Why Rush is a success
Since my Sunday morning appearnce on CNN's Reliable Sourcs with Howard Kurtz, (Expose the Left has the video) I have been receiving the usual run of angry e-mail from lefties who don't ever want to have their beliefs challenged. In this case the cause of their ire is the following exchange, specifically my comments about Rush....There is more. Hewitt also has a very good radio show. He tends to have more interviews than Rush or Sean Hannity, but I find them informative and interesting. He also makes the other side state their argument, then challenges it directly. I think that can be very effective, and no one can accuse him of making strawman arguments.
The objections fall into three braod categories.
The first category is that Rush lies, distorts, reads talking points etc. Of course he has made mistakes as his show has been on for, what, 17 years, five days a week, three hours a day. But his work product is exceptionally accurate though of course his opinions are conservative and always openly expressed as opposed to smuggled into the story. He lays out facts, calls attention to stories and comments on them. He does a few interviews, but mostly he is an analyst, and as he has shrewdly rebranded himself, an anchorman, doing exactly what Brokaw, Jennings, Rather, Chancellor, and Cronkite did for all those years --selectiing the news he thinks you should hear, but doing so with much more transparency as to his view of it.
The second set of objections assert that Rush isn't a "journalist," but an entertainer. This is absurd. Was Murrow a journalist? If so, so is Rush. Both were deeply opinionated communicators, and savvy entertainers. Any serious definition of "journalist" will include Limbaugh, just as it will Matthews, Russert and the Powerline gents. People who communicate facts --with or without analysis, and whether or not that analysis is transparently or secretly impacted by their political beliefs-- are journalists.
Finally, some want to argue about the size of Rush's audience relative to other's audiences.
First, because of measurement difficulties, it is very difficult to accurately assert someone's audience, though The State of the News Media study of 2005 concludes 16% of Americans listen to talk radio. That's more than 40 million to start.
Various estimates of Rush's audience peg it at between 15 and 20 million, but I believe that this range understates his influence given who is listening to him and his impact on his listeners. Very, very few broadcasters have such an impact on the listener that he or she says "Did you hear what Rush said today...." When that impact occurs on a voter, it is much higher in terms of consequence than when it occurs on a non-voter. When it occurs with an "influencer," the impact is greater by far. (There are "political influencers" just are there are "tech influencers.")
Rush talks to voters --predominantly center-right voters, of course, but voters-- and the people who influence voters, and he built and sustained this tremendously influential audience over nearly two decades. This is what makes him a model to be studied by old media desperate to attract and retain voters and their influencers into their audience mix.