Have you noticed the Cumulus v. Rush stories in the press lately? What makes me crazy is thinking about all the questions that could be asked of the distributors, media corporations and the people who have made money or spent money on right wing media. Sadly they won’t be asked, although if they were asked I suspect the answers would range from, “No comment.” to, “We don’t have to tell you nothin’ Poindexter” and include lots of, ” We are a private company! Now drop and give me 20 stories on missing white women!”
Although public companies like Cumulus will answer a few questions, those answers will mostly be bullshit. I also know that no one in the press will call them on their doublespeak because shut up. But if I was an old timey journalist, wearing a fedora with PRESS in the hat band I would ask ‘em. I know I wouldn’t get any good answers of course, but it would be fun to watch the squirming. Today’s journalists aren’t about making anyone squirm. Not their job. Getting deeper truthful answers? Not their job. Reporting what they say exactly as they say it? That’s their job.
Here are a few questions I would ask of media companies that syndicate Rush or make money from the ads they sell during the show. I’d start with my natural wide-eyed innocence and then proceed to my grizzled, impatient self and finally ask sarcastic, cynical questions.
1) Why don’t you treat Rush like any other poorly performing asset and dump him for something better?
Answer: [mumble mumble.] He’s a fine asset, he still has the highest ratings in the industry! Frumpy, frumpy, frumpy. There is no one better! Next question.
2) Why don’t you renegotiate his contract?
Answer: We aren’t in a position at this time to discuss contract terms.
They will compare Rush to an athlete with two broken legs. He has to be paid even if he can’t play until the contract is over. As we know from the banking industry only the little people can never walk away from an asset that is under-performing. The big boys do it all the time, why aren’t they now?.
3) Why don’t you find a way out of the contract?
Answer: [ Something, something, pause] At this juncture we don’t have that option.
Translation, “We are trying to figure something out, unfortunately his lawyers are smarter than our lawyers and they removed all the loopholes to get out of it.”
4) Why don’t you demand that Rush find a way to return to profitability? Why don’t you demand that Rush “stop insulting women” so you can reach out to advertisers other than herbal boner pill makers?
Answer: Our conversations with Mr. Limbaugh aren’t subject to public disclosure.
[Behind the scenes with ad sales guys: That fat bastard didn't even return our calls! We've GOLFED with him! I laughed at his stupid dirty jokes! We kept him on when he was popping Oxy like doughnut holes! Oh, his "people" say, "This will blow over. Advertisers will come back." we are tired of waiting Rushbo. Unlike him we have to work and live with real women . Women who put up with him when he made us money but now won't buy our line, "Sure he is a pig, but he's our pig and he's making us a butt load of money".]
If you have to ask you aren’t part of the boys’ club, questions.
The following questions should be asked but the answers are usually unstated. Everybody just “knows” the answer. To even mention them is considered naive. Questions such as:
5) Why can’t the distributors get Rush to change?
Sometimes the defenders of Rush like to mansplain that Rush can’t get fired. Or they pretend to think that we don’t know how contracts work. Now close your mouth and let the adults talk. We know that Rush’s ideas and comments still provide utility and value to certain groups. The distributors will have to accepted the losses. Ongoing lower revenue will be “the new normal.” The need for distribution revenue is overruled by the need by the right wing media moguls to keep the ideology coming. Besides, the RW moguls might say, “You have gotten your money’s worth in the past, suck it up for a couple of years and you will still be ahead!” (Of course this goes against the view that in America rising quarterly profits rule the world, but that’s not Rush’s problem.)
6) How long will distributors and stations continue to make less money than they did in the past?
Note that I don’t say lose money, they might still be making money, just not as much. Say Rush brought in revenue at a 3 to 1 basis in the past, what has he dropped to now? How long will they carry him and at what ratio? Considering that many got him for free, are they likely to consider that any other show that they get for free, with at least some revenue, might be more valuable? As I asked Rupert Murdoch a few years ago about Glenn Beck, ‘How long will you continue to subsidize a money losing asset?)
7) Is it possible that there are no other assets that can bring in similar revenue? Will they ride this smoking gasbag down until it crashes? When will that point be reached?
It is important to acknowledge that Rush still has utility for certain individuals and even some business entities. These same individuals often fund the money-losing RW belief tanks like the Heritage Foundation or the money-losing media like the Washington Times (and soon maybe the Tribune newspaper group). They will continue to support money losing media entities because some foundation and individuals look for the ROI in the long term. They get ROI from messages like, “war good, climate change is not caused by humans burning fossil fuel, government helping people bad, government helping big corporations good, regulation bad, taxes bad, austerity for others good.
8) Who’s Paying the Price for Our Successful Action?
I’m always curious, “Who is eating the losses, who is picking up the slack from normal advertisers fleeing?” Right now private distribution companies and some public media companies are absorbing the losses. They might be saying, “Well, we had a great run for years, that is the risk we take in this marketplace.” I’m sure the financial analysts are not happy with that answer. We also know places like the Heritage Foundation are picking up some of the slack. They don’t have public market pressure and no need for corresponding increases in public sales. Some companies don’t care if the public thinks its values are the exact same as Rush, in fact, it is seen as a plus for them.
If they are the ones who are picking up the slack, what does that say about these organizations? Why is the Heritage Foundation associating their brand with a misogynist and bigot? Will the main stream media ask them about this? As normal advertisers get farther away from Rush and his “values”, other entities will have to supply more and more support if the distribution companies want a return to the levels of revenue they enjoyed in the past.
The Answer is so Opaque I need Google Translate to Understand.
