The Riddle of Culture

Sam Harris has a fairly good article about the gun control debate, The Riddle of the Gun.

My own position is more or less similar. Like Harris and like most Americans, I’m for the right to own guns within reasonable limits such as basic gun regulation. I suspect that most liberals would agree with this, even if this gets distorted because liberals end up reacting to the right-wing extremists.

Harris apparently doesn’t see it this way. He thinks that the so-called liberal media represents the average liberal, but my sense is that the ‘liberal’ elite might be as far away from the average liberal as they are from those on the right. I think the position Harris is taking, not unlike that of Jonathan Haidt, is motivated by a desire to create an appearance of credibility by criticizing his fellow liberals. The problem, though, is that those like Harris and Haidt are just more liberal elites, maybe no less clueless than any other liberal elite when it comes to understanding most liberals.

The culture wars are the central problem to my mind, although not because of the wars part but because of the culture part. I’d rather have a culture discussion than a culture war. It would be much more fruitful. This is the other challenge that Harris fails to meet. Despite my mostly agreeing, I want more from an analysis than what Harris offers. His article lacks subtler nuance and depth of insight.

The issue of culture is something that I’ve been obsessing over the past few years. In an earlier post about gun regulation, I did touch upon the deeper problems involved… but my thoughts have continued to develop such as considering moreso the importance of regional data on violence. The key to connect it all is culture.

Harris sticks to the standard narrative. He wants to bring the discussion more to the data itself with which I agree. However, there is a lot of relevant data that rarely gets discussed and certainly Harris doesn’t venture very far into the vast array of interesting data.

Most of the time, the type of data discussed is limited to generalized national data. Sometimes the distinction of rural and urban violent rates will be brought up, but usually just to reinforce stereotypes about urban blacks. This data, however, is complicated by other data.

It is true that urban areas on average have more violent crime, including with guns, than rural areas on average. What isn’t true is that this is equal for all regions. In fact, the  opposite is true in the South. The rural South has more violent crime than the urban South. The rural South has more violent crime than the urban North, more crime than the rural North, and actually more violent crime than any other region in the country.

Two other factors relate to types of violence. One factor is that you’re not necessarily less likely to experience violence in rural areas. Rather, you’re more likely to experience violence from someone you know instead of from a stranger (this includes a high rate of ‘accidental’ deaths and a high rate of self-inflicted violence, i.e., suicides). Another factor is that there typically is an inverse relationship between homicide rates and suicide rates, but in the rural South both are high.

All of this is quite significant considering that gun regulation is the weakest in the South and gun ownership is the highest in the South. This data punctures the argument that higher rates of gun ownership have no correlation to higher rates of gun violence. Even so, the correlation may not be direct. My own view is that they both are connected through culture.

So, I’m not blaming guns in and of themselves. What I am blaming (as others have noted) is the gun culture that is prevalent in America, specifically the romanticizing of violence and the pushing of military-style tactical gear. More importantly, I’m laying responsibility upon the culture of the rural South which is a culture of honor that has a long history of weak government and vigilante justice (think of the Hatfield-McCoy feud). This is seen in exaggerated form on the borderland of Kentucky and Tennessee where, following the Civil War, the violence was ten times the national average.

Interestingly, it isn’t just those on the left making this argument. Thomas Sowell, the popular black conservative, wrote an essay about culture, “Black Rednecks and White Liberals”. I haven’t read that essay, but I’ve read a number of reviews about it and aspects of it seem to hit upon an element of truth. Is it mere coincidence that black culture also came from the South?

This isn’t about blaming a region for all problems. My impulse is to seek understanding. What specifically might be the common factor between rural white culture from the South and urban black culture from the South? It’s not just an issue of the South as if a direction on a compass magically conveys an essence upon people. It’s certainly not to make a blanket judgment. What I want is to get at the root cause(s), the fundamental motivation behind diverse behaviors.

I’m less interested in knowing what motivates people to want to own guns and more interest in what motivates people to be prone to using guns and to being violent. Why is it the exact demographics that are the most violent are also the demographics most antagonistic toward the government? I don’t know about the urban black culture in the North, but I do know the rural white culture in the South believes that people should take care of their own problems. Similarly, what is the correlation to the Republican Party in terms of how the rates of violence consistently increase after a Republican administration takes office?

