It’s been a tough month. Those of us who successfully resisted the temptation to write about radio shock jock Don Imus’ racial slur of the Rutgers womens’ basketball team may have been left off Oprah’s invitation list (and Tim Russert’s), but we may have gained the advantage of perspective. Let’s pull back on the stick and gain some altitude, because this is the next stage of the battle for the media in 2007 that will substantially affect the results in 2008.
What Imus said was both predictable and inexcusable. He got fired, and deserved it. But such — and worse — will be repeated forevermore in gangsta rap, on satellite radio and wherever else it is tolerated by the same people who fired Imus. But the fact that Imus was forced off the air by an apparently well-orchestrated assault on his advertisers may be a lesson conservatives need to learn because liberals will study and apply it with all the energy they can muster.
As I’ve written before in this space, liberals are prepping the media battlefield while Republicans and conservatives (sigh; yes, there is a difference) fail to defend their assets and prepare to battle the liberals’ amen chorus in everything from the blogs to the New York Times editorial page.
Those of us who study the military all day and half the night are familiar with the notion that “getting inside the adversary’s decision loop” is one of the surest ways to win a fight. Translating from Pentagonese, when you get inside the other guy’s decision loop, you have managed to: (1) determine what his next move is likely to be; and (2) take countermeasures — in attack and/or defense — to defeat that next move and use the adversary’s momentum against him. On the kinetic battlefield, that can mean everything from seizing a piece of real estate before the other guy gets there to bombing a force maneuvering for position, and everything in between. In the media wars now going on, the liberals are inside the conservative decision loop.
We’ve watched, and not answered, the assault on Fox News. Beginning with Bill Clinton’s well-planned attack on Chris Wallace last year and succeeding in blocking Fox’s key role in Democratic candidate debates, the one cable news network that even tries to be fair to both sides is being marginalized. So what is to be learned by the facts surrounding the Imus firing? What will the liberals try to do with it?
For decades, conservative talk radio has been a hugely effective political weapon. Rush Limbaugh has proved over and over again that conservative radio is effective both politically and economically. In the free market of ideas, Rush — and Laura Ingraham, Sean Hannity and so many others — have succeeded. Sponsors gladly pay for time on shows that reach millions of people every day.
On the other side, liberal talk radio has been the Edsel of the broadcast media. When the folks at Air America weren’t cooking their own books, they were striking out as regularly as a Little Leaguer would facing the Minnesota Twins Johann Santana or the Toronto Blue Jays’ Roy Halladay. No matter how loudly they preached liberalism, they couldn’t succeed in either market: for commercials or in the market of ideas. (RA’s “star” — thuggish Al Franken — is surrendering to market forces and running for the US Senate in Minnesota.)
In the past, liberals have taken every shot they could at Rush and the others, seeking to force them off the air. In 2002, then-Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D.-S.D.) accused Rush of inciting violence against him after Limbaugh said — correctly, of course — that Daschle and others were obstructing progress on Homeland Security legislation. Dachle said, “Rush Limbaugh and all of the Rush Limbaugh wannabes have a very shrill edge…But what happens when Rush Limbaugh attacks those of us in public life is that people aren’t satisfied just to listen. They want to act…and so, you know, the threats to those of us in public life go up dramatically, on our families…” If Daschle could have had Rush arrested, he would have.
That assault on Rush failed, as it had to, because it attacked him at his strong point. But what could the libs learn from the Imus mess?
If you want to get inside the liberals decision loop, you have to understand their intent — to destroy conservative talk radio — and their capabilities, from blogs to pols and all the politically activist media in between. What would you do if you were, say, George Soros? If you had a ton of money and wanted to render conservative talk radio ineffective in the 2008 election cycle?
What you’d do is employ some group to pick at the statements of the talkers, and make every politically-incorrect utterance a cause celebre. Take words out of context. No one will notice. Make any statement about Hillary, Obama or whoever into some sort of outrageous racial/religious/sexist/whatever slur. Petition the advertisers on that show, bash them by name in every corner of the blogosphere and rely on the media to contrive stories around the blogs. Create media feeding frenzies to threaten advertisers who continue to buy time on the supposedly “offensive” shows.
If that’s what the libs will try, and they will — if that’s the weapons they will use, and they are — we are now inside their decision loop. The question is what to do before they get started? What’s the countermeasure?
There are two. First and foremost, we need to dig hard to discover the sources of the attacks, and we will. When we do, we’ll expose them, naming names and by doing so showing that the attacks aren’t by consumers or about them. We have to deal in facts, not fiction and whenever we get them we need to be as aggressive as the liberals in stirring the media to show how the attacks are orchestrated.
Second, conservatives must refuse to be intimidated. Political correctness is a threat to free speech. The talkers are usually right, and when they are we must stand with them.