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Profile: Air America Radio
Air America Radio was a participant or observer in the following events:
Sam Seder, hosting Air America’s Randi Rhodes show, interviews Scott Ritter about statements he made concerning US military plans against Iran three days earlier (see February 18, 2005). Responding to a question about possible US military air strikes on Iran, Ritter says: “I have sources, which are unimpeachable, which I would not state who they are, who told me in October of 2004 that the president had been briefed on military strike options against Iran that were to commence in June of 2005. And that the president signed off on these plans.” [Air America Radio, 2/21/2005]
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:
Consistently frame arguments from conservative assumptions
Build a base of supportive evidence for conservative beliefs and in the process distinguish them from ‘liberal’ ones
Semantically and affectively prime key advocacy and attack points
Arm their audience to argue effectively
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:
Insulate the audience from alternative media sources by casting them as untrustworthy, ‘liberal,’ and rooted in a double standard hostile to conservatives and conservatism
Protect their audience from the influence of those opposed to the conservative message by balkanizing and polarizing their perception of opponents and their arguments
Contest only the facts hospitable to opposing views
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
Replace argument with ridicule and ad hominem [arguing against an assertion by attacking the person making the assertion, not the assertion itself]
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]
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