Of course, these two specific demographics have some good reasons for feeling antagonistic toward authority. Blacks have been one of the most oppressed groups in American history. Poor whites in the rural South haven’t experienced much privilege either. These are all people that have had to fight for their own way in the world, rarely with any help from those in authority. The problem for the gun regulation issue is that such demographics become pawns for the fight between elites.

I don’t think cultures are inevitably dysfunctional on their own terms, although sometimes that might be the case. This seeming dysfunction is a response to larger dysfunctions in society. The Scots-Irish are a good example of this. They have been pawns in America and in the past they were pawns in Britain. Their culture became so prone to violence because they found themselves amidst violence. In the victimization cycle, violence endlessly begets violence.

I don’t want to scapegoat this group or that. From my perspective, that would be avoiding the real issues that are much more profound and pervasive. The individual cultures manifest particular symptoms, but dealing with the symptoms won’t help in the long-term. There are different levels of culture. How do we dig down to the root level?

Anarchism vs Progressivism

I was having a discussion with an anarcho-capitalist who was moderate rather than ideological. It was quite refreshing. Most of the anarcho-capitalists I’ve met have been extremely ideological.

I myself am persuaded by both anarcho-primitivism and progressivism. I think civilization is problematic, but as long as civilization exists I consider it morally optimal to seek the greatest good for the greatest numbers while preventing as many problems as possible. I’m unpersuaded by the idolization of enlightened selfishness and the monetization of human life.

Here is a video this person shared with me to present his anarcho-capitalist view:


Here are two of my responses:

FIRST RESPONSE

He is right about the problems of government building logging roads and selling trees at below market cost. Derrick Jensen discusses that issue. Ownership does increase short-term responsibility. A company will want to ensure its profits are maintained in the near future, but this becomes less certain in terms of decades & completely uncertain in terms of generations.

Also, this video leaves out some important issues.

Big businesses want big governments. Big businesses don’t want anarchistic markets that they can’t control or reliably predict and they don’t want anarchistic societies with populations that aren’t controlled where protesters can shut down factories and an unrestrained population can start revolutions.

People who advocate ownership rights in terms of capitalism too often ignore the non-capitalist ownership rights of indigenous people. Big business wants big government to deal with unruly indigenous people who think they have a right to the land their people have lived on for centuries. Big businesses are too often fine with colluding with the genocide or displacement of the indigenous. Sometimes they don’t even need big govt to do this since there are examples of big business hiring mercenaries or local goons to kill or scare away the indigenous.

https://benjamindavidsteele.wordpress.com/2010/09/07/does-poverty-rise-as-biodiversity-falls-pavan-sukhdev/

Anarcho-capitalism might benefit small businesses, but it would never benefit big businesses. Big businesses have immense power. If big businesses didn’t like big govt, they could easily use their power to decrease the size of govt. But big business types such as the Bush family want the big govt. The Bush family is even personal friends with Saudi royal family which rules one of the most oppressive big governments in the world. There is no incentive for a big business owner to help create a truly free market where they have to fairly compete. If competition existed, then businesses would be forced to decrease in size and wealth would no longer be concentrated. These big business types like having their wealth and power. They would never willingly give it up just for some noble ideals of a free market.

SECOND RESPONSE

We seem to both agree that the extreme examples of corruption and oppression as seen with concentrated power isn’t human nature. However, I take it a step further in saying all modern civilization is contradictory to human nature.

Maybe I’m less critical of statism and progressivism simply because I’m equally critical of all modern systems of social, political and economic organization. My cynicism makes me have lower standards and more moderate expectations. I’m more accepting of the failings of our society because I just assume that one kind of failure or another is inevitable with civilization as we know it. Or maybe, as someone who feels like a failure at life, I feel it would be hypocritical to be too judgmental of the failure of others. I have a strong sense of sympathy for human imperfection.

Anyway, I had some thoughts that I wondered how you would respond to.

