California's KOWL has dropped Rush Limbaugh's radio show from its lineup. Describing the station as "one of the original Rush Limbaugh affiliates," the announcement release emphasized that the decision was based exclusively on "economic reasons," citing Limbaugh's "toxic brand."
The release elaborated on the economic reasons: "And now the free market has spoken. Rush has repelled local, regional, and national advertisers from KOWL costing the stations [sic] thousands of dollars in advertisers." It went on to state that "advertisers would rather just avoid the whole station then [sic] take the risk of being associated with Rush's increasingly toxic brand."
The commercial viability of Limbaugh's show has suffered since 2012 following Limbaugh's prolonged attack on then-law student Sandra Fluke. That attack and resulting firestorm led advertisers to recognize that Limbaugh's volatility and brand were bad for business. Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal reported on the industry-wide damage Limbaugh is causing. Limbaugh's toxicity is so severe that it has cost radio stations millions of dollars in lost ad revenue and contributed to dramatic reductions in advertising rates for talk radio as a whole.
KOWL Station Manager Steve Harness offered some behind-the-scenes insight and touched on the additional problem of Limbaugh's syndicator fees (which at this point adds injury to injury by having radio stations that are losing money due to Limbaugh also pay him for the disservice of losing them money), explaining in the statement:
"I spent a lot of time negotiating directly with Limbaugh's syndicator. I told them that we didn't want to lose his show, but that we couldn't pay him a fee in addition to him losing us money repelling advertisers and they refused to drop the monthly free. Ironically, they lost the fee anyway and a long-time affiliate."
Indeed. From the initial days after the Fluke controversy, Limbaugh and the team around him have shown little regard for the damage to the industry Limbaugh caused. In the first few days, Limbaugh resisted apologizing, which further inflamed the controversy -- eventually only apologizing for two but remaining steadfast in refusing to apologize for the other 44 personal attacks he had lobbed. Subsequently, he continued to engage in the same kinds of indecency and vitriol that ignited the controversy in the first place. This only served to emphasize Limbaugh's volatility and calcify the recognition that Limbaugh is bad for business.
Advertisers continue to leave and stay away thanks to a dedicated group of independent organizers in the Flush Rush and #StopRush communities. Their participation matters and is having a big effect.
Beware the low expectations you have for Fox News.
Tonight, Fox News will host the first Republican 2016 presidential primary debate (as well as a forum at 5pm for candidates that Fox has deemed less deserving of the primetime spotlight). The debate will be moderated by Fox News' Megyn Kelly, Bret Baier, and Chris Wallace.
At Media Matters, we spend considerable time steeped in Fox News' misinformation. As part of our larger media monitoring efforts, we watch Fox News every day from 6AM until 11PM. We're well versed in their chicanery and adept at combating their deceit with airtight research. It's why we often say of Media Matters, "We watch Fox News, so you don't have to."
But on nights like tonight, many people who don't usually watch Fox News will tune in. These viewers -- be they progressives, people who regularly get their news from other networks, or just casual political observers who engage only around big events -- have some impression of what Fox News' brand is. They tend to have a sense that Fox News is very conservative and that Fox News lies. And they probably initially associate Fox News with some of its legacy personalities like Bill O'Reilly, or even former ones like Glenn Beck.
These viewers tune in with the expectation that the Fox figures moderating the debate will align with their impression or sense of Fox News' brand of bloviating, bias, and bigotry. In effect, the bar is set -- and it's pretty low.
Here's a rough version of this that ends up playing out on nights like tonight: Fox puts its best foot forward. The Fox figures conduct themselves in a way that exceeds the low impression that these non-regular viewers have of Fox personalities. Many of these viewers think to themselves, "Hmm. Well, those moderators were pretty reasonable." Some may even pass remarks to this effect on social media or in their social circles.
Think back to your social media feeds from nights like this. I bet you saw some posts from friends or even some mainstream media figures either giving accolades to Fox or mentioning something along the lines of 'Fox News is conservative, but that news side moderator seems pretty okay.'
In reality, no, they weren't 'pretty okay' or 'reasonable' as some non-regular viewers might believe. It's just that the bar is really low.
