KS), the Republican presidential contender (91 percent).
bullet Hillary Clinton, the First Lady (88 percent).
As noted, most of Limbaugh’s remarks about mainstream media outlets are negative, except when they provide something with which he can agree—most often news items or tidbits that he can use to denigrate the Clintons, the Clinton administration, or Congressional Democrats.
Findings - The Annenberg study finds that Limbaugh’s listeners distrust the mainstream media more than any other group measured (two of the study’s authors, Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, later note that Fox News has not yet emerged as a powerful conservative alternative). In the 1996 study, that mistrust does not translate into a general shunning of mainstream news for conservative alternatives, but in a 2004 study also conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, that dynamic will have changed, with many Limbaugh listeners getting the bulk of their news from Fox News and from conservative Internet news providers. In 1996, Limbaugh’s listeners are heavy consumers of mainstream media reporting, albeit with a strong skeptical bent. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 168-171]

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, authors of the media study Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment, draw some tentative conclusions about the impact that conservative talk radio, specifically the broadcasts of Rush Limbaugh, and conservative news outlets such as Fox News have on their regular listeners. They find both positive and negative effects on the audiences.
Positive Impact - The conservative broadcasters have a positive impact, Jamieson and Cappella conclude, by helping their listeners “make sense of complex social issues on which elite opinion is divided. They accomplish this when they:
bullet Consistently frame arguments from conservative assumptions
bullet Build a base of supportive evidence for conservative beliefs and in the process distinguish them from ‘liberal’ ones
bullet Semantically and affectively prime key advocacy and attack points
bullet Arm their audience to argue effectively
bullet Minimize the likelihood of defection from conservatism by creating a sense of community among listeners who share a worldview, if not every political policy preference.”
The conservative radio hosts “protect their audience from counterpersuasion by inoculating it against opposing messages; at the same time, they increase the likelihood that the audience will try to persuade others. Conservative viewers, readers, and listeners are told by these media outlets that they are part of a much larger community… The belief that they are part of an army of others of like mind should increase their disposition to talk politics with those with whom they disagree. Finally, they stabilize the conservative base. This effect is produced at a cost: Those in the fold see ‘liberals’ and politicians as further from them—hence less worthy of support—than they actually are.”
Negative Impact - Jamieson and Cappella then turn to the negative impact on the audience. “We find other moves more problematic,” they write, “including those that:
bullet Insulate the audience from alternative media sources by casting them as untrustworthy, ‘liberal,’ and rooted in a double standard hostile to conservatives and conservatism
bullet Protect their audience from the influence of those opposed to the conservative message by balkanizing and polarizing their perception of opponents and their arguments
bullet Contest only the facts hospitable to opposing views
bullet Invite moral outrage by engaging emotion. This produces one advantage and one disadvantage: emotional involvement invites action and engagement rather than distancing and lethargy. On the downside, a steady diet of moral outrage feeds the assumption that the opponent is an enemy
bullet Replace argument with ridicule and ad hominem [arguing against an assertion by attacking the person making the assertion, not the assertion itself]
bullet Often invite their audiences to see the political world as one unburdened by either ambiguity or common ground across the ideological divide.
Liberals Imitating Conservatives' Success - Jamieson and Cappella conclude: “Democrats are, of course, more likely to accept the contested facts offered by their party and so are Republicans. We find it worrisome that the audiences for both Fox and Limbaugh were more likely than comparable conservatives to accept the Republican view of the contested facts in the 2004 election and more likely in the process to distort the positions of the Democratic nominees. But those who, with us, find the pro-Republican distortion among Limbaugh and Fox audiences should, with us, find the pro-Democratic distortion equally troubling among NPR listeners and CNN viewers.… What the conservative opinion media do for the Right and CNN and NPR do for the Left is increase a tendency to embrace the arguments and evidence offered by those with whom their audiences already agree. Fox and Limbaugh have also created a commercially viable model of partisan media that has elicited the sincerest form of flattery. On the Left, ‘Air America’ on radio and Countdown with Keith Olbermann on MSNBC are both experimenting with ways to translate their blend of entertainment and political advocacy into profits. Consistent with the model developed by the conservatives, Olbermann regularly features ‘Air America’ hosts.” [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 244-245]

