Rush Limbaugh leads the charge of right-of-center commentators to the airwaves

July 11, 1993|By Ed Bark | Ed Bark,Dallas Morning News

Day 146 of "The Raw Deal" dawned with Rush Limbaugh stating the obvious about his hit half-hour of liberal-bashing. "You're watching one of the hottest shows in America," he said, referring to "Rush Limbaugh: The Television Show."

Mr. Limbaugh, whose "Raw Deal" reference is to the Clinton administration, is proving himself right in more ways than one. His colorful conservatism, proclaimed daily on television and his No. 1-rated radio show, has helped trigger boom times for commentators taking cues from President Clinton's perceived miscues.

Profitable talk

The "Right on" vernacular of the anti-establishment '60s has given way to the profit-making right-wing talkers of the '90s.

Some say the rise in conservative commentary is reverberating throughout Washington, changing the mood -- and sometimes the minds -- of the president and Congress.

Mr. Limbaugh alone is a powerful force.

According to the latest Arbitron ratings, his radio show has 4.6 million listeners per quarter-hour, up 78 percent from a year ago. And his half-hour television program is one of the few new hits in syndication.

"Rush is a gold mine," says L. Brent Bozell III, chairman of the conservative Media Research Center. "In every town in America, there's a Rush Limbaugh now."

Just since Bill Clinton's election:

* A consortium of conservatives announced plans to launch a television network in December. Sample programs include "Science In America," a weekly investigation of "government policies based on the bad science that is propagated by the establishment media."

* Former Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy, who has a popular midday radio show in Washington, is going national with his views.

* Veteran conservative Pat Buchanan, who returned to CNN's "Crossfire" after his 1992 presidential bid, also is starting a coast-to-coast radio show.

* Mary Matalin, former deputy campaign manager for President Bush, co-hosts the new "Equal Time" call-in program on CNBC cable.

Add holdover conservatives John McLaughlin, William F. Buckley George Will, Rowland Evans and Robert Novak, all of whom have national electronic forums for their views.

Mr. Bozell says it's about time, but not nearly enough.

"From the standpoint of commentators, there are many more conservatives than liberals," he says. "And that's because liberal commentators call themselves reporters and anchors."

Even Mr. Limbaugh's impact "pales next to what the other side has -- morning news shows, evening newscasts and 'objective' reporters promoting an agenda," Mr. Bozell says.

Fox News president Van Gordon Sauter, a self-proclaimed conservative Republican who ran the CBS News division in the )) 1980s, says there is "quite an obvious liberal orientation within the networks. It's one of the reasons there's an increasing estrangement between consumers and news organizations."

Mr. Sauter would not discuss whether his conservatism affected news coverage at CBS during his tenure.

CBS anchor Dan Rather, a frequent target of the Media Research Center's "Notable Quotables" newsletter, virtually made Mr. Bozell's case during a recent closed-circuit interview with President Clinton at a meeting of CBS affiliate stations.

"If we could be one-hundredth as great as you and Hillary Rodham Clinton have been in the White House, we'd take it right now and walk away winners," he told the president of his anchor-pairing with Connie Chung. "Thank you very much, and tell Mrs. Clinton we respect her and we're pulling for her."

The quote was headlined "Dan Rather's Burning Love for the Clintons" in the June 7 issue of "Notable Quotables." Mr. Rather declined to comment.

During an earlier interview in Dallas, he said he was "dedicated to pulling no punches and playing no favorites."

"In the very first week of the Clinton administration, our CBS phones were ringing off the hook with people who said, 'Well, I knew all along that the people at CBS News were Reagan Republicans.' I sort of smile and shrug my shoulders. The more things change, the more they stay the same."

The onrush of conservative talk programs is anything but the same old story.

"During the Reagan-Bush era, you didn't see large numbers of people from the left side of the Democratic Party being given their own talk shows to aggressively debate the Republican agenda," says Jim Naureckas, editor of the Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting organization's biweekly magazine Extra! "But that's certainly what you're getting now."

Ms. Matalin says the broadcast and cable industries are only grudgingly airing conservative views.

"There is a huge audience for this," she says. "So even though they're philosophical quasi-socialists -- well, that's going too far -- they act like capitalists and they respond to market demand."

Andy Friendly, the CNBC executive who hired Ms. Matalin, says call-in programs provide outlets for "fed-up and frustrated" audiences.

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