Stephanie Miller is watching Fox News, as she does every night, looking for laughs.
"It's like Comedy Central for liberals," says the Los Angeles radio host. "They don't know they're funny -- they just are. It's a right-wing freak show."
Miller's presence here at a weekend radio conference sponsored by Talkers magazine -- which gave Air America's Al Franken its Freedom of Speech award -- suggests that left-wing hosts are gaining a foothold in a conservative-dominated field. Eight months after launching a show in a handful of towns such as Columbus and Anchorage, the former standup comic is on in 30 cities, including such major markets as Boston, Washington (on WRC-AM), and Los Angeles, where she manages to be funny at 6 a.m.
Air America, which was nearly grounded by financial woes after its takeoff last year, is on in 61 cities, although registering scant ratings in some of them. And radio giant Clear Channel is flipping some of its stations to liberal talk.
As recently as 2000, Miller hosted a popular show on L.A.'s KABC but had trouble getting syndicated, and then, she says, "I was fired for being too liberal." (She also says the station didn't like the "racy content" of her show, where she sometimes referred to male callers as "love puppet" and "stud monkey.") There was, she concluded, no place for liberals in a talk radio world dominated by Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity.
Liberal radio is still a relative blip, but the turning point, says Miller, is that stations stopped putting on ex-politicians like Mario Cuomo and turned to professional broadcasters. "The minute we think it's a political movement, we're dead," she says. "You've got to get ratings. It's about money."
Miller isn't delicate when it comes to language. She told listeners last week that the argument by Hannity and Bill O'Reilly that "we're the only ones who support the troops" is "making me projectile-vomit." She gloats that "the Republicans have their panties in a twist" over this or that issue. She challenges the veracity of some conservatives with a jingle called "lying sack of crap."
Hannity, who once gave her a well-publicized hug, says he's never heard her show. "I've never seen any medium get more attention than liberal talk radio with absolutely no benefit," he says. "There's been more written about liberal talk radio than I've had in my entire career, and I began in 1987."
Much of that attention has been lavished on Air America, which says it is running ahead of projections, with an average of 222,000 people listening at any one time (compared to the roughly 4.4 million that Limbaugh averages at any one time on 600 stations). Franken, who spent part of his acceptance speech ripping O'Reilly, says the industry is no longer laughing at liberal radio. Hannity's liberal co-host, Alan Colmes (who joked at the conference that there are some liberals at Fox -- on the janitorial staff) is now heard on 70 stations.
But even some on the left say liberal radio could use more laughs. "Everyone on the liberal side seems so serious and so grim," says Sam Greenfield, a liberal host at WWRL here. "If you listen to some of the shows on Air America, there's a sense of self-righteousness." Democracy Radio, which just sold Ed Schultz's North Dakota-based show to a former Clear Channel CEO, also funds upstarts such as Miller.
Miller's emergence as a wisecracking liberal crusader carries a touch of irony, since her father was the late Buffalo-area congressman William Miller, Barry Goldwater's running mate in his landslide loss in 1964. Stephanie, who was 3 at the time, says her dad wouldn't recognize today's more conservative GOP, but sometime after voting for Ronald Reagan, she rejected the "extra-crispy bucket of Republican upbringing" served by her parents.
"George Bush could have sex with a sheep on the White House lawn and set it on fire and my mother would say, 'Oh Stephie, the president is just trying to help. Why do you hate America so much?' We try to talk about politics but it never ends well."
Miller got her start on a Buffalo music station -- "being funny for 20 seconds between the songs" -- which led to a show in her blue-collar suburb of Lockport. She bounced around different markets -- a syndicated television show lasted three months in 1995 -- still hosts "I've Got a Secret" on Oxygen and is in talks with CNN about a satire show. During the Clinton years, the Los Angeles Times reported, Miller drew complaints about being mean by depicting Monica Lewinsky as a mooing cow, Linda Tripp as an elephant and calling Ken Starr a "horndog."