Fox is well aware of this dynamic. They need nights like tonight.
A few years ago, the idea that Fox News is not news but rather more akin to a political operation finally broke through and became a widely-shared opinion in political and media circles. In late 2011, Roger Ailes, Fox News' Chairman & CEO, responded by conceding that Fox News needed a "course correction" and retreating to what the network claims is a separation between its commentary and hard news side.
Since then, Fox News has often touted its supposed "news side" to deflect criticism or to create a veneer of legitimacy. Nights like tonight are pivotal to this strategy.
In the lead up to tonight's debate, there were well choreographed pieces in Politico and The New York Times that emphasized the distinction between Fox News' commentary side and news side and advanced the narrative Fox wants told about how hard-hitting the anchors moderating tonight's debate are.
It's very likely that the Fox anchors moderating tonight's debate will exceed the low expectations that occasional viewers have of Fox News.
Don't be fooled though!
Just because the three people sitting at the moderators' table won't remind you of Bill O'Reilly or Glenn Beck, be wary of giving them too much credit.
When not performing for an audience of non-typical Fox viewers...
This is bigger than these three individuals. Kelly, Wallace and Baier are simply window dressing that Fox is putting on display tonight to advance the idea that Fox has a hard news side. But there isn't a meaningful difference between Fox News' supposed news side and its commentary side.
Look no further for evidence of this than Bill Sammon. Sammon is a right-wing ideologue and serves as an executive on Fox News' supposed news side. He won't be on stage tonight. But, according to Fox News' Digital Politics Editor Chris Stirewalt, Sammon helped lead the team that prepared the questions for tonight's debate. Several years ago, Media Matters obtained leaked communications from Sammon that showed him using his position to impose a right-wing slant on Fox News' supposed hard news reporting as well as instructing on-air reporters to refrain from accurately reporting on rising global temperatures caused by climate change.
So before you rush to give Fox News credit for exceeding low expectations, just keep in mind that many of the smears, ignorant remarks, and flat-out lies told by candidates tonight were either very likely promoted heavily or manufactured by Fox itself. The landscape has been seeded with Fox News' chicanery. Candidates are well aware of the audience that they're speaking to -- a fact reflected in the decision by some of them to appeal directly to Fox News' core audience with substantial ad buys in an attempt to increase their standings in the polls.
Rush Limbaugh's Boston radio affiliate WRKO has announced it is dropping Limbaugh's talk show from its lineup. Limbaugh's syndicator, Premiere, confirmed the news in a statement, which reads in part: "We were unable to reach agreeable terms for The Rush Limbaugh Show to continue on WRKO. A final broadcast date will be announced in the near future."
WRKO has now become the second major radio station in recent weeks to drop Limbaugh's program. Limbaugh's longtime Indianapolis affiliate WIBC severed ties with him in April. WIBC's parent company noted that Limbaugh's absence could actually improve its advertiser prospects.
The commercial viability of Rush Limbaugh's show has suffered since 2012, when advertisers began fleeing the program in the wake of Limbaugh's prolonged attack on then-law student Sandra Fluke. The Wall Street Journal has reported on the millions of dollars in advertising revenue stations who carry Limbaugh's show lose, as well as the industry-wide damage resulting from Limbaugh's toxicity to advertisers. Notably, according to the report, the exodus of national advertisers has played a significant part in reducing talk radio advertising rates to about half of what it costs to run ads on music stations, even though the two formats have "comparable audience metrics."
WRKO dropping Limbaugh from its lineup is just the latest reminder that Rush Limbaugh is bad for business.
Advertisers continue to leave and stay away thanks to a dedicated group of independent organizers in the Flush Rush and #StopRush communities. Their participation matters and is having a big effect.
Indianapolis' WIBC has broadcast Rush Limbaugh's show for 22 years. Despite this long history, parent company Emmis Communications announced April 13 that they are dropping Limbaugh's show from WIBC's lineup.
