New York City
Nicholas von Hoffman doesn’t like Air America [“Calling Air America,” May 23]. He thinks that Janeane Garofalo talks about sex too much, that Al Franken talks too slowly and that Jerry Springer is a “barking seal.” He writes that Air America “loses itself in its own smog.” Whatever emotional button Air America pushed in von Hoffman led not only to this meanspirited prose but to willful distortion of facts in service of his bias.
Von Hoffman states, “As of this writing Air America is still not back on the air in Chicago.” But Air America did go on the air in Chicago on May 5 (WCPT 850 AM), the very day his article was posted on the Nation website. Long before his deadline, I told von Hoffman we would soon be on in Chicago. He chose not to follow up.
Similarly von Hoffman writes, “Al Franken, the network’s star personality, had been on fewer than 10 percent of the number of stations carrying Rush Limbaugh.” This is technically true but very misleading. What matters is not the quantity of stations but the size of the total audience. A station in Dallas reaches 100 times as many people as one in a small Texas town. In January Air America was reaching a potential audience of 60 million Americans over the age of 12. By May it was reaching more than 100 million, 60 percent of the total US audience. Limbaugh has been on the air for eighteen years. Air America is far ahead of where his show was at a similar point in its development.
Von Hoffman quotes an exec from Democracy Radio, an Air America competitor, saying Air America “is very big on creating a splash with celebrities…celebrities in the long run don’t make as big a splash as real broadcasters do…. to be successful in broadcasting, use experienced broadcasters.” It’s not surprising that a competitor will use any argument, however specious, to diminish its better-known rival. It is disappointing that von Hoffman chose not to use any of the facts I gave him when he read me that quote: In addition to Randi Rhodes and Jerry Springer, Air America hosts with previous broadcast experience include Franken’s co-host, Katherine Lanpher; Morning Sedition co-host Mark Reilly; and late-night star Mike Malloy. Thus, five of Air America’s six weekday shows include “experienced broadcasters,” and the weekend includes radio veteran Laura Flanders.
As to the contention that “celebrities” don’t do well on radio, recent ratings in New York show that Majority Report, hosted by Sam Seder and Janeane Garofalo, defeated all talk shows in its time slot. Al Franken’s show grew 17 percent in a period that was generally bad for political talk (Limbaugh’s ratings were down 33 percent).
Von Hoffman defines Garofalo solely by a couple of minutes of a single broadcast in which she joked about sex. He does not mention that guests on Majority Report have included Archbishop Desmond Tutu; Senators Jon Corzine and Barbara Boxer; Representatives Rahm Emanuel, Bernie Sanders and Maxine Waters; Andy Stern of the SEIU; and writers Malcolm Gladwell, Howard Zinn, Jim Wallis, Rick Hertzberg, Robert Reich, Lewis Lapham, Dave Eggers, Bob Herbert; and Nation editor Katrina vanden Heuvel, who appears regularly.
Von Hoffman asks rhetorically, “Coupled with Springer’s reputation and Garofalo’s mouth, is there a danger that Air America may be a hit among a white-boy, 14-to-24 demographic and Smut America to political fence sitters in Ohio?” This misrepresents Air America’s content and its audience. Commercial radio is an environment dominated by Howard Stern and “morning zoo” shows. Air America’s programming is spirited and entertaining but far less risqué. The audience is almost 50 percent female and consists mostly of people 25 to 54. Moreover, von Hoffman buys into the fundamentalist propaganda that attributed Bush’s victory to an electorate for whom any liberal reference to sex helps Republicans. This doesn’t square with Laura Bush’s speech before the press corps in which she joked about Desperate Housewives and going to male strip clubs.
Von Hoffman parrots a popular conservative talking-point about liberals: “Progressive talk-radio has to be for something. You can’t live off a straight diet of political paranoia.” It should go without saying that there really isn’t a positive moral position on such issues as torture. But any fair assessment of Air America’s programming would acknowledge that its hosts and dozens of authors, elected officials and public interest leaders have numerous positive ideas and have found Air America a unique way to reach an audience of millions previously inaccessible to progressives. So has The Nation, which–von Hoffman’s dyspepsia notwithstanding–often features a photo of Garofalo in its print ads and which uses her voice in its radio spots, broadcast on… Air America.
CEO, Air America Radio
In my book, Road to Air America, I discussed the difficulties we had raising money for the first liberal radio network in history. I got plenty of introductions from the Clintons and Gores, who were very much behind our project and knew the urgency of getting a counter to Rush Limbaugh and his clones. So I was very hopeful that these rich liberals from Hollywood, business and politics would be glad to make an investment, but I was unable to raise anything from these people. I learned quickly that with money comes a lot of ego and pride of authorship. In business, we call this “the not invented here syndrome.” In addition, all the media thought we were doomed from the start, including the liberal print and broadcast sector.
Well, Air America is now in fifty-six cities and every major population center. More than twenty of our affiliates come from major radio and entertainment corporations and are very happy to replace their failing content with the Air America content. Also, the socioeconomic profile of our listeners is very appealing to our advertisers. Out of the ashes rises Air America, alive and well, while some reports show conservative talk audiences down 30 percent.