But only since Jones Radio began distributing Miller's program last fall has she seemed to catch fire. With bits and impressions from her "voice guy" Jim Ward, Miller ridicules the administration -- from "Baghdad Bush" to John Bolton's mustache -- with undisguised glee. Miller generally has no guests, though the likes of Howard Dean and Barbara Boxer have made brief appearances.
Watching Fox with Miller makes clear where she gets her material. Hannity teases the next segment by saying Rep. Charles Rangel "compared the war in Iraq to the Holocaust -- did he really mean it?"
"They always pose questions like that: 'Is Hillary the spawn of Satan, and should she be burned at the stake?'"
Miller is amused when Hannity, listening to Rangel insist that the Bush administration "preplanned" a "preemptive strike" against Saddam Hussein, declares: "There's no such evidence that exists, and you know that." The congressman tries to offer some, which Hannity dismisses as talk about "black helicopters."
Says Miller: "He just starts talking over them or laughing or slamming his notebook up and down while people are talking. I'm continually amazed that Democrats go on there."
Why does she spend so much time deconstructing Fox hosts, to the point of constantly chiding O'Reilly for selling "no spin" mugs and jackets? When prodded, she admits she admires their skills as broadcasters.
"I'm sure they get that we're promoting their shows," Miller says. "O'Reilly is laughing all the way to the bank."
Alter vs. Ailes
Newsweek's Jonathan Alter took a satirical swipe at Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes in the magazine, writing that if Watergate happened today, the "former Nixon media adviser" would ban the word in favor of the logo "Assault on the Presidency."
Now Alter writes on HuffingtonPost.com that "Mr.-Dish-It-Out apparently can't take it. . . . I heard that his stooges were out peddling a story to the press that I was guilty of a conflict-of-interest and should have disclosed in my column that I twice unsuccessfully sought employment at Fox News and now do part-time work under contract to NBC News and MSNBC." Ailes, he says, "assumes his adversaries are patsies who will be easily cowed into silence."
Ailes says Alter asked him for a commentator's job several years ago but balked at being identified as a liberal when Ailes told him "I can't pretend you're a straight journalist." He says that he was just a 28-year-old aide in Richard Nixon's 1968 campaign with "no editorial input" and that in his nine years at Fox, "I've never deleted a word, a phrase, a story." Unlike Newsweek and the Koran incident, he adds, Fox hasn't just done a major retraction.
Alter reminded Ailes in a letter that the column was satire, asking if he really believed "that MSNBC -- which apparently can take a joke better than Fox -- would pose as its question-of-the-day: 'Firebombing Brookings: Good Idea or Not?'"
Tucker Carlson, who makes his MSNBC prime-time debut tonight, says he doesn't plan to book partisans who recite talking points.
"Because the analysis is by definition stilted," says Carlson, who felt locked into a left-right format at CNN's recently deceased "Crossfire." While he is "very conservative," he says, "I am not interested in having the show be an echo chamber for my views." On his 9 p.m. program "The Situation," says Carlson, "there's going to be a lot of disagreement, but no nastiness at all. I don't like that. On my PBS show for a year, I never barked at a single person."
Carlson says the show, which will open with two radio yakkers, conservative Jay Severin and liberal Rachel Maddow, will offer a fast-paced series of stories with a countdown clock.
"The Washington Times yesterday inadvertently published a photograph of D.C. City Administrator Robert C. Bobb misidentified as the late soul singer Marvin Gaye." -- Wednesday's Washington Times.
Bush's Views on Michael Jackson
National Review's Kathryn Jean Lopez | http://www.nationalreview.com/thecorner/05_06_05_corner-archive.asp#065759 doesn't think much of Neil Cavuto's Fox interview with Bush:
"DO YOU THINK THAT THE FOCUS ON MICHAEL JACKSON HAS HURT YOU?" Ugh. Neil Cavuto asked that of the president. I know the few times I've met the president I have been in total groupie mode, so I shouldn't talk. But you get an interview with the president and you ask him about Michael Jackson? That dude's been on cable news too long. Next he'll ask the leader of the free world about car chases."
