Somebody's Listening

Rush Limbaugh carricature by Donkey HoteyThe latest controversy surrounding radio personality Rush Limbaugh seems to be proof of the old saying, “I don’t care what they say about me as long as they spell my name right.” Or, maybe it’s the other one — “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.”  That’s the only way to reconcile the latest Harris Interactive Survey about ‘news personalities’ with the ratings for those personalities. According to the Harris poll, more than twice as many people (46%) say Limbaugh is their ‘least favorite’ media personality as say he is their favorite (22%). Even among Republicans, he ends up in the negative column. A quarter (24%) call him their least favorite while less than that, a fifth (22%). say he is their favorite. Now, try and reconcile that fact with the fact that he has more listeners than any of the other two dozen personalities in the report. The magazine and website, Talkers, cites Arbitron figures that put him at 15 Million-plus listeners. That’s nearly twice as many people as watch the #1 favorite news personality, ABC’s Diane Sawyer.

Okay, now admittedly, the figures aren’t quite an apples to apples comparison. Limbaugh’s ratings represent the weekly cume while Sawyer’s numbers represent the average nightly viewership which is about 8 Million. But even so, it doesn’t quite make sense. If you subtract the number of least favorites (46) from the number of favorite (9), you end up with a net negative of minus-37 for Limbaugh. That’s the highest negative of any of the so-called ‘news personalities.’ On the other end of the scale, Sawyer scored the highest positives, netting a plus+18. Second place favorite, NBC’s Brian Williams (+16), actually gets more viewers than Sawyer (9.4 Million, according to the latest TVbytheNumbers), but again his viewership is well below Limbaugh’s listenership.

(Readers of Like The Dew may have seen me use this technique of subtracting the negatives from the positives before, and while it may be simplistic, it works. Well, sort of. When you add in the ratings, it makes you wonder. Just as it makes you wonder whether the success of the head of the so-called “excellence in broadcasting” network is an example of the polarized political situation or the polarizing media effect.)

Limbaugh’s negative number is more than twice as much as that of the two others who score in the negative column. Bill O’Reilly and Nancy Grace both of whom end up with a minus-16. O’Reilly though still manages to average nearly 3 Million viewers a night while Grace averages about half a Million. But, again, on the flip side of that, Anderson Cooper had one of the highest positives with a net plus+15. Yet, he and Grace both average roughly the same viewership, hovering right around half a Million. Again, the question – why? Why does some one with high negative numbers score a viewership equal to someone with high positive numbers?

Anyway, while you’re figuring that out, here are some more numbers. On the positive side of the ledger, in addition to Sawyer and Cooper are Brian Williams (+16), Matt Lauer (+9), and George Stephanopoulos (+8). On the negative side of the ledger, in addition to Limbaugh, O’Reilly and Grace are Piers Morgan (-7) and Sean Hannity (-5). The other member of the news network triumvirate, CBS’s Scott Pelley, had only 4% pick him as a favorite and 1% pick him as least favorite. His predecessor, Katie Couric, scored dramatically higher, but like Limbaugh she obviously has a polarizing effect. An estimated 13% picked her as their favorite, but offsetting that was the10% who said she was their least favorite. And as all you readers know, CBS still remains in third place with 6.8 Million viewers.

P.T. Barnum is generally believed to be the person who originated the quote about not caring what people say about them. And, somehow, it seems appropriate that his legacy lives on in Rush Limbaugh. And you know what? Somehow I don’t think he cares. With an 8-year, $400-Million contract, Limbaugh is – to use another old saying – “laughing all the way to the bank.”

Michael Castengera

Michael Castengera

Michael Castengera is a newspaper reporter, turned television reporter, turned news manager, turned news consultant, turned university teacher.

He started out as a newspaper reporter, first while living in Australia, and then for newspapers in Orlando and Jacksonville, Florida.  He made the cross over into television reporting in Jacksonville, going to work for Post-Newsweek’s WJXT.

Since then he has worked in virtually every position in the newsroom, including reporter, assignment editor, producer, managing editor, assistant news director, news director and, finally, station manager.  His career has covered markets large (Miami and St. Louis), medium (Jacksonville, Fort Myers, Oklahoma City and Lexington, Kentucky) and small (Beaumont and Corpus Christi, Texas).

He cites as career highlights, investigative reports into police abuse, tornado coverage in Oklahoma and riots in Miami, being at the birth of the first 24-hour news station (KMOV) and heading up what was, at the time, the highest rated news affiliate in the country (WINK).

It was while he was station manager and news director in Fort Myers that he made the cross over into consulting, working with Audience, Research and Development of Dallas as a senior strategist with a variety of stations around the country.

He now is a senior lecturer in Digital and Broadcast Journalism at the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia.  In addition to that, he runs his own consulting company, Media Strategies and Tactics.  Clients include media groups in America as well as in India.

  1. OK, now it’s time for me to apologize for the fact that the only radio shows I listen to with any regularity are on NPR. And I never watch TV news, so I am obviously out of touch. And still, the Fluke-Limbaugh dust-up caught my eye (not my ear; see above) because it brought back the old Joel Chandler Harris tale of the wily Br’er Rabbit (see: briar patch) finally getting his due with the Tar Baby. Sandra, you go, girl!

    Rush: recto-cranial inversion; like a train wreck, only with bad breath.

  2. Well, that $400 million in the bank is not something he can eat and what he can eat is about to make him burst, so there’s little positive there.
    When it comes to his name, I’d guess people spelling it right means a lot. Not only is he Rush Hudson Limbaugh, III who didn’t like kids turning that into “the turd,” but the patronymic itself is problematic, not just because it’s redundant  ( limb + bough), but because being the limp bough (branch) of a family of lawyers and judges is a constant embarrassment.
    Since Rush, according to his mother, failed “everything” in his two semesters and summer school in college, one might suspect a learning disability.  Perhaps, like much of his audience, he’s functionally illiterate and that’s the genesis of the panic he can barely contain.  He’s got the gift of gab and that’s all. Any minute he could say something really wrong and that would be the end.  He’s been playing with fire, daring the fates………

  3. Hubris doesn’t allow for statistical analysis. Somehow, the ancient Greeks got it right, Take a fat man who escaped prison thanks to the good efforts of one of America’s top criminal lawyers, let him spend enough time before a mirror until he sees Geoge Clooney instead of a rodeo clown and give him an unrestricted license to use the airwaves of America to attack those who ordinarily cannot effectively defend themselves, and you have the quientessential radio hero.
    Problem: Hubris assumes that fools ascend to this lofty position and predictibly take a fall. If the fool weighs over 300 pounds, there is a loud thud.
    Since time immemorial, wise generals advised young turks to choose their enemies carefully and never attack unless you (1). had to, and (2). are positive of victory. 
    What compels a man to attack someone who hasn’t attacked him first goes more to psycology that statistics. Why would a man shoot himself? Looking for a new public victim? Choose one other than an attractive, articulate, upwardly mobile woman who seems to be a recruiting model for those PR agencies and powerful law firms that America’s beloved fat boy is likely turning to now for a little crisis control. 

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