Dems' Win Little Help for Liberal Talkers

By Rob Patterson

Following President Obama’s reelection, pundits have been speculating that right-wing TV news and talk radio just might be in decline. I’m loath to speculate on that even if the signs do indicate that what has been a formidable force in American politics and media may have overreached and possibly squandered at least some portion of its power.

But that also may be wishful thinking. And what interests me far more is whether the left can ever utilize those entertainment mediums more effectively to get our viewpoint across.

As much as conservatives like to crow and kvetch about the “liberal media,” it’s a myth. Yet it’s a myth that the right has used to demean more conventional journalism as well as basic factuality and truth. They’ve managed to sell that notion as well as the idea of a “lamestream media” to a significant part of the electorate.

One of the biggest and most convincing arguments against the existence of some sort of liberal media is how genuinely leftist entertainment ventures have largely been a failure. The noble yet in the end disastrous experiment of Air America radio attests to that.

(As a columnist here, writer for a left-leaning local online news site and occasional contributor to Salon and the Huffington Post, I like to jest that I actually am the liberal media. And can tell you that it is hardly a profitable realm to work within.)

To its credit, Air America did help launch Rachel Maddow onto MSNBC. It served as a platform for Al Franken to establish himself in politics. It helped give greater exposure to former conservative Ed Schultz.

It wasn’t a total failure. But compared to the numbers generated and profits earned by the likes of Rush Limbaugh, Air America was an also-ran, sending out a signal that was barely heard beyond the borders of its core audience.

Some people tag MSNBC as the liberal 24-hour news network because it features Maddow and Schultz. I counter that it is simply a mainstream outlet with a bit more openness.

The next experiment in leftist broadcast/cable media is Current TV, best known as Al Gore’s venture into 24-hour cable news. It has managed to survive since 2005, but just barely. And recent media news reports that it is at least open to being purchased or a strategic partnership.

Meanwhile, it is cultivating potential liberal talk stars like former governors Elliot Spitzer (New York) – who one can’t help but wish had the sense to not become embroiled in his prostitution scandal and end a promising political career – and Jennifer Granholm (Michigan). Its documentary and long-form reporting has its merits. But Current’s low ratings continue to bolster the accepted wisdom that the left just isn’t a source of compelling news and talk programming.

Yet on the other hand, there’s the continuing popularity and I would contend political influence of the leftist humorists like Bill Maher, Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Liberals can be entertaining and score ratings when they are funny. And as Mahar keeps noting, the right wing is an endless source of jokes. I’d also make the case that the success of a network TV series like Modern Family underscores that point that an alternate notion of America has resonance with the populace.

So does the Occupy movement. And even the reelection of Barack Obama in the face of many millions spent by the right wing to defeat him, although he has struck me for the last four years as a dedicated centrist who uses progressive rhetoric effectively. But that also indicates a public appeal for the left wing vision.

How can that all be coalesced into a force to rival the bias of Fox News on TV and the near ubiquity of conservative talkers on radio? As I’ve said in the past, making the progressive vision entertaining is key to doing so. Humor is one of major factors, but it’s hardly all.

What we do have now is another four years when progressivism can make progress and it needs to hold Obama to his word and the leftist notions he alludes to. Can truly liberal voices finally find a way to make a greater dent in the public news and opinion dialogue conducted on the broadcast media? The question for now remains unanswered.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, January 1-15, 2013

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