Not all costs and benefits can be monetized, but capitalism (whether free market or not) almost entirely by design excludes anything that can’t be monetized. This is less of a problem with small communities. Hunter-gatherer tribes, for instance, were more widely spread apart so the actions of one community were less likely to impact other tribes. Similarly, early small agricultural communities caused less large-scale problems. But in todays world of industrialization and globalism, impacts are non-local and the human mind isn’t evolved to understand or care about non-local impacts or the strangers elsewhere impacted. I don’t see how a free market can solve this problem inherent to the limits of human nature.

Some costs and benefits are collective such as fire prevention. A private for-profit company couldn’t solve this problem nor could you get everyone to voluntarily agree to a single solution. A collective solution has to be forced on all because the dangers and costs of fires, especially wildfires, impact everyone in a community. A fire can spread from house to house and from community to community. Fires don’t know property boundaries. If not for government, who would bear the costs and implement collective action to do control burns and watch over vast areas of wilderness to spot fires before they spread?

Also, what about long-term costs and benefits such as with local ecosystems? And what about the extremely non-local costs and benefits of the entire biosphere? Pollution doesn’t know property boundaries or national boundaries. We all collectively share the same water and air and we share even many of the same food sources such as seafood. The challenge with environmental costs and benefits is that they’re usually only seen after decades or centuries. A problem prevented may have no short term benefits, but if not prevented it may have massive long-term costs.

As an example, the President Carter helped create the EPA. The reason it was created was because there was little monetary incentive for companies to solve the problems of pollution and environmental destruction. Much of the costs were invisible to everyday experience. Even scientists didn’t know all the potential problems with pollution, but they knew enough that prevention was the wise course despite there being no immediate and apparent benefits. One of the pollutants decreased was lead and the benefits to this weren’t seen for decades. It was only until recent research that scientists could see that the decrease of lead helped to vastly decrease the violent crime rate. No one could’ve predicted this, but problems like this need to be prevented for the very reason we don’t understand them. It’s the precautionary principle.

This issue is complicated with the inherent conflict between transnational corporations and local communities. What monetarily benefits a company such as mining often doesn’t benefit the local community. And the costs of the companies actions may not be seen until years or decades after the company has moved it’s business elsewhere or maybe even has gone out of business. Who is responsible for those costs?

When indigenous people experiences diseases introduced by foreigners… when the water supply is polluted or the wildlife scared away causing the indigenous to be no longer able to sustain their traditional lifestyle… when industrialism leads to poor health because of pollution and malnutrition, who is responsible for the costs to individuals and communities? How does a free market monetize the costs and benefits that are collective and long-term?
I’m reminded of an example that Derrick Jensen used. He was describing this particular community that was established before there was a large federal government and when people mostly solved their own problems. The first settlers killed and scared off the Native Americans living there. The people who live there and own the land are the descendants of the people who stole the land originally. The same Native Americans still live in the area among the people who still possess their stolen land, the people who are descendants of those who killed their ancestors and destroyed their way of life. The creation of such an ownership class is inherently built upon violence and sustained through oppression. All of that violence and oppression happened before big govt.

This story has been repeated a million times around the world. Right now as I write there are indigenous people being exploited and oppressed often by big business or sometimes by small business owners that settled on the homeland of the indigenous. Early settles used the principle of property rights to steal land because they believed/rationalized that he who makes use of the land has the right to the land. This was based on the concept that land in it’s natural state is worthless. This bias continues to this day. We are only beginning to understand the value of health ecosystems to ensuring water and air is clean, things we normally take for granted without considering the costs and benefits.

All these problems I speak of have their origins at the beginning of civilization. The problems of pollution and environmental destruction, malnutrition and disease became apparent the moment people left behind the hunter-gatherer lifestyle and formed permanent villages which became city-states which became states which became empires which became our present industrialized globalism. Indigenous people have perfectly healthy teeth until they are civilized and start eating a grain and sugar based diet. Capitalism or statism then offers the solution of dentistry, but capitalism and statism are part of the social condition that caused the problem in the first place. That relates to wildfires as well. We have to control nature in order to build stable societies and economies, but that control leads wildfires to become larger than they would ever have become naturally. So, once again, businesses or governments have to create solutions for the problem created by the entire system. All of civilization is the solving of problems that civilization created and every solution creates further problems.

