Writing a piece highly critical of conservative talk radio hosts like Mark Levin and Rush Limbaugh, then taking that message to the debut of Keith Olbermann’s reincarnation on former Vice President Al Gore’s Current TV doesn’t give yourself away as a lefty – but it certainly doesn’t help with one’s perception of objectivity.
Nonetheless, on Monday night’s broadcast of the brand-new Current TV version of “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” Politico’s Kenneth Vogel appeared and responded to the backlash, particularly from Levin, he had received for a June 15 piece he co-authored that questioned the ethics of conservative talk shows’ endorsements from conservative nonprofits and think tanks.
“[Mark Levin] didn’t really question any of our reporting,” Vogel said. “In fact, he confirmed he has this relationship and other folks have told us that these types of situations are on the rise. What they say, however, is that this has long been going on in radio. And, of course, it has if you listen to talk radio or morning drive-time radio, you can hear people pitching pizza shops or urging their listeners to go to get their car repaired at a certain garage. But this seems to us to be quite a bit different in that what these guys are selling and what their sponsors are selling is political ideology. They are popular. They have millions of listeners and these which groups have benefited to the tunes of tens of thousands of new members and increased contributions which have made them more powerful in advocating the types of policies that they are pushing in Washington. So that’s quite a bit differently than buying pizza or getting your muffler changed at a particular garage.”
Olbermann asked Vogel if perhaps conservatives were concerned that these radio talkers were pushing one “flavor of Kool Aid” over another not based on editorial choice but over advertising dollars.
“Well, talking to conservatives — other folks in the conservative movement who have been made aware somewhat recently of this phenomenon, they do believe that there are some listeners misled by these types of arrangements because of the way these hosts seamlessly weave the advertising together with the content of their shows,” Vogel said. “In fact, there was a specific case that was mentioned to me involving Glenn Beck who actually started his own Tea Party group at one point and was aggressively advocating for them, had some members and leaders on his website and then as soon as he entered the sponsorship with FreedomWorks, which probably pays him on the order of $1 million a year, he ended up shutting out this other group and, instead, endorsing FreedomWorks. So it does raise the specter, which conservatives are acutely sensitive to as a result of the Abramoff, Ralph Reed, Native American gaming relationships of this pay to play.”
Despite these questions Vogel admitted this was legal but said it might difficult for the average listener to discern what is advertising and what isn’t on these talk shows.
“Well it’s totally legal, and the only thing that would make it improper is if, in fact, they were advocating or saying something that they did not believe in the advertising, which would make it sort of false advertising,” Vogel continued. “What surprised some of the conservatives I talked to, though, is sort of the blatant nature in which some of distributors and ad sales people were hawking not just advertisements but whole blocks of programming where they say, ‘If you enter into an arrangement, we will guaranty that once every week, we will have a segment,’ some of them called it ‘magic moments,’ or embedded advertising where they will build an entire segment of content, sometimes around the news, that basically touts this organization – it’s initiatives, its membership and in a way that is not exactly clear that its advertising.”