By Lars Larson
Compass Media Networks/Alpha Broadcasting
Talk Show Host
PORTLAND, OR — Michael, I know you’re trying to squeeze some lemonade out of your career prospects but bashing fellow talk hosts as routinely and regularly lying to listeners isn’t the best way to sell a book or get more audience to a cable news network.
You went on the CBS morning news show last week (documented by the Media Research Center) to hock your wares (a book and a satellite radio show and your new show on CNN) and accused those of us still working in terrestrial radio of LYING to listeners while declaring that you ALWAYS tell the truth.
(CBS host) Gayle King, “I used to listen to these guys, Michael, and say, ‘They can’t possibly believe what they’re saying. It’s just is a way to just rile up the crowd.” (Smerconish) “…yes, that’s exactly the way that I believe that it is.” (Q-King) “Did you always believe what you were saying?” (Smerconish) “I believed what I was saying at all times.”
Michael, in almost 40 years on the radio and 26 in talk (17 full time) I have NEVER said something I didn’t believe was true (we all find out things later that turn out not to be true). I’m willing to bet that if Gayle King had done her job as a journalist and asked you to back up that indictment you’d have been hard pressed to cite an example of something Rush or Sean or Mark (or anyone else in the business for that matter with the possible exception of Phil Hendrie, who uses self-created characters to say things that no sane person would) has said that you could reasonably assert they KNEW wasn’t true. Nearly everyone I know in talk does extensive research to back up what they say, because we know our audience is well read and they’ll call you out on the smallest factual error or mispronunciation.
If you can cite an examples of hosts who knowingly lie, by all means do it.
In the meantime, you tell CBS “I believed what I was saying at all times.” You told listeners that you’re conservative, and then you voted for Obama. You told them you’re conservative, but you’ve spoken out in favor of legalizing pot and prostitutes. Lanny Davis sings your praises. You’re Roman Catholic but pro-choice on abortion. For goodness sake, you filled in for Chris Matthews on (the Democratic Party Network) MSNBC. You defended Elliott Spitzer and his expensive prostitute. Michael, my talk brother, I have news for you, those are not conservative values. To paraphrase Jeff Foxworthy, “When President Obama grants you SEVEN exclusive interviews, you might just be a Liberal.”
If this is just a clever way of explaining yourself to your new friends at CNN who gave you a spot on their schedule (i.e. “Well, I used to claim to be a conservative but you know all conservatives lie about what they believe”) it’s not very classy.
I think you may be uncomfortable because you chose a line of work (talk radio) where dozens of conservatives succeed and liberals routinely fail (poll Rush, Sean and Mark…and then compare that to a poll of Randi Rhodes, Mike Malloy and the executives of Air America). Your answer has been to indict the medium, telling the Washington Post talk is “too old, too white, too male and too angry, just like the Republican Party.”
Those of us who do our research know different, Michael. Demographic research on the talk audience from a variety of sources, including TALKERS, shows that approximately 12 percent of talk listeners are 25-34. 24 percent are 35-44. 26 percent are 45 to 54 years of age. Michael, 62 percent of the talk audience is under the age of 55. I understand that as all of us age, our definition of “old” changes, but is that the bunch you’re calling “too old” in the WAPO? You mentioned race. That same research shows the talk audience is 61% white, 22 percent black and 12 percent Latino. The census bureau (research, my friend) says the U.S. population is 64 percent white, 12 percent black and 16.4 percent Latino. Looks to me like the talk audience under-represents whites while black listeners are over represented by about 80 percent (and yes we could use some work among Latino listeners although if you drill down deep enough you might find language an explanation for that number).
Your charge that it’s “too male” has some merit, but not as much as you might imagine. Women are about 52 percent of the population and research says women are about 42 percent of the talk audience. But is a 58 to 42 split enough to make it “too male?” My wife watches a whole lot more of Home and Garden TV, even though I’m the one who mows the lawn. So what?
By the way, that same research shows talk listeners are 28 percent Republican but a majority (55%) are independent, just like you. If 72 percent of talk listeners AREN’T self-identified Republican, you’d think that would be diverse enough for anyone.
I don’t have a number that quantifies anger or lack thereof but I would put the optimism of a Rand Paul up against the ditzy vitriol of Harry Reid any day of the week.
The WAPO describes the hero of your book “Talk: A Novel” as “…an ambitious talk radio host named Stan Powers who is so desperate to get a national syndication deal that he’ll say anything and trash anyone, even though every move he makes is tearing him up inside.” You had to explain to Gayle King that Stan isn’t Smerconish. I expect you’re going to end up explaining that a lot.
Michael, you hoped for more success just like all of us do. But you didn’t understand the medium or its audience. Your home station didn’t like your swing to the left and the local paper covered it. “Marc Rayfield, senior vice president and market manager for CBS Radio and CBS Digital, Philadelphia, has three words for Smerconish’s politics: “left of center.”
You went Left anyway, dropping out of the GOP and then (after dropping hints from June of ’08 to October) voted for Barack Obama. Now, I can understand your predicament. Your radio contract was up in months, MS went with “Morning Joe” instead of “Mike in the Morning,” and syndication wasn’t working out. But when you told CBS last week, “I didn’t say things just so that my star would rise,” does that include the Obama endorsement? It did win you the exclusive White House broadcast (Bush used to hold radio row opportunities that included everyone from my liberal friend Juan Williams to yours truly, but the Senator from Chicago apparently isn’t a fan of talk) and a lot of attention from liberal writers around the country.
But you seem to think you’re the ONLY guy in the medium who’s not lying, not saying things to get ahead, and not influencing politicians and voters. (Smerconish to CBS) “…too many politicians are taking their cues from men with microphones. Because we’ve got hyper partisan districts, we’ve got closed primaries, and we’ve got the influence of money. So it’s all related. But, yeah, they’re taking their cues from the talk crowd and the cable TV crowd and it’s to the detriment of the country.”
Mike, you’re part of that cable crowd now and you don’t seem to mind that the most powerful single politician in the world takes your questions. But you say it’s WRONG if lesser pols and average voters pay attention to those of us who still have shows on terrestrial radio and in syndication (that didn’t feel the need to change our ideological stripes) offer up in discussion and information?
How’s that working out exactly?
And please don’t accuse the rest of us of lying unless you want to back the indictment with facts.
Talk host/Compass Media Networks & Alpha Broadcasting
Lars Larson can be emailed at email@example.com.