Charlie Morgan, an executive for Emmis, indicated that the decision to drop Limbaugh was about the "long-term direction of the station," but also acknowledged that there was a "business element to the decision." Underscoring the business considerations, Morgan explained to the Indianapolis Business Journal that the absence of Limbaugh could actually help WIBC's advertiser prospects:
While Morgan expects some WIBC listeners to be "hugely disappointed" by the change, he said losing Limbaugh could open up the station to more advertising opportunities.
There are some--primarily national--advertisers that refuse to air commercials during Limbaugh's show, Morgan explained. Emmis officials began notifying its advertisers of the change Monday.
"We believe this could open us up to a new group of advertisers," he said.
Limbaugh's show has been plagued with woes ever since advertisers began fleeing in the wake of Limbaugh's multi-day attack on then-law student Sandra Fluke. Thousands of local and regional businesses refuse to advertise on Limbaugh's show and the bulk of national advertisers are now reportedly boycotting his program. The cumulative effect of Limbaugh's advertiser difficulties has created a problem so substantial that it has actually spilled over and is hurting conservative talk radio as a whole.
The Wall Street Journal recently confirmed the industry-wide damage resulting from Limbaugh's beleaguered program. According to the report, the exodus of national advertisers has played a significant part in reducing talk radio advertising rates to about half of what it costs to run ads on music stations, even though the two formats have "comparable audience metrics."
Further, the report also provides a look at the millions of dollars individual stations have lost. The chart below, which was taken from the Journal report, gives a before and after look at the advertising revenue of talker stations in some of the largest markets. Notably, three of the stations that carried Limbaugh originally (KFI, WSB, and WBAP) experienced the greatest losses:
What is happening at the stations identified in the chart is happening at other talk stations, especially those that carry Limbaugh's program. While it was already reported that major radio companies were hemorrhaging millions of dollars due to Limbaugh's toxicity, the Journal's analysis of the effect at the local station level was revealing and may offer some additional insight into WIBC's decision to drop Limbaugh.
WIBC is just the latest in a string of reminders that Rush Limbaugh is bad for business.
The Journal report also confirmed that advertisers continue to leave and stay away thanks to a dedicated group of independent organizers in the Flush Rush and #StopRush communities. Their participation matters and is having a tremendous effect.
Politico reports that Cumulus Media plans on dropping Rush Limbaugh's show at the end of the year.
Cumulus has reportedly decided not to renew Sean Hannity's contract either.
Cumulus carries Limbaugh and Hannity's shows on more than 40 of its stations, including Limbaugh's longtime flagship WABC in New York as well as stations in big markets like Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Dallas.
Limbaugh's show has been plagued with woes ever since advertisers began fleeing in the wake of Limbaugh's multi-day attack on then-law student Sandra Fluke; the majority of national advertisers are now boycotting Limbaugh's show. In fact, the backlash from advertisers has been so strong that it has spilled over, injuring digital streaming advertising as well as other similar programs (Sean Hannity's, for example).
Advertisers big and small continue to flee Limbaugh's show. In just the last few weeks alone, several recognizable companies have taken action regarding their ads and Rush Limbaugh...
After a CVS ad appeared during Limbaugh's show, CVS advised that it won't happen again, explaining: "The Rush Limbaugh show is not a program on which we typically advertise & a recent commercial was aired on this program in error."
Upon learning its ads were running during Limbaugh's show, Disney On Ice promptly removed them, stating: "The advertisements you are referring to have been pulled and should no longer be airing during Rush Limbaugh's show."
Citing Limbaugh's indecent content, fast food chain Bojangles also removed ads. The apologetic chain noted that it didn't purchase the ads directly but as part of a package, adding: "A number of our loyal guests have told us they were offended by some of the content on the program in question. We have looked into that content, and as a result we have taken the steps necessary to ensure our ads do not run on this program indefinitely."
AAMCO went so far as to make an exception to its policy of leaving advertising decisions in the hands of locally owned franchisees in order to remove ads from Limbaugh's show.
Advertisers have been taking action similiar to the aforementioned examples for more than a year, which accounts for the scope and scale of the financial damage.