So, the fundamental problem is civilization itself. The human species and human communities, ecosystems and the biosphere didn’t evolve under the conditions of civilization. Civilization has only existed for a few thousand years. Civilization has developed faster than evolution can happen. This has led to the extinction of massive numbers of species and the destruction of massive numbers of cultures.

The further problem is that civilization has created massive concentrated populations which are in themselves unnatural and which preclude natural solutions. We humans are a clever species, but it’s our cleverness that gets us into trouble. We like to think of ourselves as rational creatures, but fundamentally we are driven by the same non-rational impulses as any animal. The difference is that no other species has ever had the power to destroy nearly all life on the planet.

I don’t see how free markets or any other human idea can solve all these problems without just causing more problems… as history has proven. As has been said before, when you find yourself in a hole, the first thing you should do is stop digging. But how do we stop? Civilization is built on continual progress or else the whole house of cards might fall down. We collectively as a species have to keep running just to stay in place. Solution? We don’t even understand the problem. We are the problem or are at least inseparable from the problem. Any solution will have to be a complete transformation of how humans operate on a collective level, but such a solution could never be predicted just as we have never been able to predict any of the problems we’ve created. So, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best.

I feel frustrated when someone offers up something like the free market. The striving for freedom won’t save us. The problem is that we aren’t free. We are embedded and enmeshed in, intertwined with and integral to the entire world. We aren’t free of anything. The very idea of freedom is one of those many abstractions that keeps us trapped in the Iron Cage of rationality, the bureaucratization of humanity… costs and benefits, ideologies and systems, improvement and progress. It’s not that any given idea is wrong. Free markets, for example, sound wonderful. What frustrates me is the mindset that constantly creates more ideas to be forced on humanity, on reality, on all the world around us. We think that if we just find the right idea or principle, the right method or framework then the the problems will be solved… but the fundamental problems of civilization are never solved… or at least not so far.

Maybe you don’t share my frustration. Maybe you have more hope in solutions despite the all the failings of history. I realize most people don’t see the world as I do. I just don’t see anything changing until something forces humans to change. I’m not filled with hope.

Socialism vs Capitalism, Free Enterprise vs Planning

I wanted to post the following comment because it clarifies a basic confusion that most political debate suffers from. It’s a simple and yet very important distinction.

http://www.fourthturning.com/forum/showpost.php?p=209529&postcount=72

“It is a part of right-wing dogma that anyone who supports a welfare state and government intervention in the economy is a socialist. Unfortunately for the right-wingers such a statement shows thier lack of understanding of what socialism actually means. Socialism vs. Capitalism is about who in a society controls the means of production. Free Enerprise vs. Planning is about how goods and services are distributed. Socialism does not necessarily mean Planning and Capitalism does not necessarily mean Free Enterprise. Capitalism Market Socialism (co-op based market economy) and State Capitalism (what fascists generally trend towards, and also what the USSR and it’s satellite states were de facto) are both very much possible. Partly this misconception is because the welfare states of Europe have come to be called “socialist” even though they are just highly regulated capitalist economies; no, Sweden is not socialist.”

Wall Street Scams & Collapsing Middle Class

You know change is in the air when mainstream media is this blatantly honest about how lobbyist politics works. Wall Street has pumped billions of dollars into Washington politics and yet the leaders of the Tea Party continue to blame Washington for regulating Wall Street too much (Republicans Support Big Government… just as long as Republicans are in power).

Are Republicans Evil?

“When fascism comes to America, it will be draped in the flag and carrying a cross.”
 ~ Halford E. Luccock

There has recently been revealed scandal after scandal within the Republican party. The scandal involving the Bush administration and GITMO can only be interpreted as war crimes. If any politician ever was evil, it would either be Bush or one of his crony friends.

Now, there is yet another scandal involving Republicans. Is there no depth of depravity that rightwingers won’t descend to?

Air America: Challenges of Liberal Media

I noticed the news about Air America.

Air America Dies, Failing to Make Transition to Web
By Kate Kaye

In a memo sent to staff today and repeated on the company’s homepage, Air America Media Chair Charlie Kireker wrote, “though Internet/new media revenues are projected to grow, our expanding online efforts face the same monetization and profitability challenges in the short term confronting the Web operations of most media companies.”

The company aired its last live program this afternoon, and plans to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy soon, according to the memo. It blamed a “very difficult economic environment,” along with drastically dropping national and local ad revenues.

