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Talk Radio Demolishes Hillarycare, and Enters the Culture Wars

This is excerpt No. 29 (of 45) from America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media to Take Power, by Richard A. Viguerie and David Franke.

Candidate Bill Clinton “played talk radio like a piano,” noted one expert, but Hillarycare turned into a nightmare for the Clinton administration, thanks to the talk radio and direct mail campaigns against it.  In this excerpt from America’s Right Turn, we examine why talk radio “worked” for Bill Clinton the insurgent candidate, only to Limbaugh and Lettermanturn on him full force as president.  (Hint: the scandals were not the main reason.)

Next we look at the culture wars on talk radio.  The conservative presence on talk radio deals mostly with politics, but cultural values are close behind.  And one of the greatest “unseen” impacts on radio is the growth of religious broadcasting.  It flies under the radar largely because the establishment media are so secularist in their outlook.  Most conservatives, though, appreciate its contributions to our movement.

Talk Radio and Bill (and Hillary) Clinton

The new giant in the alternative-media stable took another step forward in the 1992 presidential election.  Arkansas’ Governor Bill Clinton, challenging President George Bush, “played talk radio like a piano,” said Talkers Magazine editor and publisher Michael Harrison.  And talk TV too.  An example was Clinton’s lighthearted appearance on Don Imus’ show in New York City, just in time to help him win the important New York primary.  When it came to talk, Bill Clinton was no bashful slouch.

The talk-savvy new president had plans to continue exploiting talk radio once he became president.  He did 82 radio interviews during his first two years as president, while Hillary did 80.  Another major radio initiative centered around his 1993 call for guaranteed national health care – otherwise known as “Hillarycare” because of the first lady’s central role designing and promoting it.  This was the first really big thrust of the Clinton agenda, with a lot of political capital on the line.  To help sell the proposal, the president invited more than 200 talk hosts from all over the nation to Washington.  They received a briefing on September 21, followed by a lawn party two days later where they could broadcast their shows “direct from the White House.”  Catering to the talk hosts were Hillary herself – who confessed to being a “talk show junkie” – as well as Ira Magaziner, the administration’s health care expert, Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, presidential adviser David Gergen, and Tipper Gore, the vice president’s wife.  The president himself made an appearance, too.  This was pretty heady stuff for local talk hosts more accustomed to being treated like the hillbilly relatives the family doesn’t like to acknowledge.

All that effort to woo the talk hosts had an initial impact, but it soon turned south.  By October, Talkers Magazine’s Michael Harrison was reporting that “the initial infatuation with the health care plan is fading as a majority of those who choose to express themselves don’t trust Clinton, don’t trust government, and don’t trust anything that smacks of socialism.”  Rush Limbaugh was leading the on-air charge against Hillarycare, and in Washington journalist Bill Kristol (formerly Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff) channeled that popular revolt into legislative opposition.  Part of that campaign was very public – Kristol seemed to be on every TV talk show around – but the most important part may have been behind the scenes.  Kristol sent a barrage of faxes to thousands of conservative leaders, providing talking points against Hillarycare as well as practical advice on defeating the measure in Congress and in the court of public opinion.  Each new fax would be on opinion-molders’ desks the very first thing in the morning.  The fax machine, first used between a mere dozen talk hosts in the “tea bag” campaign, now became a full-fledged member of the alternative media.

Direct mail also played a key role in the fight against Hillarycare.  Conservative organizations – such as the American Conservative Union, under the leadership of David Keene and Don Devine, and the United Seniors Association, led by Sandra Butler – mailed millions of letters.

Thanks largely to talk radio, Bill Kristol, and the direct mail campaign, Hillarycare turned into a nightmare for the Clinton administration.  It stalled Clinton’s legislative agenda just as the scandals began multiplying.  When the Kaiser Foundation surveyed members of Congress and their staffs, 46 percent said talk radio had been the most influential media source during the health care debate, and many of them noted Rush Limbaugh in particular.  In contrast, only 15 percent mentioned the New York Times (how far the liberal giant had fallen!), 11 percent cited the Wall Street Journal, 9 percent said television (oh yes, how far the liberal giants had fallen!), and the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Times were each named by 4 percent.  Talk radio had arrived on the political scene and it wasn’t going to go away anytime soon.

