Why are conservatives so ready to accept behaviors in their own media that they themselves would damn as outrageous if they occurred in non-conservative media? This is an issue I address in my latest column for The Week.
Regular listeners to the Rush Limbaugh program will rarely, if ever, hear the broadcaster cite the work of the American Enterprise Institute. Or the Cato Institute. Or the Manhattan Institute. Or other right-of-center think tanks.
The rival Heritage Foundation does, however, get frequent and favorable mention on the most popular conservative talk show in America. In part, Heritage owes this attention to Limbaugh’s genuine admiration for the institution:
“There were a lot of people who nobody ever heard of who were responsible for people like me all over the country amassing and acquiring knowledge that’s not available in a classroom anywhere, or not very many classrooms, and then being able to explain it to people who have not been able to access that information. These are academics, people that work at think tanks, laboring in the basements in anonymity, writing, researching, publishing so that people like me — I include Mr. Buckley, but he was well known — but were are all kinds of people who were producing brilliant things, research, opinion pieces that I was able to access, and I was an omnivorous and voluminous reader when it came to public policy and current events and history and things.
“One of the places that was invaluable to me in acquiring a bedrock or foundation, understanding of conservatism — and Mr. Buckley was one, of course, and Ronald Reagan — but the Heritage Foundation, and to this day we quote work that comes out of the Heritage Foundation …”
But there’s another reason that Heritage gets such unique and favorable treatment on the Limbaugh program. It pays for it.
“The Heritage Foundation pays about $2 million to sponsor Limbaugh’s show and about $1.3 million to do the same with Hannity’s — and considers it money well spent.
“‘We approach it the way anyone approaches advertising: Where is our audience that wants to buy what you sell?’ Genevieve Wood, Heritage’s vice president for operations and marketing. ‘And their audiences obviously fit that model for us. They promote conservative ideas and that’s what we do.’
“Last month, in the midst of a flurry of scrutiny of GOP presidential candidates’ stances on health insurance mandates similar to one included in the 2010 Democratic healthcare overhaul, Limbaugh took to the airwaves to defend Heritage’s past support for such a proposal.
“‘The Heritage Foundation to this day says they are being impugned and misrepresented in terms of their advocacy for such a thing,’ Limbaugh said, explaining that the venerable think tank ‘abandoned the idea once they saw it implemented’ and realized ‘it doesn’t work’ …”
(Read the whole Politico story here.)
Understand: We are not talking about commercials, separated from the main flow of editorial content. Heritage work is embedded and inserted directly into the editorial flow of the Limbaugh program, as if selected without regard to the money paid.
Also understand: It’s not just Limbaugh, and it’s not just Heritage.
Heritage pays for similar treatment on Sean Hannity’s radio program. FreedomWorks pays for mentions on the Glenn Beck show. Americans for Prosperity pays to be promoted on Mark Levin’s show. The endorsements often obscure the paid-for nature of the broadcaster’s endorsement.
Ditto for the relentless advocacy of gold purchases by almost every radio host.
Just imagine if the CBS Evening News were to accept $2 million from a pharmaceutical company, and then run news spots about the excellent benefits from taking that company’s medication. Imagine if the Los Angeles Times accepted $2 million from a company promoting a natural gas pipeline, and then published editorials advocating government approval of the pipeline route. Imagine if columnists at the Financial Times accepted money to tout British bonds or German stocks.
Shocking, right? Yet for millions of Americans, conservative talk radio is a news source much more trusted than CBS or the Los Angeles Times or the Financial Times.