Rude Pundit | http://rudepundit.blogspot.com/2005/06/why-neil-cavuto-ought-to-be-buried.html agrees (and be warned, his language is not G-rated):
"Why Neil Cavuto Ought To Be Buried Alive Under a Stack of Wall Street Journals: Here's how you know you're a worthless [blank] as a 'news' anchor, an American, and a human being: you work for a 'news' network that has been flogging the Michael Jackson trial endlessly, with quite literally hundreds of stories, updates, interviews, and commentaries on whether or not he's the king of poppin' cherries. Hell, today on your network's website is a report on Jackson's goddamn unregistered and/or broken down cars. Throughout it all -- war in Iraq, genocide in the Sudan, constant leaks on the lies of the government -- your 'news' network has made sure to conflate the Jackson trial's worth with every other truly heartbreaking, stomach-churning, important event in the world.
"And when you are given the opportunity to sit down with the President of the United States for an on-the-record interview, you never ask him about the war, the genocide, or the leaked lies. Instead, you actually say this: 'But in the meantime, the news channels then hear what you're saying, and then later on, we have this Michael Jackson update. I mean, his trial and his ongoing saga has gripped the nation for the past four-and-a-half, five months as you've been on this campaign [to gut Social Security like a flopping carp]. . . . Do you think that the focus on Michael Jackson has hurt you?' "
The phrase "straining credibility" was invented for this: Remember that White House guy the New York Times caught watering down global-warming reports?
Dick Cheney tells "Hannity & Colmes" (I bet it's just Hannity) that there are no plans | http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2005-06-12-cheney-guantanamo-no-close_x.htm to close Guantanamo Bay and that "bad people" are detained there.
"A former oil industry lobbyist who changed government reports on global warming has resigned in a long-planned departure, the White House said Saturday," reports the AP | http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/ap/20050611/ap_on_go_pr_wh/climate_reports_resignation_1.
"Philip Cooney, who was chief of staff of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, left Friday, two days after it was revealed that he had edited administration reports on climate change in 2002 and 2003.
"His departure was 'completely unrelated' to the disclosure, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said."
Just a coincidence. Totally unrelated. Out of left field. Like, why would anyone think he quit 48 hours after being outed on the front page of the Times?
Fred Barnes | http://www.weeklystandard.com/Content/Public/Articles/000/000/005/718ferii.asp asks which party has the upper hand, and you won't be surprised at his answer:
"Who's winning in Washington right now? Republicans, President Bush included. But they are winning ugly, and just barely. Actually, if success on Social Security reform is the yardstick, Republicans aren't winning at all. What changes the score is success on judges. Thanks to the Gang of 14 deal to save the filibuster, a parade of relatively young and attractive conservatives are now being confirmed for the federal appeals courts, putting them in position to be nominated later for vacancies on the Supreme Court.
"When the agreement on judicial nominations was struck in May by seven Republican and seven Democratic senators, many conservatives agreed with Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid that it was a victory for Democrats. They were wrong. Since the agreement, the three prime targets of Democrats -- Priscilla Owen, Janice Rogers Brown, William Pryor -- have all been confirmed, plus two other less controversial nominees. And more conservatives are in the confirmation pipeline. So while Bush's chances of creating personal investment accounts have faded, his goal of shifting the ideological tilt of the federal judiciary is closer at hand."
Frank Rich | http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/12/opinion/12rich.html?hp does actual reporting -- well, he got a phone call -- in clearing up one Watergate misconception:
"The morning the Deep Throat story broke, the voice on my answering machine was as raspy as Hal Holbrook's. 'I just want you to remember that I wrote "Follow the money," ' said my caller. 'I want to know if anybody will give me credit. Watch for the accuracy of the media!'
"The voice belonged to my friend William Goldman, who wrote the movie 'All the President's Men.' His words proved more than a little prescient. As if on cue, journalists everywhere -- from The New York Times to The Economist to The Washington Post itself -- would soon start attributing this classic line of dialogue to the newly unmasked Deep Throat, W. Mark Felt. But the line was not in Woodward and Bernstein's book or in The Post's Watergate reportage or in Bob Woodward's contemporaneous notes. It was the invention of the author of 'Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,' 'Marathon Man' and 'The Princess Bride.'
