CNN Psychoanalyzes Talk Radio Listeners, Cites Left-Wing Study on Format

CNN's Carol Costello began a new series on political talk radio on Monday's American Morning, suggesting it was unfairly dominated by conservatives, and brought on a liberal psychiatrist who theorized that Rush Limbaugh has an audience because he's "operating like the bully, and if you're on the want to be...under the bully's wing and go along with him and get...some power by proxy."

The correspondent's report, which aired just before the bottom of the 7 am Eastern hour, was the first installment in a "special series on talk radio," according to anchor John Roberts. Costello zeroed in on the listeners and why the format "can capture people for such long periods of time." A graphic on the screen during her report heralded "anger on the air: what listeners don't know about talk radio." [MP3 audio available here]

Towards the end of her report, the CNN correspondent played a sound bite from radical left-wing host Randi Rhodes, who speculated that "the reason they don't passionately listen to liberal talk radio is access" (Costello outrageously downplayed Rhodes's political leanings by describing her as someone whom "many consider a liberal talker"). The "liberal talker" noted that apparently, "ninety-one percent of talk radio is conservative." Costello continued that "according to Talkers magazine, liberal talkers fill just nine percent of the nation's news talk radio on the commercial dial. Change that, Rhodes says, and liberal listeners would listen just as much."

The 91 percent figure actually came from a 2007 report titled "The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio," written by two liberal organizations- Center for American Progress and Free Press. However, the report, which was co-authored by current FCC "chief diversity officer" Mark Lloyd, "suffers from a number of structural flaws," as a 2008 special report by MRC's Culture and Media Institute pointed out. The CMI report continued that "the CAP report's greatest flaw is ignoring noncommercial talk radio," such as NPR's many public radio affiliates.

Costello's statement that the 91 percent figure came from Talkers magazine is also dubious because Talkers publisher Michael Harrison voiced his own criticism of the CAP report when it was released in 2007. An article by Jesse Noyes of the Boston Herald from June 22 of that year (cited on Free, and confirmed via Nexis) noted that "Harrison...said the report is flawed and narrow. It doesn't consider the broader spectrum of talk radio, which would include public radio stations, he said. 'There's a lot more to talk radio than what they call talk radio,' Harrison said."

Roberts questioned the correspondent on the flawed statistic: "Carol, you talk about this issue of access- 91 percent of the airwaves being taken up by conservative talk radio, nine percent liberal, but are liberal listeners as loyal as conservative listeners are?" Costello replied, "Well, it depends on what you consider a liberal talk show or something that leans more liberal in what you listen to. Let's say- of course, conservative talkers compromise most of the AM radio dial, but FM radio doesn't. Some people consider NPR liberal. NPR gets 20 million listeners. That's more than Rush Limbaugh. So, it's all in how you look at." So even Costello indirectly acknowledged that the CAP report didn't look at the whole picture!

Earlier in her report, Costello featured one listener from conservative Lancaster County, Pennsylvania who tunes-in for more than eight hours a day, and noted how "ten of the top 11 radio talk shows are conservative. The king? Rush Limbaugh, with 15 million listeners." As to the question of why talk radio has such "intense loyalty," in her words, the correspondent hinted to what her answer to the question was in her clip from psychiatrist Gail Saltz, who gave her own psychoanalysis of the typical Limbaugh fan:

COSTELLO: Psychiatrist Gail Saltz says Limbaugh's style appeals to those who feel they have no voice.

DR. GAIL SALTZ, PSYCHIATRIST: He's essentially kind of operating like the bully, and if you're on the playground, do you want to be the bully's- you know, under the bully's wing and go along with him and get, therefore, some power by proxy, too, or do you want to be like left out alone on the playground where- you know, who knows who's going to take you out?

COSTELLO: Saltz says conservative talkers are more popular than liberal talkers because they attract the kind of person who likes strong, aggressive messages.

Costello previously used Saltz back in May 2008 during a report on Scott McClellan's "tell-all" book, where she again issued some left-leaning analysis. This take is not at all surprising, given how, according to, she has donated $3,750 to liberal candidates over the years.

-Matthew Balan is a news analyst at the Media Research Center.