I wasn’t a fan of Air America and don’t know much about its history, but I was just now doing a bit of research about it. It seems that it never had much financial backing which is a problem for liberal media. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh became successful because they had massive financial backing to begin with. Both lost money for a long time before making money. Conservative ideology is more welcoming to the interests of big business.  
 
Some think of NPR as being liberal in the way Fox News is conservative, but that isn’t true. NPR is rather moderate and doesn’t have any extremely opinionated talk show hosts. There is no equivalent of Fox News on the left (and certainly no equivalent of talk radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh). Fox News is successful because it aligns itself both with big business and with the Republican party. Fox News is backed by the largest transnational media corporation in the world and has hired many major Republicans such as Roger Ailes.  
 
I don’t think any liberal equivalent is possible. By definition liberalism isn’t as welcoming of the interests of big business. Also, it goes against liberal ideology to create a network that is the propaganda wing of the Democratic party. Liberals genuinely idealize the notion of media neutrality. You can argue whether they live up to that ideal, but at least they believe in it. Sadly, media neutrality doesn’t make money.

The conservatives are all excited about the demise of Air America. One example is the blog post Air America files for bankruptcy which I responded to.

The failure of Air America isn’t necessarily surprising. Fox News and Rush Limbaugh had major financial backing from the beginning, but Air America didn’t. Fox News was aligned with big business interests as it was created by a big business. Fox News had the financial backing to lose money for years and had the political backing to hire people who worked for the Republican party such as Roger Ailes. As for Limbaugh, his show became popular because it originally was given away for free.

You can only make money if you have money. And you can only get money if you promote the interests of those with the money.

The problem with mainstream media right now is that it’s dominated by corporations, and most of these corporations are transnationals that have no allegiance to any given country. They’re only interest is to make money and not to offer quality news reporting. It’s actually against their interests to offer quality news reporting because that might rock the boat.

I noticed the article Franken’s Time: Why Liberal Talk Radio Fails by Andrew Sullivan. The author starts out with what an appearance of fair analysis but quickly shows he doesn’t have much insight.

“Conservatives, in general, are happy to confess their biases. Liberals like to think their biases are actually reality.”

Close but not quite right. Some liberals may mistake their biases for reality, but there is a strong faction of conservatives that wants to create their own reality. The best evidence of the relationship to reality can be demonstrated by science. Most scientists are liberals and few scientists are conservatives (6% are Republican). Science is the ultimate ideal of factual reality, and it’s a worldview that appeals to liberals more than conservatives.

“So liberal radio – in its purest form – already exists.”

So-called liberal radio is rather moderate in comparison to Fox News. Conservative radio gives voice to ideological extremists with opinions that often aren’t even held by a majority of Americans. The far left progressives don’t have much voice in mainstream media. Mainstream media is mostly pro-war and rarely does investigative journalism about big business. Mainstream media is conservative in supporting the status quo. Read some Chomsky if you want to understand why this is the case.

“And taxpayers subsidize it.”

Public radio actually doesn’t get much public money. It’s mostly funded by donations which is as grassroots as you can get. Fox News, on the other hand, was financed at a loss for years by a transnational corporation. As for NPR, wealthy capitalists have gotten more money from bailouts, tax cuts and government contracts than NPR has ever received from the government.  Heck, even corn farmers probably have been more heavily subsidized than NPR.

“The reason Fox News works is that its anchors and journalists are still obviously angry at being outsiders to the mainstream media culture. So they have an edge. They’re still fighting. They’re still angry.”

Outsiders? That is obviously a joke. Fox News was financed at a loss for years by the largest transnational media corporation in the world. Roger Ailes was hired and he was one of the main spin-meisters for the Republican party. Ailes was known for using race and fake townhall meetings as political tactics in winning presidential campaigns. Besides Ailes, other Republican lackeys were hired.

“And here, of course, is where left-wing populist radio does have a chance. At some point, the media culture may tip in enough of a rightward direction (thanks to Fox, Drudge, talk-radio, etc etc) that the establishment may eventually become conservative.”

