Time's Corliss Eulogizes Air America, Insists Its Failure Says Nothing About Liberalism's Appeal

Time writer Richard Corliss lamented the decline and fall of Air America radio Thursday, and the decline of the Democrats: "It died a year and a day after Barack Obama's Inauguration, and two days after Obama's Democrats all but officially became a minority party in the U.S. Senate." Despite that pessimistic note, Corliss insisted that Air America’s failure said absolutely nothing about the appeal of liberalism in America:

So why is poli-talk radio so dominated by Limbaugh, when the country is not? Because, even for people who don't agree with him, he can be monstrously entertaining; he makes great radio. He and his clones may dominate as a radio format, and energize the conservative base and annoy liberal politicians, but their success is not a reflection of the mood of the country at large. And in the ratings, the whole contingent of the Radio Right is outpointed by NPR's "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered." That's where the liberal listeners so desired by Air America went for their news and (covert) commentary.

Some of us told anyone who would listen in 2004 that Air America would have serious trouble succeeding in commercial radio when liberals already had a station in most American cities in their NPR news and talk station. But it’s funny that Corliss would use supposedly balanced, taxpayer-funded NPR to be the ideological opposite of conservative talk radio. Highly-rated conservative radio certainly does depend on entertainment/information value, but its appeal is also driven by shameless liberal bias from the "mainstream" media, which Corliss is somehow incapable of acknowledging. He scorned conservatives for cheering Air America’s failure:

The Right couldn't wait to crow over the corpse, and read grand omens in its entrails. "The passing of Air America is another reminder that our nation is center right," wrote Paul Cooper on David Horowitz's Newsreal web site, "and the ideas of Barack Obama, Harry Reid, and Nancy Pelosi will never take root in this great country." Really? Since Rush Limbaugh established himself as a radio phenomenon in 1991, and spawned a new genre of political talk (including Air America), the country has elected two Democrats to the U.S. Presidency in three of the last five elections. The party runs the House of Representatives and misruns the Senate. To these factors, the radio dominance of Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Michael Savage is as irrelevant as the failure of Air America. Radio spielers don't shape legislative policy.

That statement is simply ridiculous. If "radio spielers" had no effect, why don’t we have government-dominated health care yet? Where is the "immigration reform" that both parties moved to pass? That’s simply sour grapes talking.There’s also this giggle-pushing sentence on Air America’s failure: "At the same time, MSNBC was showing how liberals could make TV that was appealing, and sometimes competitive with the Fox News behemoth." MSNBC, "competitive" with Fox News? That’s a little like calling the Detroit Lions "competitive." The only other thing worth noting is how Corliss clearly was a fan of Air America, as he praised their talents: -- "Randi Rhodes in the afternoon drive-time slot, showed the network how it's done. Braying and abrasive, funny and whip-smart, Rhodes had what Limbaugh had: a distinctive voice that made people tune in for her next insight or outrage."-- "Maddow was the one star whom Air America created from scratch, though it took ages for them to realize her value." -- "Ron Reagan, son of the revered Republican president, parlayed his Seattle radio show into an Air America slot, and developed a style that was sharp without being unduly aggressive."-- "Franken, in some markets, occasionally, beat Limbaugh and Bill O'Reilly. A quicker study than some of his comedy-bred colleagues, he also learned how to use the medium: by letting his inner wonk run rampant. He convened a kitchen cabinet of policy savants — Joe Conason,  Norm Ornstein, David Brock, Lawrence O'Donnell, Melanie Sloan, Christy Harvey, David Sirota, Tom Oliphant — who brought nuance to confrontation. It was the thoughtiest radio around, National Public Radio with a serrated edge, until Feb. 14, 2007, when Franken announced his Minnesota Senate candidacy." Air America brought "nuance to confrontation"? That's certainly not the epitaph it should receive.

Tim Graham
Tim Graham
Tim Graham is Executive Editor of NewsBusters and is the Media Research Center’s Director of Media Analysis