A few days before the May 2013 investors call, a "source close to" Limbaugh's show attempted to soften the blow by denying that Limbaugh was having any negative effect on advertiser sales and warned that Limbaugh would walk if Cumulus continued to blame him. After announcing $2.4M in quarterly losses, Lew Dickey rebutted the assertion that Limbaugh wasn't hurting ad sales, stating: "The facts are indisputable regarding the impact certain things have had on ad dollars."
Cumulus isn't the only radio company reporting financial losses associated with Limbaugh's show either; other radio companies have also reported significant losses directly attributable to either Limbaugh's show or the intensifying advertiser fallout.
Noam Pattiz, CEO of Courtside Entertainment, best summarized the industry wide effect, noting that a "tremendous chunk of advertising revenue was wiped out in terms of support for national talk radio programs." Pattiz added that "the movement in talk radio to some degree is moving away from conservative talk radio and into other genres."
Indeed. During an interview with Bloomberg TV back in February, Dickey seemed to confirm Pattiz's assessment and signal the possibility of a shakeup, saying: "We're sort of seeing a shift in spoken-word radio from political-based talk over to sports." Dickey was sure to note that sports radio is popular with advertisers.
For his part, Limbaugh has done little to reassure wary business interests that it's safe to go back in the water. To the contrary, he gives advertisers daily cause for concern by filling his airtime with the same bigotry, deceit and chicanery that have come to define his brand.
In April, after spending a year dismissing the massive advertiser losses as a couple of french fries that weren't hurting anyone at all, Limbaugh acknowledged that he was having a problem. But instead of accepting any responsibility, he lashed out and blamed his woes on a conspiracy perpetuated "liberal feminists" in the media buying industry. (I imagine this didn't go over well at the next ad sales meeting).
In the days following the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, Limbaugh vividly illustrated his volatility when he gleefully announced that he can now say "'nigga' with an A'" because "it's not racist." Limbaugh would argue that he was innocently commenting on an interview that Trayvon Martin's friend Rachel Jeantel had conducted with CNN. But given his odious track record of racially charged attacks, it seems Limbaugh felt like he had an opportunity to finally say the n-word on air with impunity. After all, he has been tiptoeing toward that point for some time. Regardless of the reasoning, the fact that he went there reinforces the concern that he hasn't really done anything to address the recklessness that created this mess to begin with.
Aside from Limbaugh's recklessness, the consequences his show has experienced are due in large part to hundreds of independent organizers, like the Flush Rush and the #StopRush communities. Their participation matters and is having a tremendous effect.
Whether Cumulus ultimately drops Rush Limbaugh remains to be seen, but one thing is irrefutable: Rush Limbaugh has proven to be bad for business. In the past, Limbaugh's renewal and an increase in subscriber fees would have been almost a sure thing, but not anymore. And, with good reason.
On its first quarter earnings call with investors, Cumulus Media CEO Lew Dickey reported a $2.4 million dollar decline in revenue associated with syndicated talk (which is a polite way of referencing fallout from the Rush Limbaugh's loss of advertisers without calling Limbaugh out by name). Dickey has reported millions in losses associated with Limbaugh in previous quarters as well.
Anticipating this report, a "source close to" Rush Limbaugh's show began making the rounds insisting that Limbaugh is not to blame for the losses, while indicating that Limbaugh is considering walking away from Cumulus, which currently carries his show on 40 of its stations.
Asked to address the Limbaugh issue during today's earnings call, Dickey flatly rejected the notion that Limbaugh is blameless, explaining: "We've had a tough go of it the last year. The facts are indisputable regarding the impact certain things have had on ad dollars."
Indeed. As I explained yesterday, this Limbaugh source's contention doesn't stand up scrutiny:
In fact, Limbaugh has become so toxic that he's hurting other conservative talk shows. At a Talkers forum last year, Norm Pattiz, CEO of Courtside Entertainment, summed up the destructive effect Limbaugh has had on the entire industry, noting that a "tremendous chunk of advertising revenue was wiped out in terms of support for national talk radio programs." Pattiz added that "the movement in talk radio to some degree is moving away from conservative talk radio and into other genres."