Distribution companies are often private, they don’t have to disclose their numbers. We only see a glimpse of what is happening via the public company window like in Cumulus. Even in those glimpses we only see the numbers that they will break out. Huge media companies can hide losses easily if they can balance them with other gains. Only insiders would truly know the damage, but they aren’t going to talk, their salary depends on it. (BTW, that is why the media reporters should be talking about the ad sales to ad salesmen. They are VERY unhappy since bonuses are tied to sales, but they might be fired if they talk, so my suggestion to media reporters is to look for former ad sales guys who have left the industry.)
9) How Long Will You Hemorrhage Money?
It would be nice if someone in the advertising trade press or financial press looked at the reason that companies are willing to hemorrhage money to keep supporting Rush (paying his contract locked salary, when the ROI has dropped below expectations.) Investors have gotten used to the idea that RW ideological talkers always MAKE money. It was quite true they did for a long time, but a number of well organized campaigns on the left have pointed out to the advertisers that RW ideological talk is bad for their brand. Now only companies or political entities that will embrace misogyny and bigotry will continue to sponsor him. Is this an economically sustainable position?
When I read a story about Rush v. Cumulus on Reddit, based on an article in Daily Kos, I noted how many people wanted to point out that Rush’s ratings are still high. Some had to point out that he personally still makes a ton of money. They see this as a way to dismiss the massive advertiser exodus. Why do they do this? I think there are a couple of reasons.
a) They don’t want to give liberals the satisfaction of a success.
I saw this when we convinced advertisers to leave the Glenn Beck show on Fox. Even Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t admit the reality. I know, I asked him personally! This, “you didn’t REALLY hurt our guy!” is a standard argumentative ploy used when you have an success. If you don’t have a 100 percent total success that they have to acknowledge it doesn’t “count” and then they will bring up your past failures, “Whadda about Air America?!”
b) Moving the goal posts. “So, he didn’t make that much money for others this year, he’s still huge and you don’t have anyone like that. HA HA! In your FACE dirty hippie! ” They rich say stuff like money is just “keeping score” so don’t underestimate the ego blow that losing thousands of advertisers on a person. It is like being rejected by the NFL owners association. That hurt him. This action hurts his ego. He used to brag about his power to drive sales in a business. He can’t do that any more.
They don’t want to admit the game is rigged. We know that the media marketplace isn’t always based solely on ratings. Phil Donahue was the highest rated show on MSNBC in the run up to the Iraq war, but the parent company dumped him for ideological reasons. This is not about market forces alone. To acknowledge this is to acknowledge their precious “free market” is a sham –like most other claims about “free markets.”
Yesterday I wrote about the need for leverage when you want to make change. I also wanted to point out that as the situations change, what you use for leverage can change.
When I developed the strategy to alert advertisers to the horrific violent rhetoric that was going on at KSFO I first used brand pressure to convince sponsors to disassociate from the hosts. Then, as advertisers started leaving, my goal moved to pointing out the lack of revenue, especially since the new owners (Citadel) based almost all of their revenue on advertising revenue. The previous owners (Disney) were more vulnerable to brand pressure.
Rush’s first round of losses were because of a very successful brand pressure campaign. Now we are looking at pressure on Rush because of lost advertising revenue. He is going to need to make up those losses or there will need to be a shift in the business model. It’s quite possible, maybe even inevitable. Will he move to a subscriber model? Might he return to mostly gold and boner pill ads with a sprinkling of “Scared White People! Buy this stuff!” ads? If he isn’t “hungry” for ad sales could he just accept his new lower revenue model?
Why our Actions Matter and Why We Need to Celebrate and Replicate Them
In the wider business community losing money has a different kind of impact than losing ratings. It sends a message, “This is real. Money stopped flowing. Who did this? Make them stop. Turn the money spigot back on.” Business press notice, and the CEOs of media companies actually read the business press because their golfing buddies do. This is embarrassing to them. They will work multiple angles to get the money flowing again including obfuscation, threats, bribes and lawyers.
I Don’t Want Rush off the Air, I Want a Failing Rush on the Air
I expect Rush will continue to be around for a long time. Unlike the straw man suggested by the right, I knew that the goal wasn’t to get Rush off the air. Rush serves a purpose for both the right and the left. (BTW, it is possible to get him off the air. I’ve known how to do it for years but nobody wanted to fund the program.)
The goal is to weaken his power. That starts with getting people to disassociate their brands with his brand. Yes, this didn’t hurt Rush financially directly at first, but it hurt his supporters financially and when someone is hurt financially they like to lash out at who they believe did this. Rush is stubborn, he won’t apologize to the distributors. Senator and congress people apologize to HIM! At this point I’m happy to let these forces attack each other. Rush still has utility for some groups, but will he destroy himself or will his former partners will help him along the path to further destruction?
I’ve always known that there are about 17 percentage of people in America with dark hearts that embrace sexist, vicious comments about other people, faiths, races and nationalities. they embrace the divisive message of people like Rush.
Janeane Garofalo used to say that appealing to someone’s “inner Archie Bunker” and blood lust disguised as Patriotism is the easiest job in the world. Rush still has an easy job, the good news is that it is becoming a less profitable one for his supporters. And, if in America, the real measure of success is making money for your shareholders, Rush is failing.
I want everyone writing about this to know that We did this. We made this happen. If the media isn’t going to acknowledge it, we need to. This is a huge victory. I want to see it replicated. Our next target? Gun lobbyists. Stay turned to this Bat channel for actions you can take.
Photo by Rafal Kiermacz published under Creative Commons attribution licenses