So you’d think that we’d get at least some favorable press from other liberal media. But Air America has been in almost every major paper lately, getting criticism galore. The right wing started the ball rolling with Matt Drudge and others, and Eric Zorn, a liberal journalist from the Chicago Tribune, wrote a negative article about our new station in Chicago. Now comes Nicholas von Hoffman’s critical Nation article, which was full of inaccuracies that he could have straightened out if he had bothered to call me or my wife, Anita. I have yet to read a positive article about us in The Nation or any progressive publication, although Air America Radio is one of the major media rollouts in years. So what’s going on with liberals in journalism?
I believe the problem is competitive jealousy. What I found while trying to raise money for Air America was not pretty. As our business plan circulated through Hollywood, Washington and New York, I got lots of disturbing feedback. Many of the criticisms came from media owners and executives who were major donors to the DNC but who did everything they could to convince people we would fail. Obviously, a big radio network, even run by a Democrat, does not want to see competition.
Rich progressives are very fragmented in their support of progressive causes. What we need is coordination and solidarity similar to that built by the right after the Goldwater debacle. The right coordinates when it comes to media and journalism. They understand the propaganda model and are willing to sacrifice their egos for their cause. I am not optimistic about the solidarity of rich progressives, so I think the money and resources will eventually come from a grassroots effort like Howard Dean’s. It may be the Internet that ultimately brings rank-and-file progressives together to raise enough money in small contributions for visionary ideas.
Co-founder, Air America Radio
Sing along: “Cellophane, Mr. Cellophane, ’cause you can look right through me, walk right by me, and never know I’m there….” As the producer of The Mike Malloy Show, I was puzzled by Nicholas von Hoffman’s article. As liberal broadcasters, we are used to being ignored and, to quote our fearless leader, “misunderestimated” by mainstream media. So while I was thrilled to see our network featured in The Nation, I am perplexed by the strange omission of any mention of our fire-breathing, take-no-prisoners nightly radio program.
I’m going to assume that von Hoffman’s omission was unintentional, supposing perhaps that he is simply not a late-night person. So I’ll forgive his failure to mention the fact that millions of truth-seekers have–as we put it–ended their days screaming with and/or at Mike Malloy for the past two decades on such major broadcast blowtorches as WSB in Atlanta and WLS in Chicago. Or that we have been happily employed by Air America Radio since last August. Or that our program is the number-one radio talk show as per current Arbitron ratings in our time-slot for Air America’s New York City flagship station, WLIB. Or that we just brought home the AIR Award for Best Talk Show in NYC for Air America Radio (besting previous winner, Sean Hannity–or, as Mike calls him, The Baby Jesus). Water under the bridge. And von Hoffman’s an early-to-bed type, right?
Unfortunately, he’s missing some fiery liberal talk radio, including The Nation’s own one-minute editorial, The Nation Minute, which airs Monday through Thursday precisely at 10:57 PM Eastern Time–smack-dab in the middle of The Mike Malloy Show. Were he a lighter sleeper I am certain he would have heard one of these fine commentaries. I would be happy to provide von Hoffman with a tape of our program. Or a Best of Mike Malloy CD. Or a research assistant. Or some No Doz.
KATHY BAY MALLOY
Executive producer, The Mike Malloy Show
Lake Grove, NY
Concerning lefty radio, until Air America came along I couldn’t have cared less about what was going on in the world. Now I’m a lot more knowledgeable and active in the world of politics. Morning Sedition is my favorite show. It’s my morning orange juice–can’t live without it. When I think of the difference Air America has made in my life, I have hope. Thank you, Air America.
Silver Spring, Md.
Nicholas von Hoffman’s characterization of Air America as “being in the smog” is off base. Air America is performing a very valuable public service. People who voted for Bush are listening and calling in with, “Wow, you’re making sense.” That’s what this country needs.
Being a retired radio morning-show host, I have listened with great interest to Air America. Most of the programming, although true to the cause, just isn’t funny enough. Franken is a diamond and a major player, but progressives have to learn some lessons from Laura Bush. She was funny at the recent press dinner, and it’s “funny” that moves votes. Jon Stewart is a genius on The Daily Show, and several learned observers have mentioned that the late-night TV jokesters can move opinion much more than characters like Insanity & Moans, Ann Coulter and other unfunny folk. Making fun of right-wing missteps really pisses them off–it works, and it’s hard to come back with a funny one-liner when that entire group doesn’t know what “funny” means.
Notwithstanding your kiss-of-death description of Air America Radio, it is the station I listen to on my one-hour round trip during the week.
Regarding his intemperately dismissive article about Air America Radio, all I can say to Nicholas von Hoffman is: You ass baby.
VON HOFFMAN REPLIES
St. George, Me.
If you good folks would line up, I will kiss your ouchies.
NICHOLAS VON HOFFMAN
BUT HE WAS A CONGRESSMAN
In Martin Duberman’s May 23 “The Avenging Angel,” Preston Brooks should have been identified as a representative, not a senator.