Sure, unemployment is expected to rise again and Catholics are getting murdered in Iraq, but forget about all that for now. You see, we’ve got a real problem to deal with: rotten conservatives are making too much money. Newsweek’s latest Power 50 list, which identifies the most financially-successful (and therefore influential) political figures of the year, is out. Topping the list are Rush Limbaugh ($58.7 million), Glenn Beck ($33 million), Sean Hannity ($22 million), and Bill O’Reilly ($20 million).
AlterNet’s Lauren Kelley doesn’t like this one bit, asking “in what sick, twisted world are a bunch of conservative talk show hosts more powerful than the president of the United States?”
The media is a potent tool, and as we’ve seen time and again, the loudest voices usually frame the political narrative and determine what many Americans believe. There’s no question that Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity and O’Reilly are some of the loudest voices out there, and are pushing an agenda that is generously backed by individuals with a far-right conservative agenda. Newsweek putting Limbaugh on its cover, thus framing him as “all powerful one,” the week before an expected Republican landslide only helps cement his position.
So is the list accurate? If by “most powerful,” Newsweek means “most likely to influence opinion,” I’d have to say, unfortunately, yes. But the magazine really missed an opportunity to shape what powerful could and should mean (“most forward-thinking,” perhaps?) by filling the list with the same rich, white men who are already given a platform at every opportunity.
Yes, because we all know what a monopoly right-wing talkers have on the media! Except they don’t. At all. There’s no denying that Hannity and friends influence a lot of people, but just how does America’s informational landscape break down?
The Right dominates talk radio and has a lot of online outlets, much (but not all of) Fox News, and several colleges. The Left, meanwhile, has ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, NPR, PBS, Hollywood, the New York Times, the US public school system, the majority of American academia, most traditional newspapers, and plenty of blogosphere real estate of their own. (Both sides also have numerous overtly political print journals.) I don’t think the success of talk radio’s Big Four is keeping leftists from being heard.
More importantly, the fact that conservatives are more successful than Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann (who, at $15 and $7.5 million respectively, aren’t exactly paupers) isn’t due to the luck of the draw, or to some shadowy force decreeing that it should be so. It’s because the American people want to tune in to Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, and O’Reilly more. And even so, all four personalities were wildly successful (granted, Beck less so) in 2008 and well before, yet the nation still chose Barack Obama, meaning that talk radio obviously hasn’t quashed America’s free will.
The free market has handsomely rewarded many commentators on both sides of the political spectrum for expressing their views in thought-provoking and entertaining ways. That conservatives have been more successful than leftists doesn’t indicate that something’s wrong with the rules of the game; just that leftists can’t handle being on the losing side.