This is not a political piece. It’s a media piece. And the media coverage of the Rush Limbaugh Show is generally deplorable.
This week, we’ve been hearing from the media and financial reporters how the CEO of Cumulus Media, Lew Dickey, is saying that the controversy surrounding the Limbaugh show is depressing his advertising sales.
I’m going to stick to facts … not my political agenda. Here are the facts:
1. Rush Limbaugh is the # 1-rated radio show host in America. That was true 10 years ago, it was true last year, and it’s true today.
2. A little over a year ago, Rush gave a description of a woman that was rejected by the Republicans as an expert to provide testimony before congress … but did testify to the Democrats in congress. This woman, Sandra Fluke, said that she believed birth control should be provided to her free as a part of Obamacare. Here’s how Wikipedia describes the incident:
On February 29, 2012, Rush Limbaugh labeled Sandra Fluke a “slut” and “prostitute” based on her speech before House Democrats. Fluke appeared to support mandating health insurers to cover contraceptive costs. Limbaugh stated:
“[Fluke] essentially says that she must be paid to have sex—what does that make her? It makes her a slut, right? It makes her a prostitute. She wants to be paid to have sex. She’s having so much sex she can’t afford the contraception. She wants you and me and the taxpayers to pay her to have sex.”
Political figures, including President Obama and Republican House Speaker John Boehner, voiced disapproval of Limbaugh’s comments. On March 3, Limbaugh apologized to Fluke for his comments, saying his “insulting word choices” were meant to be “humorous”, and that he never believed her to be a “slut” or a prostitute. Fluke rejected the apology as dubious and inadequate.
3. After these comments (and before them, for that matter), Limbaugh was lambasted by the left. Many advocacy groups attacked him, and continue to attack any advertiser that buys ads on his show.
4. What financial impact these moves have had is not public knowledge. Both sides declare victory, and neither position can be proven. Have advertisers left the Limbaugh show? Yes. Have others joined the show? Yes.
5. It’s also true that Cumulus has its own shows … and replacing Limbaugh with a show that they own might be more lucrative … but perhaps not, given that Limbaugh is the top-rated radio host in America.
6. Limbaugh always refers to himself as an entertainer … “with talent on loan from God.” He’s not a politician, and he’s not required to be anything but entertaining. Which he is, to the largest group of radio listeners in America (are you getting this?).
7. Limbaugh is a divisive, lightning rod personality that is hated by much of the left and loved by much of the right. Personally, I deplore his spiteful descriptions of people like Sandra Fluke … even as I applaud the ratings and revenue he has delivered to radio broadcasters over the last 2 decades. And that he continues to deliver as the top-rated radio personality in America.
8. Limbaugh is syndicated by the Premiere Radio Network, which is owned by Clear Channel. He is not a part of the Cumulus radio network, as the Huffington Post article claims.
9. His show is carried by over 500 radio stations, including 40 significant stations owned by Cumulus.
10. Cumulus also owns competitive syndicated radio shows, including shows hosted by Mike Huckabee and Mark Levin. (note: they are not as big of a deal as Rush. Huckabee is thinking about cancelling his show now, actually.)
11. The CEO of Cumulus, Lew Dickey, has blamed Limbaugh for revenue losses at his stations. Limbaugh’s spokespeople have stated that the problem is the Cumulus stations, not the Limbaugh program.
12. Limbaugh has intimated, through his spokespeople, that he may leave the Cumulus radio stations; his contract with them is up at the end of this year.
13. Is this bad for Limbaugh? Unclear. Is this bad for Cumulus? Unclear.
The truth is that radio networks are very competitive, and Limbaugh’s show is owned by the largest radio group, Clear Channel. His show does appear on many important stations owned by the # 2 radio group, Cumulus. If Limbaugh’s show comes off Cumulus stations, that could hurt Cumulus (as they would be losing the #1-rated host in America). If Limbaugh’s show moves to Clear Channel stations, that could be good for Clear Channel … who wouldn’t want the #1-rated host, if they were available?
HOWEVER, the Huffington Post column today was absolutely inaccurate. Even the headline implied an untruth:
Cumulus CEO On Rush Limbaugh Ad Drop: ‘The Facts Are Indisputable’
The truth is, the facts ARE disputable. And in any event, the Cumulus CEO is hardly an impartial bystander. He’s got an agenda … and millions of dollars at stake. He’s making a case to his investors that he should drop the top-rated radio show in America, saying it’s costing them money. Is that true? Well, he said it was. Would he take a position to gain a competitive, commercial advantage? You bet.
The Huffington Post column by Jack Mirkinson continues to paint a very twisted portrait of the situation. All of the “experts” quoted in the article are either representatives of the viewpoint of the left (Media Matters, Mediaite) or they are direct competitors for advertising dollars with the Limbaugh Show (Dial Global, Cumulus). I don’t know Mr. Mirkinson, but it appears that he knows how to write a hatchet job. It doesn’t appear, at least in this case, that he understands how to report opposing viewpoints.
Be careful of the “facts” reported by today’s media, people. With the extreme revenue pressure being felt by media, you never know if what media is reporting is properly vetted, effectively edited, or merely provided by an advocacy group or a corporation with a hidden, competitive agenda.
For balanced coverage of Limbaugh’s situation, I highly recommend Tom Taylor Now, a radio industry newsletter (that’s free!). Tuesday’s edition, with Limbaugh’s situation covered in story #2, is here. An indisputable truth is that Rush Limbaugh has been a very successful radio host for many, many years. He has millions of loyal listeners, and he has station owners that fight for the right to broadcast his show.
It’s also true that Limbaugh is a very controversial figure that many people want to fail.
But he hasn’t done that yet. No matter how loudly that viewpoint may be shouted from biased publications such as the Huffington Post.
Disclaimer #1: I work for a radio industry software supplier. Our products are competitive with other products owned and sold by both Clear Channel and Cumulus subsidiaries. The stations owned by Clear Channel and Cumulus are not our customers.
Disclaimer # 2: I worked for many years selling advertising to companies currently owned by both Clear Channel and Cumulus. I no longer do so.
Disclaimer # 3: I worked with Tom Taylor for a couple of years, and he’s the best journalist working in the radio industry. In my humble opinion.