Limbaugh has done nothing to signal to advertisers that he's not going to put them in a damaging situation, like he did to so many of his advertisers last year when he engaged in a three-day rant against Sandra Fluke. Instead, he's continued with same bigotry and recklessness that forced advertisers to walk away in the first place.
Limbaugh is just as volatile as ever. It's why he's having so much trouble filling his ad space. And, this volatility is why Rush Limbaugh remains bad for business.
Aside from Limbaugh's recklessness, the consequences his show has experienced is due in large part to scores of independent organizers, like the Flush Rush and the #StopRush community. Their participation matters and is having a tremendous effect.
Currently, Cumulus Media carries Limbaugh's show on 40 of its stations, including Limbaugh's flagship WABC in New York as well as stations in Chicago, Washington DC and Dallas. If Limbaugh and Cumulus part ways, it would represent a significant reduction in Limbaugh's overall footprint and serve as yet another reminder that Limbaugh's brand is bad for business.
Limbaugh doesn't appreciate how Cumulus' CEO keeps telling investors that the radio host is hurting ad sales and costing the company millions. So, the weekend before Cumulus' first quarter investor meeting, "a source close to" Limbaugh's show went public with word that Limbaugh will walk if Cumulus' CEO continues to speak about the host's negative impact on business.
Indeed. If I were Limbaugh, I wouldn't want the CEO of one of my major affiliates consistently informing the business community that my show is causing millions of dollars in losses every quarter.
This Limbaugh source argues that Cumulus' problems begin and end with Cumulus and insists that Limbaugh's show is not causing any issues in the revenue department. But, reality and Limbaugh's own words demonstrate otherwise.
Cumulus isn't the only radio company reporting significant losses attributable to Limbaugh. Dial Global has also attributed millions in losses to Limbaugh. Many others in the industry report negative consequences resulting from Limbaugh's recklessness. Consequently, this Limbaugh source's contention that Cumulus' advertising problems have nothing to do with Limbaugh falls apart when we look at the rest of the industry. What would this source say in response to the ills faced by other companies in connection to Limbaugh's show? That it's all their fault too?
Additionally, Mediaite reports that "the vast majority of national advertisers now refuse to air their ads during Rush Limbaugh's show." This is consistent with what industry observers have been saying for months as well as my own experience.
Further, Limbaugh himself recently complained about his advertising troubles. Although, Limbaugh blames his advertising woes on mainstream media buyers "trying to harm" him, warning that they "are young women fresh out of college, liberal feminists who hate conservatism."
So, on the one hand, we have multiple radio companies reporting losses directly attributable to Limbaugh's show as well as Limbaugh himself complaining about media buyers. On the other hand, we have an unnamed source close to Limbaugh's show denying reality about Limbaugh's advertiser woes and attacking one of the host's biggest affiliates.
At this point, it doesn't really matter who you believe. The fact that Limbaugh's affiliates are consistently reporting losses and that Limbaugh is now attacking them is evidence of the one thing that has become undeniable: Rush Limbaugh is bad for business.
Onward we go...
Glenn Beck is engaging in a bit of revisionist history concerning his Fox News exit. At an April 27 event at New York University, Beck portrayed his departure as self-initiated and suggested that Fox CEO Roger Ailes pleaded with him to stay, explaining:
"If you stay in it too long, you become Norma Desmond. I remember feeling, 'If you do not leave now, you won't leave with your soul intact.'"
"At the end, when we were leaving, it was a long process. Roger said to me, 'You're not going to leave.' And I said, 'I am.' And he said, 'Nobody does,' meaning leave television....And I said, 'I'm fortunate because I haven't been in it that long.' I knew what this big, huge Fox empire brought to the table, and I had to leave before I became too enamored of that."
A Fox News spokesperson issued a sharp rebuke contradicting Beck's claim, instead citing Glenn Beck's advertiser losses as the major cause of Beck's exit, saying:
"Glenn Beck wasn't trying to save his soul, he was trying to save his ass. Advertisers fled his show and even Glenn knows what that means in our industry. Yet, we still tried to give him a soft landing. Guess no good deed goes unpunished."
