NBC Trumpeted the Launch of Liberal 'Counterweight' Air America, Skips Demise of Radio Network

When the liberal radio network Air America debuted on March 31, 2004, NBC trumpeted it as the "counterweight" to the "right-wing bent" of talk radio. Katie Couric enthused that Al Franken and his colleagues hoped "to break into what has been a conservative lock on the radio." However, when the beleaguered Air America announced bankruptcy on Thursday, both the Nightly News and Friday's Today skipped the story. [Video of Today's promotion can be found above. Audio can be found here.]

Back in 2004, Today co-host Matt Lauer enthused, "If you're a talk radio fan, chances are you're a conservative, too. But, a liberal talk radio network hits the airwaves today. We're gonna ask new talk show host Al Franken if people will rush to listen to him?" Couric touted, "Also a new voice is launching on talk radio today hoping to be a counterweight to the right-wing bent on the airwaves."

Couric's interview that day with Franken amounted to a big promotional push for the left-wing comedian who was debuting as the host of The O'Franken Factor. He was already an alumnus of NBC, having starred in the network's Saturday Night Live show.

In another tease, Lauer cooed, "And up next don't touch that dial. Al Franken is looking to give liberals a voice on the radio." And yet, just six years later, Lauer and company couldn't find any air time to explain to their viewers that the liberal outfit had gone broke and would cease production immediately.

Instead, Today treated viewers to a light-hearted story about Belgian firefighters attempting to fill their station with fire retardant foam (and other important topics). Apparently, the spectacular demise of liberal talk radio is far less interesting to NBC than its much heralded birth.

Reporting on the story on Thursday, the New York Times revealed:

The news did not come as a complete surprise to staff members. The company, which was founded in 2004, never found a substantial audience or sound financial footing. It filed for bankruptcy protection in 2006, but managed to stay on the air at that time. The network churned through several owners and several attempted reinventions, with little to show for it.

On the March 31, 2004 Nightly News, Carl Quintanilla spun liberal talk radio from "boring" into "nuanced." He recounted, "Liberals' attempts at radio - Mario Cuomo, Jerry Brown - haven't gone very far. Conservative talk show host Michael Reagan says that's because liberals are too-nuanced in their views to be provocative to listeners."

Quintanilla then featured this clip of Reagan: "They listen to us because we're not boring. And liberal radio has a tendency to be boring, if you will." Notice that in that snippet, the word "nuanced" doesn't appear.

- Scott Whitlock is a news analyst for the Media Research Center.