One of the most amazing testimonials to the power of the new media came in the October 3, 1994, issue of the New York Times.  Liberal reporter Adam Clymer wrote the article, “Hillary Clinton Says Administration Was Misunderstood on Health Care” after two interviews with the First Lady.  “This battle was lost on paid media and paid direct mail,” she complained.

Explaining in more detail, Clymer wrote: “Most of the administration’s defense [of Hillarycare] was carried in newspapers and on television…”  Then he quoted Mrs. Clinton as saying, “I think in general the press rebutted a lot of claims, but if you don’t rebut it in the forum in which the message is delivered, it goes unrebutted.  So, that means if you don’t have a radio campaign and a TV campaign and if you don’t even know about the direct mail campaign, the people who are being influenced by that kind of opposition are going to remain influenced” (emphasis added).

In short, the press and network television did their best to defend the Clinton administration, but they were no match for talk radio and direct mail.

Why did talk radio “work” for Bill Clinton the insurgent candidate, only to turn on him full force as president?  On the surface the pantheon of Clinton scandals could take the credit – they were just too juicy for a populist medium not to exploit.  But behind the scenes there was a more fundamental explanation, and it was provided by one of the most intriguing politician-philosophers of the 1990s, Newt Gingrich.

In an interview with Talkers Magazine, Gingrich noted that political advisers see talk radio as “a wide open, rough and tumble, pretty high-risk environment.  If you’re an insurgent, if you’re the guy without money and without name ID, talk radio is perfect for you because you have to take lots of risks.  But if you’re the front-runner, there’s a certain virtue to being a little careful, because … one minor mistake could become the story.”  In other words, front-runners and incumbents prefer a more stage-managed environment.

The Culture Wars on Talk Radio

The conservative presence on talk radio deals mostly with politics, but national culture and religious values are close behind. 

The leading radio host in the culture wars is, of course, Dr. Laura.  With more than 8,500,000 listeners each week, she is talk radio’s third-ranking star.  Her Paramount Television show was short-lived, thanks to a boycott of prospective advertisers by the Gay & Lesbian Alliance against Discrimination (GLADD).  But her radio audience has grown throughout the anti-Dr. Laura campaign – a dramatic indication of how television is much more “politically correct” than radio is.  As Ellen Ratner put it in Talkers Magazine: “Radio stations Talkers interviewed have a different take.  No one is particularly bothered by protests.  As a matter of fact, radio – unlike television – seems to thrive on controversy…the more the merrier.”

One of the greatest “unseen” impacts on radio is the growth of religious broadcasting.  It flies under the radar largely because the establishment media, mostly secularist in its outlook, doesn’t ever consider listening to religious programs; indeed, wouldn’t know where to find them.  But it also escapes notice because Arbitron doesn’t measure religious programming audiences.  Just because it doesn’t appear in the “official” ratings, however, doesn’t mean it isn’t out there and having an impact.

The largest operation, Salem Radio Network, is a satellite radio network based in Irving, Texas, serving more than 1,500 radio stations.  Run by Ed Atsinger and Stu Epperson, it distributes daily and weekly programming for more than 40 ministries and organizations.  It describes itself as “the only Christian-focused news organization with fully equipped broadcast facilities at the U.S. House, Senate, and White House manned by full-time correspondents – ensuring timely, on-the-spot coverage of breaking news.”  Among its talk hosts are conservative commentators Cal Thomas, Michael Medved, and Dennis Prager.