Indeed. Following a series of grassroots efforts beginning in July 2009, around the time Beck accused President Obama of being a "racist," advertisers began fleeing his Fox News show. A Media Matters study revealed that the number of paid advertisements during Glenn Beck's show plummeted and never recovered as a result of those grassroots efforts:
Advertiser rates for Glenn Beck's Fox News program suffered as well. According to an analysis of industry data, the same ad, from the same advertiser cost between three and six times more to run on other comparable Fox News programs than it did to run on Beck's program:
While I was active in the StopBeck effort, detractors and even Beck himself would dismiss the effects of the advertiser losses. I long maintained that the losses were in fact costing Fox News money and were severely limiting the viability of Beck's program. And, now Fox News has all but confirmed it.
It's been one year since Rush Limbaugh's invective-filled tirade against then-Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke. With hundreds of advertisers and millions of dollars lost, the business of right-wing radio is suffering, but Rush Limbaugh continues to act as if it were business as usual, which is why Limbaugh is still bad for business.
On February 29, 2012, Rush Limbaugh initiated a three-day smear campaign against Sandra Fluke, launching 46 personal attacks against her. This moment and Limbaugh's subsequent refusal to apologize for, or even acknowledge, all but two of those attacks put the spotlight on the right-wing talk business model that Limbaugh helped construct.
During the following weeks, headlines tracked in near real-time the names of advertisers exiting Limbaugh's show as pundits and natterers speculated about Limbaugh's future. As so often happens, the buzz faded and the news cycle rolled on. But the consequences didn't fade, they intensified. This is due in large part to scores of independent organizers, like the Flush Rush and the #StopRush community.
Rush Limbaugh's recklessness damaged the radio industry and the business of conservative talk.
When advertisers began fleeing from his program, Limbaugh dismissed the losses as akin to losing a "couple of French fries" and insisted that "nobody is losing any money here." This position seemed less tenable after Limbaugh employed the services of a crisis manager to handle the fallout, and the right-wing talker's protestations were proven false once financial reports started rolling in.
Yesterday, Cumulus Media, a major affiliate of Rush Limbaugh's show reported millions of dollars in losses attributable Limbaugh's advertiser troubles.
During a call with investors Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey acknowledged Limbaugh's "drag" on business while being careful not to mention Limbaugh by name:
On Thursday, speaking to investors again, Dickey said that, though his profits were up in his latest quarter, his revenues were down thanks to ten out of the 570 stations he owns. These stations, he said, were mostly "news/talk" formats in major media markets.
Dickey chalked up the sluggish performance -- the top three stations cost him $5.5 million, he said -- in part to "some extraordinary issues," such as "the boycott that we saw from some remarks in a talk radio show." That, he said, had "impacted us." (emphasis added)
Dickey made news when Cumulus last reported earnings in May when he said that the Limbaugh advertiser efforts lost his company millions of dollars in the first and second quarters, but indicated that things would be back to normal in June. Limbaugh's defenders heralded Dickey's projection as proof that the efforts to hold Rush Limbaugh accountable had failed. Back then, I analyzed the report and explained why Dickey's prediction would likely prove inaccurate.
As it turns out, my analysis was correct. Things did not return to normal in June. On yesterday's call, Dickey informed investors that he anticipated the drag on business to continue for at least another six months to a year.
Dickey has good reason to anticipate a continued drag.
First, Limbaugh's advertiser troubles are far from over.
Second, Limbaugh continues to engage in the same kinds of vitriol and reckless attacks that put his intersecting business interests and affiliates in this position in the first place, like his renewed attacks on Sandra Fluke or a recent statement that "feminism was established" so "unattractive women" could have "easier access to the mainstream." This continued recklessness signals to advertisers that Limbaugh remains volatile. For many advertisers, this volatility is what keeps them away. They look at Limbaugh's long record of vitriol, they see the damange to businsess it can unpredictably create sometimes, they recognize that he continues to engage in similar conduct and they rightfully conclude that the risk just isn't worth it.
Bottom line: Rush Limbaugh continues to demonstrate that he's bad for business.
And, onward we go...