Charlotte Allen posted last week about Air America’s bankruptcy. I agree that Air America has failed for the simple reason that they can’t attract enough listeners–their message doesn’t appeal to very many Americans. But I think there is another factor that dooms Air America and other attempts at liberal radio: NPR. I don’t know the numbers, but I’m confident that taxpayer-financed National Public Radio’s audience skews Left. Just about everyone I know who went to Harvard dutifully tuned their radios to NPR. In their minds, it’s what smart people listen to. There was no way that they would change to listen to Al Franken or to any Air America host, which was more overtly partisan and less intellectual.
For a long time, conservatives have pushed to defund NPR and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting because it is unconstitutional and such a waste of taxpayer money (can anyone honestly argue in the age of XM radio and hundreds of tv stations that we need government-supported media to give viewers options?). But liberals should think about what NPR does to them. Some pretend that NPR is truly nonpartisan, which is ridiculous. But NPR certainly isn’t as partisan as Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Rush and the other conservative shows play an important role for conservative causes. They rally the troops and educate the base about important issues from a conservative point of view. The Democrats could use that, and smart Democrats know it. That’s why they wanted to start Air America in the first place. But so long as they also cling to their government-suppported media like NPR, Air America and any liberal efforts that follow are doomed.