Perhaps the hardest hitting and fastest growing of the smaller networks is American Family Radio, based in Tupelo, Mississippi, and started by the Rev. Donald Wildmon in 1991.  In little more than a decade it has grown to encompass nearly 200 stations, using the latest satellite technology to create “satellator stations” at a great cost savings.  According to AFR, “A single FM station in a large city will cost more than it will cost AFR to construct those hundreds of stations across America.”

One local battle got National Public Radio so upset that both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal devoted front-page stories to it.  Lake Charles, Louisiana, had a station that carried NPR programming, and it was bumped by American Family Radio’s contender for that frequency.  “NPR has a mentality of ‘we own the noncommercial educational band’ on the dial,” says Rick Snavely, general manager of the Family Life Network.  “But it belongs to the public.” 

America’s Right Turn serialization:

To order American's Right Turn from Amazon please click this link.

  1. “Media Monopolies Declare War on Conservatives”
  2. “What Conservatives Can Learn from the West’s First Media Revolution”
  3. “What Conservatives Can Learn from America’s First Media Revolution”
  4. “The Factors That Created a Grassroots Conservative Movement”
  5.  “More Factors That Created a Grassroots Conservative Movement”
  6. “Money in Politics:  Everyone Complains About It, but Every Political Movement Needs It”
  7. “Conservatives in the Wilderness: American Politics in 1955” 
  8. Conservatives in the Wilderness: Restless, but Lacking Leadership
  9. “How William F. Buckley Jr. Gave Birth to the Conservative Movement”
  10. “How Barry Goldwater Gave Political Voice to the New Conservative Movement”
  11. “Why There Was No Mass Libertarian Movement—Lessons for Conservatives”
  12. “1964:  This is What Happens When the Other Side Controls the Mass Media”
  13. “Thanks to Shamelessly Dishonest Liberals, Conservatives Have No Chance in 1964
  14. “How Conservatives Turned a Lemon (1964) Into Lemonade (the Future Successful Movement”
  15. Conservatives Test a New Secret Weapon
  16. “Conservatives Use Their Secret Weapon to Create a Revolution”
  17. “Conservatives Grow Under the Radar, Testing Their New Secret Weapon”
  18. “Why Direct Mail Is So Powerful for Insurgents—Like Conservatives”
  19. “Creating the Religious Right, and Electing Reagan, Using Alternative Media”
  20. “Direct Mail: A Giant Step Forward for Political Democracy”
  21. “Why Direct Mail is the Smartest Form of Advertising for Conservative Candidates”
  22. “The 1970s: Healthy Growing Pains in the Emerging Conservative Movement” 
  23. “Phyllis Schlafly Showed Us How to Stop an ‘Inevitable’ Leftist Crusade”
  24. “Liberals Learn How to Use the Conservatives’ Secret Weapon”
  25. “What Conservatives Can Learn from the Man Who Built the Modern Liberal Movement”
  26.  “Morton Blackwell Trains Tomorrow’s Conservative Cadre”
  27.  “From FDR to Rush Limbaugh: The Talk Radio Revolution”
  28. “Rush Limbaugh Becomes Talk Radio’s #1 Star; the “Tea Bag” Rebellion Becomes Its First Big Victory”
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Early on Alinsky

Never mind that his niece had to interpret the books (I forgot which country he was from, but who cares). As far back as the '90s she was espousing socialism and nobody caught on? She didn't have. much success though, did she? When I hear people saying they want socialism today, but can't define it. I think 'if you could you'd run to your "safe space" lol and hide.' Not only can't they name a country where socialism was successful (that's because there are none. Scandinavian countries? Look at their crime rate. Besides not being able to name a successful socialist country, or usually one that even tried, on a map they can't differentiate a continent from a country. History? At least one thinks the civil war is still going on. More history ie. we bought what from France? Nobody knew that it was New Orleans. Want the shocking part? They walk among us, breeding and voting. Ever serve their country like me and many friends since 1970? I think you know their answer will be why. I could tell them, but hitting my head against a brick wall does no good. So lockn' load.