"This confusion of Hollywood's version of history with the genuine article would quickly prove symptomatic of the overall unreality of the Deep Throat coverage."
Journalists aren't the only ones with unnamed sources, as the American Prospect's Laura Rozen | http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewWeb&articleId=9836 reports:
"Countdown to Terror, Representative Curt Weldon's sensationalistic new book about his personal struggle to combat the Iranian terrorism threat despite the alleged resistance of the CIA, is based entirely on the Pennsylvania Republican's freelance communications with a secret source he code-named 'Ali.' Much of Weldon's book, which will be released next week by Regnery Publishing, consists of reproduced pages of comically overwrought 'intelligence' memos faxed from the Iranian emigre's Paris location to Weldon's office between 2003 and 2004.
" 'Dear Curt,' reads one memo excerpt from 'Ali' published by Weldon. 'An attack against an atomic plant by a plane, the name mentioned, but not clear it begins with "SEA" . . . [Seattle?].' Another reads: 'Dear Curt: . . . I confirm again a terrorist attack within the United States is planned before the American elections.'
"But in an exclusive interview with The American Prospect, Weldon's 'Ali' -- who was identified in an April article by me and Jeet Heer as Fereidoun Mahdavi, a frail, elderly former minister of commerce in the shah's government and a longtime business associate of Iran-Contra arms dealer Manucher Ghorbanifar -- said he was stunned and perplexed to learn that Weldon had used his information to write a book, emphasizing that Weldon never even told him about the book.
"Mahdavi also said that the bulk of the information that he had provided to Weldon was originally sourced from none other than Ghorbanifar, the subject of a rare CIA 'burn notice' after the agency found him to be a 'fabricator' more than two decades ago during the Iran-Contra affair.
" 'Many information that I have given to Weldon is coming from Ghorbanifar,' said Mahdavi, who was reached in Paris by telephone on June 6. 'Because Ghorbanifar used me, in fact, to pass that stuff because I know he has problems in Washington.' "
For some reason, this isn't getting as much attention as Deep Throat.
Harry Shearer | http://www.huffingtonpost.com/theblog/featuredposts.html#a002434, press critic for the Huffington Post, has a problem with MSNBC:
"Wouldn't cable news channels think twice about tainting their (cough) credibility with promotional announcements that are demonstrably false? No, they wouldn't.
"All winter long, MSNBC -- home of a quarter million regular viewers nationwide -- ran elaborately produced promos that said 'America's watching MSNBC.' America was so not watching MSNBC that Osama Bin Laden was rumored to be hiding out on the set of 'Scarborough Country.' Yesterday, the channel was awash with promos for Chris Matthews' 'Hardball,' whereon Russell Crowe was supposed to be 'breaking his silence' on the (cough) incident in New York. Might that be the same silence he broke on Letterman the night before? Might indeed.
"Finally, not lying, just depressing: MSNBC's promos for Tucker Carlson's new program, 'The Situation' . . . in which Carlson critiques his own promo for focusing on his bow tie -- ironic self-awareness there -- but remains mute at the real sales pitch: 'So fast, it's changing the pace of news.' Yes, a good analysis there, the problem with television news is that it's too damn in depth. You go, Tuck."
I'll reserve judgment till the show actually airs.
Finally, here's why the FBI needs more Jews. John Nields | http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/10/AR2005061001712.html, writing about his prosecution of Mark Felt, aka Deep Throat, for approving black-bag jobs against Weatherman radicals, relates the following:
"At the home of a lawyer at a major New York law firm -- whose brother was a Weatherman -- the agents copied what they thought was coded writing they found on some cards and sent the copies to the FBI lab for cryptanalysis. It turned out that the lawyer had been taking Hebrew lessons. The lawyer produced the original cards at the trial and demonstrated that the FBI could have 'decoded' the Hebrew without cryptanalysis by flipping the cards over and reading the English translation on the reverse side."