The mainstream media has been pro-war and pro-big business for decades. How more conservative can they get? What demographics shows is that the country is finally moving in a liberal direction. The creation of Fox News doesn’t prove that the mainstream media was liberal. What it proves is that moderate conservatism had become so mainstream that extreme conservatism could present itself as something new and different. The only thing that actually changed is that conservatism stopped hiding it’s agenda and became overt in it’s message.

“Al Franken has only really come alive when bashing O’Reilly or Limbaugh. And the reason we listeners or readers or viewers are on his side is because he’s a bit of an underdog up against these multi-millionaire conservative populists.”

If you really want to listen to the underdogs, then pay attention to the socialist libertarians such as Chomsky and Zinn. Even the libertarian movement has been mostly taken over by big business think tanks.

“Alas, the other missing ingredient for liberal media is intellectual firepower. On this, the left has actually gone soft. In academia, left-liberalism is so entrenched its advocates’ debating skills have gone rusty. When you’ve been talking to yourself for decades and imposing speech codes on everyone else, your ability to argue coherently – let alone entertainingly – inevitably wanes. And when you look at the political parties today, it’s only the Republicans who are really still fighting over ideas.”

Well, in academia, most everyone is liberal (except maybe in business management and engineering)… and almost all scientists are liberal. A conservative intellectual is a rare thing. The Republican fight over ideas is in reality a fight over ideology. Republicans deny science when ever they get the chance. What are ideas without facts? The intellectuals who are analyzing our political system are mostly far left liberals who are not included in mainstream media and politics. So, it’s true that the Democratic party isn’t as welcoming to intellectual dissent as it could be… which isn’t to say that the Republican party is welcoming either.

In conclusion, it would be false to call Air America a failure.  Al Franken became more respectable in politics because of his time spent there.  Other people who hosted there such as Rachel Maddow went on to host elsewhere.  Air America had a powerful impact.

Beyond Air America, I was wondering why talk radio is dominated by conservatives. The population in general isn’t dominated by conservatives. And media in general isn’t dominated by the far right that is common on talk radio. So, what is the major malfunction?

One answer given by Nathan Harden (The Death of Air America: Why Liberals Fail at Talk Radio) is the different demographic of radio listeners:

“Conservative talk radio listeners have an average age of 67. Meanwhile, the 65 and over bracket is the Republican party’s strongest demographic. Younger (and typically more liberal) individuals are not as likely to listen to talk radio. […] To find a young audience, you have to turn to television, which offers the likes of Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert.”

As such, maybe radio is a losing battle for liberals. Then again, maybe traditional talk radio is dying out anyways as it’s audience ages and so maybe it just doesn’t matter in the long run. There is one theory that young liberals become more conservative as they age, but I doubt that is the case. Demographics prove that the young now are more progressive than past generations of youth. The strong opinions of old people aren’t even shared by most middle-aged people. Old people come from a different time in US history and it’s a time that isn’t likely to ever return.

Another answer is that conservative talk radio is just one format. Even though the terrestrial radio waves are dominated by conservatives, satellite radio has many popular liberal talk radio hosts.  Also, liberals in general are doing well on the internet.  One contributing factor to Air America’s failure was because it couldn’t transition to the internet as the internet was already fully of the likes of The Huffington Post and Daily Kos. Newer technologies such as satellite radio and the internet have more future than terrestrial radio. I’ve read that where both conservative and liberal talk show is available, liberal talk shows compete just fine.

Also, the apparent dominance of Fox News is also skewed.  Liberals prefer many sources because liberals prefer multiple perspectives (a liberal would be ashamed to be called a dittohead). If you add all of the liberal audience from all liberal media, there is no reason to think it would be smaller than the conservative audience.

Despite all of that, the conservative slant of traditional radio isn’t to be dismissed.

The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio
By John Halpin, James Heidbreder, Mark Lloyd, Paul Woodhull, Ben Scott, Josh Silver, S. Derek Turner

Despite the dramatic expansion of viewing and listening options for consumers today, traditional radio remains one of the most widely used media formats in America. Arbitron, the national radio ratings company, reports that more than 90 percent of Americans ages 12 or older listen to radio each week, “a higher penetration than television, magazines, newspapers, or the Internet.” Although listening hours have declined slightly in recent years, Americans listened on average to 19 hours of radio per week in 2006.