Entity Tags: CNN, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Joseph N. Cappella, Keith Olbermann, Fox News, Rush Limbaugh, MSNBC, National Public Radio, Air America Radio

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Premiere Radio Networks logo.Premiere Radio Networks logo. [Source: Premiere Radio Networks]Premiere Radio Networks, the company that distributes radio shows by an array of right-wing hosts, including Rush Limbaugh, announces that 98 out of 350 advertisers, including a number of major corporations, have requested that their ads only appear on “programs free of content that you know are deemed to be offensive or controversial (for example, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Tom Leykis, Michael Savage, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity).” The Premiere email says, “Those are defined as environments likely to stir negative sentiment from a very small percentage of the listening public.” Limbaugh vilified law student Sandra Fluke for three days on his radio show (see February 29, 2012, March 1, 2012, and March 2, 2012), and though he issued an apology on his Web site (see March 3, 2012), advertisers have dropped their sponsorship of his show in increasingly large numbers (see March 2, 2012 and After) following a widespread outcry of anger against Limbaugh’s rhetoric. Now, large advertisers such as Ford, General Motors, Toyota, Allstate, Geico, Prudential, State Farm, McDonald’s, and Subway Restaurants have asked that their advertising be removed from Premiere’s right-wing talk shows. Industry insider Valerie Geller tells a reporter: “I have talked with several reps who report that they’re having conversations with their clients, who are asking not to be associated with specifically polarizing controversial hosts, particularly if those hosts are ‘mean-spirited.’ While most products and services offered on these shows have strong competitors, and enjoy purchasing the exposure that many of these shows and hosts can offer, they do not wish to be ‘tarred’ with the brush of anger, or endure customer anger, or, worse, product boycotts.” For nearly two decades, Limbaugh has been at the forefront of the movement that insisted conservative talk shows on radio and television must counterbalance what he and others have termed the “liberal bias” of the mainstream media (see Summer 1970, October 7, 1996, October 9, 2002, October 8, 2003, December 2004, December 14, 2005, December 19-20, 2005, December 21, 2005, May 2008, October 23-24, 2008, February 24, 2009, and August 11, 2009). After cable television and Internet access fragmented the market, “niche” audiences such as Limbaugh’s have provided the most reliable listenership and viewers, and the highest comparative ratings. However, the demographics are changing for right-wing talk. Limbaugh, Levin, Savage, Hannity, and others generally rate best among aging white males, a demographic that is less profitable than it used to be. Now, the prize advertising demographic is women aged 24 to 55, a demographic that has been leaving the right-wing talkers in steadily increasing numbers, and now makes up the forefront of the angry pushback against Limbaugh over his public savaging of a young female law student over a political disagreement. Some, including Limbaugh’s brother, right-wing talk show host David Limbaugh, have complained of a “left-wing jihad” against conservative radio hosts. However, as reporter John Avlon writes: “[T]he irony is that the same market forces that right-wing talk-radio hosts champion are helping to seal their fate. Advertisers are abandoning the shows because they no longer want to be associated with the hyperpartisan—and occasionally hateful—rhetoric. They are finally drawing a line because consumers are starting to take a stand.” Moreover, the advent of social media has made the response time for protesters and angry consumers almost immediate. Geller says: “In the past, a letter, petition, or phone campaign took a few days to put together and longer to execute. But now customers [listeners] can instantly rally using Facebook, Twitter, and instant messaging to make their displeasure with a client, product, or service known immediately. These movements can happen fast.” Avlon concludes: “When big money starts shifting, it is a sign of a deeper tide that is difficult to undo, even if you are an industry icon like Rush Limbaugh. It is a sign that the times are changing. Let’s hope that what emerges is an evolution of the industry, away from stupid, predictable, and sometimes hateful hyperpartisanship and toward something a little smarter and more civil.” [Radio-Info.com, 3/9/2012; Daily Beast, 3/10/2012]

Entity Tags: Mark Levin, Valerie Geller, General Motors, Geico, Ford Motor Company, Allstate, John Avlon, Tom Leykis, Toyota Motor Corporation, State Farm, Premiere Radio Networks, Michael Savage, McDonald’s, Prudential, Subway Restaurants, Glenn Beck, Sandra Fluke, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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