RealClearPolitics Media Watch

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Fox Rises, Air America Crashes

On the same day Neilsen reported competition-dwarfing numbers for Fox News's coverage of the special election in Massachusetts on Tuesday night, Air America radio declared bankruptcy and will cease live broadcasts immediately.

In a statement posted to its web site, Air America's management explained:

With radio industry ad revenues down for 10 consecutive quarters, and reportedly off 21% in 2009, signs of improvement have consisted of hoping things will be less bad. And though Internet/new media revenues are projected to grow, our expanding online efforts face the same monetization and profitability challenges in the short term confronting the Web operations of most media companies

When Air America Radio launched in April, 2004 with already-known personalities like Al Franken and then-unknown future stars like Rachel Maddow, it was the only full-time progressive voice in the mainstream broadcast media world. At a critical time in our nation's history -- when dissent on issues such as the Iraq war were often denounced as "un-American" -- Air America and its talented team helped millions of Americans remember the importance of compelling discussion about the most pivotal events and decisions of our generation.

Through some 100 radio outlets nationwide, Air America helped build a new sense of purpose and determination among American progressives. With this revival, the progressive movement made major gains in the 2006 mid-term elections and, more recently, in the election of President Barack Obama and a strongly Democratic Congress.

Meanwhile, Fox News's rise into the cable news stratosphere continues unabated. According to Neilsen, Fox News drew an astonishing 6.2 million total viewers during primetime Tuesday night, compared to only 1.5 million for CNN and 1.1 million for MSNBC.

Clearly, those numbers are driven in part by the fact that Fox's right-leaning audience was intensely interested in the outcome of this race. But it also had to do with the fact that Fox simply provided more, and better, coverage of the event. Fox was the only network to cover Coakley and Brown's speeches in their entirety.

And as Miami Herald TV critic Glenn Garvin points out, while Fox had a stream of liberal pundits on analyzing the race, MSNBC provided little more than spittle-flecked vitriol from its anchors:

Watching coverage of the Massachusetts senatorial election Tuesday night, I wondered if MSNBC was getting ready to cut off its cable signal to the state. Keith Olbermann and Rachel Maddow, positively enraged that Massachusetts dared to elect a Republican, delivered two hours of nonstop bilious rage toward the state's voters, calling them "irrational" and "teabaggers," engaged in "a total divorce from reality," and hinting that they're vicious racists to boot.

If you watched CNN or Fox News last night, you got a balanced analysis of how Republican Scott Brown pulled off the political upset of the century (or, if you prefer, how Democrat Martha Coakley blew a dead solid electoral lock). Yes, I said Fox News, without irony. To be sure, Bill O'Reilly and Sean Hannity made it clear they were rooting for Brown. But their shows also included a steady parade of liberal-leaning guests -- former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown, former Dukakis campaign manager Susan Estrich, Democratic party strategist Mary Anne Marsh, NPR commentator Juan Williams and radio host Alan Colmes. And pollster Frank Luntz interviewed a panel of two dozen or so Massachusetts voters, most of them Democrats, about how they voted and why. Practically every conceivable perspective on the election was represented.