November 15, 2007

Liberal Talkers Cheer the “I” Word – and so Does Rush

PEJ Talk Show Index November 4 - 9, 2007

It’s not uncommon in the polarizing world of Talk Shows that one person is held as a hero by one side of the political spectrum and a villain by the other. What is odd, however, is to have talkers from both the political right and left cheering that person on— if for opposite reasons.

So it was for Rep. Dennis Kucinich last week as he took to the House floor November 6 to introduce a measure to impeach Vice President Dick Cheney for having “manipulated the intelligence process” leading to the Iraq War.

After the measure passed the House and moved to the Judiciary Committee, over moves by the Democratic leadership to kill it, the cheers from the left side of the talk dial could hardly be contained – along with some encouraging jeers from the right.

“Hooray for Dennis Kucinich, the congressman from Ohio” said Ed Schultz at the beginning of his Wednesday, November 7 show. Later, after an interview with the congressman Schultz explained the reason for his excitement. “I have spent time with Dennis Kucinich. This is not a political stunt. … This is how it is supposed to work. For some reason I have this feeling in my veins that democracy is slowly being restored in America.”

As liberal talker Randi Rhodes watched “the Span” (as Rhodes dubbed C-SPAN), she was nearly beside herself as the votes for Kucinich’s proposal piled up – many from House Republicans. “But you want to hear what’s surprising, I’m watching it right now, more Republicans voted not to kill it so far than Democrats voted not to kill it. That’s pretty astounding to me. … I’m sure there are some Republicans who would like to debate it so they could make fools out of the Democrats, bring it on. I welcome that debate.”

So, it seems, does Rush Limbaugh, who was watching from his perch on the right side of the radio dial. “The little guy [that would be Kucinich] goes to the floor of the House, wants to impeach Cheney for beating the war drums on a number of things and so Pelosi and Hoyer, they had to circle the wagons,” he said on his Wednesday show. “They had to move fast to stem the tide of embarrassment here. This is what happens when the left-wing kooks get hold of the party.”

Outside the talk world, Kucinich’s move was barely a blip on the larger news-scape. The story did not come close to cracking the top-10 stories in PEJ’s overall News Coverage Index. But the story provided all the right elements for the talk universe, a divisive political issue with a well-known political figure and easy to define positions. The Kucinich impeachment effort ended up as the No. 2 story of the week according to PEJ’s Talk Show Index for November 4 -9 . It made up 8% of the talk time. And it was even bigger in talk radio, where it was the top story with 20% of the total airtime.

Leading the way at 28% of the newshole in talk last week was a variety of story lines associated with the 2008 campaign – everything from Rudolph Giuliani’s endorsement from Pat Robertson to the state of Hillary Clinton’s effort to the who’s the front-runner guessing game. Coming in third was talk about martial law in Pakistan at 6%. The immigration debate was fourth garnering 5% of the total talk time, with the global warming right behind it with just under 5%.

PEJ’s Talk Show Index, released each week, is designed to provide news consumers, journalists and researchers with hard data about what stories and topics are most frequently dissected and discussed in the media universe of talk and opinion—a segment of the media that spans across both prime time cable and radio. (See About the Talk Show Index.) PEJ’s Talk Show Index includes seven prime time cable shows and five radio talk hosts and is a subset of our News Coverage Index.)

The enthusiastic reaction to the Kucinich impeachment effort on liberal talk radio may show something of a disconnect between more left-wing liberal talkers and the Democratic Party establishment, including most of the candidates for president.

On a Tuesday’s night’s Hardball on MSNBC, host Chris Matthews asked his guest Democratic presidential hopeful and New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson if he was in favor of the impeachment move. No, Richardson told Matthews, adding that he would have voted against the measure “as a protest vote” because there were other things the Democrats should be working on.

Beyond Rush Limbaugh’s show, which twice mentioned the vote as a means of making fun of the Democrats, other conservative talkers seemed less interested as well.

But on the liberal side of the dial the impeachment issue had real momentum. Rhodes came back to the issue later in the week, and Schultz all but promised to keep the issue alive. During an interview on Schultz’s show on the subject, show Kucinich said: “Our work has just begun. I am working right now to put together a national town hall meeting so that the American people can be heard from in every corner of this country.”

Schultz sounded eager to come along for the ride. “Can we broadcast that?” he asked the congressman. "I’ll just tell you right now we’d love to be a part of it.”

For the hosts not digging into impeachment, however, there was a wide variety of topics in a particularly spread out week topically (with only one topic scoring in double-digits). Take, for instance, the fate of Bounty Hunter Duane “Dog” Chapman, star of the A&E reality show “Dog the Bounty Hunter.”

The Chapman saga (his show was suspended when audio of him using the n-word in a phone conversation surfaced) was the second-largest talk story for the week of October 28, but didn’t carry the same weight on the talk dial this week as it fell to seventh place.

Still, Sean Hannity did what he could to make sure Dog had his day for a second week.

Hannity, co-host of Fox News’s Hannity and Colmes, not only scored the first interview with Chapman on Tuesday November 6, he came back to the topic the next night in an interview with pollster Frank Luntz. After playing clips from the previous night’s interview in which Dog got choked up as he apologized, Hannity suggested that the sincerity in the hard-core, mullet-coifed bounty-hunter’s appeal might offer the nation’s politicos a lesson.

“Politicians can learn from this, can’t they?” the host said, turning to Luntz.

“Why can’t Senator Clinton deliver that kind of apology, if she made a mistake on Iraq as she won’t say she did?” Luntz answered. “Boy, that would be impressive.”

Dante Chinni of PEJ

Top Ten Stories in the Talk Show Index

1. 2008 Campaign – 28%
2. Effort to Impeach Vice President Cheney – 8%
3. Pakistan – 6%
4. Immigration – 5%
5. Global Warming – 5%
6. U.S. Domestic Terrorism – 4%
7. Dog the Bounty Hunter Scandal – 4%
8. U.S. Economy – 3%
9. Gas/Oil Prices – 3%
10. Iraq Policy Debate – 2%

Top Ten Stories in the broader News Coverage Index

1. Pakistan – 17%
2. 2008 Campaign – 15%
3. Events in Iraq – 3%
4. Gas/Oil Prices – 3%
5. O.J. Simpson – 3%
6. U.S. Economy – 3%
7. Product Recalls – 2%
8. Immigration – 2%
9. Global Warming – 2%
10. U.S. Domestic Terrorism – 2%

Click here to read the methodology behind the Talk Show Index.