Calling conservative talk radio "true" and "sensible," Caplis dubiously claimed, "[M]ost of America is conservative"

››› ››› MEDIA MATTERS STAFF

Discussing with a caller the "success" of conservative talk radio, co-host Dan Caplis of 630 KHOW-AM dubiously asserted that "most of America is conservative." In fact, a recent meta study by Media Matters for America and Campaign for America's Future of independent national polls concluded that "the conventional wisdom that Americans are overwhelmingly conservative is fundamentally false."

On the June 19 broadcast of 630 KHOW-AM's The Caplis & Silverman Show, co-host Dan Caplis agreed with a caller's dubious assertion that "most of America is conservative, and every poll shows it." Caplis stated, "I think that most of America is conservative, and it does have traditional values, and that includes an awful lot of Democrats and an awful lot of independents, and I think that explains the success ... of quote-unquote conservative talk radio." Caplis further claimed that "the key reason why most of America I think is that way is because it's true and it can be backed up, and, and it's logical, and it's sensible." Added Caplis, a frequent guest on Fox News Channel: "[A]nd that's why being fair and balanced is the starting point."

Contrary to Caplis' unsubstantiated assertion, a recent meta study of independent, nonpartisan polling data over the past 20 years conducted by Media Matters for America and Campaign for America's Future shows that "the conventional wisdom that Americans are overwhelmingly conservative is fundamentally false." Furthermore, Colorado Media Matters has noted instances (here and here) when Caplis has made false or misleading statements on his talk radio show or as a Fox News guest -- belying his comment that conservative talk radio is "true" and "can be backed up."

Caplis and the caller made their remarks while discussing Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott's (R-MS) recent comment that "[t]alk radio is running America."

From the June 18 broadcast of 630 KHOW-AM's The Calpis & Silverman Show:

CALLER: I hope that Trent Lott is right because -- and not to, not to just necessarily be humorous -- I hope he's right that talk radio is running America. Because remember, it's the people that are calling in that are the voters that are the people that for whom the Con-, the government, is, is supposedly run. Now, it is true that, of course, as all polls show, that the majority of the really effective talk radio hosts are conservative. And why do you suppose that is that they're so popular? It's because most of America is conservative, and every poll shows it. They're traditional, they, they believe in family values and all the things that I think most people would find very desirable. And they're the ones that the talk radio conservative hosts are going to appeal to and thus get the response. So, I really am amused that Trent Lott has [unintelligible] before, has put his foot in it, when he actually spoke a truth. And I'm glad he did, I'm glad he's right, and I'm glad that you people at K, at your station -- not only the Peter Boyles of this world, but the Mike, the Mike Rosens, and the Caplises, and the, and the rest of you people are all -- keep it up. I, I think this requirement that you be fair and balanced is more of a façade, a sincere one, than the reality.

CAPLIS: Well, they -- no, but, let's talk about that, [caller]. Because to me, I think your first point is a correct one. I think that most of America is conservative, and it does have traditional values, and that includes an awful lot of Democrats and an awful lot of independents, and I think that explains the success --

CALLER: Exactly.

CAPLIS: -- of quote-unquote conservative talk radio. But a, but a key to that, a key to that success and the key reason why most of America I think is that way is because it's true and it can be backed up, and, and it's logical, and it's sensible. And, and that's why being fair and balanced is the starting point. Because, people are smart, I think, intrinsically, whether they've had one year of education or 30 years of education, and, and they're not going to fall for some kind of ruse. So I think at the heart of that success is the fact that it's, it's true and it is the right way to go.

In fact, "every poll" does not show that most Americans are conservative. The Media Matters and Campaign for America's Future meta study of "independent, nonpartisan polling data [over the past 20 years] from sources such as the American National Election Studies (NES), the General Social Survey (GSS), and Gallup polls" demonstrated the opposite: that "on issue after issue, most Americans agree with progressives and have for decades." As a June 13 press release summarizing the study noted, "Through decades of public opinion data from nonpartisan sources, the report shows the majority of Americans hold progressive positions on a broad range of issues." Among the report's key findings:

  • The role of government -- 69 percent of Americans believe the government "should care for those who can't care for themselves"; twice as many people (43 percent vs. 20 percent) want "government to provide many more services even if it means an increase in spending" as want government to provide fewer services "in order to reduce spending."
  • The economy -- 77 percent of Americans think Congress should increase the minimum wage; 66 percent believe "upper-income people" pay too little in taxes; 53 percent feel the Bush administration's tax cuts have failed because they have increased the deficit and caused cuts in government programs.
  • Social issues -- 61 percent of Americans support embryonic stem cell research; 62 percent want to protect Roe v. Wade; only 3 percent of Americans rank same-sex marriage as the "most important" social issue.
  • Security -- 43 percent of Americans say we are spending too much on our military; 60 percent feel the federal government should do more about restricting the kinds of guns that people can purchase.
  • The environment -- 75 percent of Americans would be wiling to pay more for electricity if it were generated by renewable sources to help reduce global warming; 79 percent want higher emissions standard for automobiles.
  • Energy -- 52 percent of Americans believe "the best way for the U.S. to reduce its reliance on foreign oil" is to "have the government invest in alternative energy sources"; 68 percent of the public thinks U.S. energy policy is better solved by conservation than production.
  • Immigration -- 57 percent of Americans feel "most recent immigrants to the U.S. contribute to this country" rather than "cause problems." Sixty-seven percent of Americans feel that "on the whole," immigration is a "good thing for this country today."
  • Health care -- 69 percent of Americans think it is the responsibility of the federal government to make sure all Americans have access to health coverage; 76 percent find access to health care more important than maintaining the Bush tax cuts; three in five would be willing to have their own taxes increased to achieve universal coverage.

The report does acknowledge that "polls show more people labeling themselves as 'conservative' than 'liberal,' " according to NES data. However, NES also notes that "there are a number of reasons to conclude that the data on self-labeling tells us relatively little about the actual ideological positioning of the public":

First, as political scientists have understood for more than 40 years, most Americans simply don't think in ideological terms. To take one example, the National Election Studies has asked respondents in the past, "Would you say that either one of the parties is more conservative than the other at the national level?" The number answering "the Republicans" seldom exceeded 60 percent when the question was asked in the past; after a 12-year hiatus, the NES asked the question again in 2004, when two-thirds of the public, an all-time high, gave the correct answer. This means that, at a time when the parties are more ideologically distinct than ever, one-third of the public can't name correctly which party is more conservative. If this bare minimum of knowledge is unavailable to such a large proportion of the population, it is fair to say that their self-placement on ideological scales will not be a particularly reliable gauge of their actual beliefs on issues.

Moreover, the false or misleading statements Caplis has made on his own or other conservative broadcasts contradict his assertion that conservative talk radio is "success[ful]" because "it's true and it can be backed up ... and it's logical, and it's sensible." To date, Colorado Media Matters has produced numerous research items noting or debunking Caplis' "logical" and "sensible" assertions, including the following examples:

  • Appearing as a guest on Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, Caplis falsely asserted on May 31 that "the Boulder Daily Camera still refuses to fully report the facts" of what panelists said during a controversial April 10 Conference on World Affairs (CWA) panel discussion about sex and drugs held at Boulder High School. In doing so, Caplis ignored the fact that the newspaper first broke the story about the panel in April and has published in print and on its website numerous items related to it.
  • On the May 2 broadcast of his show, Caplis accused state Rep. Mike Cerbo (D-Denver) of "really offensive conduct" and falsely claimed that Cerbo "opposed including ... those who have died fighting for us in Iraq in a ... memorial to those who have died in the war on terror." Although Cerbo did reportedly oppose the inclusion of the words "war on terror" in the bill to create the memorial, he never suggested excluding from the memorial the names of service members killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
  • During a discussion of Joint Chiefs of Staff chairman Gen. Peter Pace's remarks that he thinks homosexual acts are "immoral" and comparable to adultery, Caplis said on his March 14 broadcast, "I don't think gay people are immoral ... At the same time, do I think the act itself is immoral? Yes. And I think the vast majority of people do." In fact, Gallup polling shows that more than half of the respondents in a May 2006 survey said they consider homosexuality "acceptable."
  • Echoing conservative smears on his January 19 broadcast, Caplis repeated the baseless accusation -- which he attributed to Fox News Channel -- that U.S. Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) attended a radical Muslim seminary. After CNN debunked the falsehood three days later, Caplis did not address his repetition of the smear or retract his defense of Fox News' faulty reporting.
  • During his November 15, 2006, broadcast, Caplis praised the Fox television organization as one that "built such a great news operation and has so much increased credibility," without noting the recent controversy surrounding Fox News over the leak of an internal memo showing that the network's news coverage instructions reflected hostility toward Democrats.
  • Finally, on his October 19, 2006, broadcast, Caplis agreed with a caller who falsely asserted that an illegal immigrant who gives birth in the United States "automatically gets to stay" and her "illegal status is removed." In fact, while children born in the United States to illegal immigrants automatically become U.S. citizens, those children must wait until they turn 21 before they can petition for their parents to be granted legal status.
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