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April 19, 2004
Air America: Even the LA Times Hates It

During the past couple of weeks, I've spent quite a few keystrokes on the relative merits of the new liberal radio network, Air America. The Northern Alliance gang has had a lot of fun on air and off poking fun at their line-up and their management difficulties, including their loss of air time in Los Angeles and Chicago. (They may be the first radio network that's received air time from a federal judge.)

However, one thing I haven't done is to actually listen to Air America, mostly because the entire notion of listening to Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo repels me, but also because I'd rather listen to Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, and Michael Medved. Los Angeles Times media critic David Shaw spent Good Friday listening to all 17 hours of Air America, and despite his expressed predilection for the liberal viewpoint, he finds it severely wanting and more than just a little boring:

So at 6 a.m. on Good Friday — the first anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, the day after Condoleezza Rice testified before the commission investigating the 9/11 attacks — I tuned in to 1580, turned on my computer to take notes and sat with both until 11 p.m.

It may have been the most boring day of my life.

My fellow liberals have long argued that they haven't been able to match the conservative success on talk radio because the medium is ideally suited to conservatives. According to this self-serving argument, conservatives are more willing than liberals to engage in nasty name-calling and to see everything in black and white, while liberals — concerned with nuance and complexity — are inevitably reasonable, willing to consider both sides of an issue. But President W's policies — especially in Iraq — have now so enraged liberals that they are willing to play dirty too. Hence, Air America.


Shaw eviscerates the entire line-up of Air America for being pretentious, boring, and oddly self-contained. For instance, he notes that even while AA hosts engage in completely unfunny joking, their co-hosts stand ready to supply unconvincing laugh tracks:

All Maron's comments drew hoots of supportive laughter from co-hosts Sue Ellicott and Mark Riley. In fact, I think what ultimately annoyed — and disappointed me — the most about Air America was all the false, aren't-we-funny, aren't-we-smart laughter that virtually all the hosts gave each other. Four of Air America's six weekday programs have co-hosts — and two have three co-hosts apiece, liberal collectives that stand in stark contrast to the individual, every-man-for-himself approach of the conservatives. Maybe that's one reason they don't work as well as, say, Limbaugh's solo effort.

Even the professional comedians came up short -- er, no pun intended, Al:

Al Franken, a "Saturday Night Live" veteran, is certainly funny. And he's the host of Air America's 9 a.m.-to-noon program, a head-on competitor to Limbaugh. Franken's show is called "The O'Franken Factor" — a deliberate jab at Bill O'Reilly, the popular Fox commentator of"O'Reilly Factor" fame. Comic actress Janeane Garofalo and Randi Rhodes, a talk-show host from south Florida, are also professionally funny. Garofalo co-hosts Air America's 8-to-11 p.m. "The Majority Report," and Rhodes hosts the network's drive-time show, from 3 to 7 p.m.

But I laugh easily, and I didn't get a single laugh from Franken, Garofalo or Rhodes — or from any of the other Air America hosts I listened to.

Shaw notes that only 19% of the public identifies themselves as "liberal" these days, and the primary purpose of Air America is (or should be) to convince moderates to support liberal positions on issues of the day. However, in its own arrogance -- and note that a liberal critic points this out -- Air America goes out of its way to antagonize that segment of the market. For instance, in a country where 64% attend worship services at least once a month, Air America spent Good Friday -- Good Friday -- poking fun at religion in general and Christians in particular:

Two of the hosts gratuitously announced that they're Jewish, and one — Marc Maron of the network's "Morning Sedition" program — went on to make fun of Easter and Christmas rituals. Then, in a segment he called "morning devotional," Maron began his prayer for divine guidance on behalf of President Bush by saying, "Dear Lord, what the hell is going on up there?"

Another host — I think it was Rachel Maddow on "Unfiltered," though I couldn't always distinguish her voice from that of co-host Lizz Winstead — called Easter "an odd celebration" and said that a taxi driver had told her that "someone in a Jesus suit" would carry a cross along 42nd Street in New York in a reenactment of the events of Good Friday, "but in this case, he'll stop to buy a fake Louis Vuitton bag."


Shaw's column is a riot, certainly funnier than anything he describes on Air America, and you should definitely read the whole thing. His only drawback is his expectation to find Franken and Garofalo humorous, when most people know that they stopped being funny years ago when their tired schticks wore out.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 19, 2004 1:01 PM

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» Capturing The Base from Shot In The Dark
Captain Ed tips us off to a hilarious drubbing of Air America by LATimes media crit David Shaw. Shaw is, as you read in the article, an unabashed liberal who wants very much to see Air America on the air... [Read More]

Tracked on April 20, 2004 7:42 AM

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