Among radio formats, the combined news/talk format (which includes news/talk/information and talk/personality) leads all others in terms of the total number of stations per format and trails only country music in terms of national audience share. Through more than 1,700 stations across the nation, the combined news/talk format is estimated to reach more than 50 million listeners each week.

As this report will document in detail, conservative talk radio undeniably dominates the format:

  • Our analysis in the spring of 2007 of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners reveals that 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative, and 9 percent is progressive.
  • Each weekday, 2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk are broadcast on these stations compared to 254 hours of progressive talk—10 times as much conservative talk as progressive talk.
  • A separate analysis of all of the news/talk stations in the top 10 radio markets reveals that 76 percent of the programming in these markets is conservative and 24 percent is progressive, although programming is more balanced in markets such as New York and Chicago.

Those aren’t small numbers. The demographics and the technological landscape is changing, but for now conservative talk radio is still kicking ass and taking numbers.

There are many potential explanations for why this gap exists. The two most frequently cited reasons are the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987 and simple consumer demand. As this report will detail, neither of these reasons adequately explains why conservative talk radio dominates the airwaves.

Our conclusion is that the gap between conservative and progressive talk radio is the result of multiple structural problems in the U.S. regulatory system, particularly the complete breakdown of the public trustee concept of broadcast, the elimination of clear public interest requirements for broadcasting, and the relaxation of ownership rules including the requirement of local participation in management.

Ownership diversity is perhaps the single most important variable contributing to the structural imbalance based on the data. Quantitative analysis conducted by Free Press of all 10,506 licensed commercial radio stations reveals that stations owned by women, minorities, or local owners are statistically less likely to air conservative hosts or shows.

In contrast, stations controlled by group owners—those with stations in multiple markets or more than three stations in a single market—were statistically more likely to air conservative talk. Furthermore, markets that aired both conservative and progressive programming were statistically less concentrated than the markets that aired only one type of programming and were more likely to be the markets that had female- and minority-owned stations.

Basically, what this means is that deregulation contributed to big business dominating the public airwaves with their conservative ideology. It’s actually more of an issue of diversity, but without regulation there is nothing to ensure diversity.  America is demographically diverse and would choose diverse radio talk shows if they were offered, but it isn’t in the interest of big business to offer diverse programming.

I came across this issue before and wrote about it in an earlier post: Ralph Brauer: Revolutions & Liberal America.

The Strange Death of Liberal America
By Ralph Brauer
pp 32-36

A second decision that became equally important for the Counterrevolution was the 1987 repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  First enacted in 1949, the FCC ruling looked into the future and decided that because they operated in the public interest, the mass media should present all sides of controversial questions.  The Supreme Court upheld the Fairness Doctrine in the 1969 Red Lion case, still generally considered as one of the Court’s landmark decisions.

Red Lion  not only involves the Religous Right but also foretells exactly what would happen with repeal of the Fairness Doctrine.  The case began when the Reverend Billy James Hargis, the Jerry Falwell of his day, accused the author of a book on Barry Goldwater of being a communist.  The author sued under the Fairness Doctrine and the Court found in his favor.  In its decision the Court said the Fairness Doctrine serves to “enhance rather than abridge the freedoms of speechand press protected by the First Amendment.”  It also noted that “when a personal attack has been made on a figure involved in a public issue” the doctrine requires that “the individual attacked himself be offered an opportunity to respond.”

In 1987, an FCC packed with commissioners appointed by Ronald Reagan voted to repeal the Fairness Doctrine.  When Congress tried to overrule the decision by passing a law extending the doctrine, Reagan vetoed it.  Just as the Buckley decision opened the door to single-issue PACS, the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine opened the door wide for ideologues like Robertson.

I don’t know what this means for the future, but it does explain how conservative ideology has became so dominant in recent decades. I hope it changes as the demographics keep shifting towards the liberal. Conservatives have a tight grip, though, and they’re not going to give up their position of power without a fight. The corporations that fund the conservative media have deep pockets and the Republican party has proven itself savvy in astro-turfing social movements. Conservatives have been able to challenge abortion and public option even though the majority of Americans support them. How can liberals successfully fight such media control. If conservative corporations ever find a way to control the internet, the liberal movement is a lost cause.