Danny Goldberg writes a brilliant piece on Howie's DWT that explains the real reason Air America failed: There is no will to sustain left-wing media, talk radio or support the liberal blogosphere if it doesn't turn an immediate profit.
Right-wing millionaires realize that it takes years to develop any sort of model that works, but they also understand that making money isn't the point of their ventures. It's to get their messaging out to as many people as they can. And they are successful at it.
Conservatives believe in doing whatever it takes to promote their ideas. Richard Viguerie, viewed as one of the architects of the modern conservative movement, wrote a book in 2004 called America’s Right Turn: How Conservatives Used New and Alternative Media To Take Power, in which he explains how the right wing used talk radio among other tools. Viguerie stresses that conservatives understand that ideological change does not usually occur over night, that it takes patience and long term thinking to build a movement.
In the early nineteen seventies the Washington Post and New York Times were instrumental in helping expose the Watergate scandal and publishing the Pentagon papers. Conservatives felt that liberals had an advantage in setting the agenda because of the influence of New York and D.C. newspapers on the national media. In 1976 Rupert Murdoch bought the New York Post and it has lost money every year since, the total loss estimated to be more than half a billion dollars. In 1983, the Rev. Sun Myung Moon created the Washington Times, which has also lost money every year. Widely published reports place Moon’s losses at over $1 billion on the Times and other political media including a purchase the venerable wire service UPI. These money losing properties have put dozens of conservatively slanted stories onto the national radar screen, altered the framing of every important political issues, and nurtured virtually every right wing pundit who now thrive as TV talking heads.
More recently, Phillip Anschutz bought the money losing Weekly Standard from Murdoch and announced plans to invest in more conservative media and his fellow billionaire and former Republican Treasury Secretary Pete Petersen started a digital news service called The Fiscal Times.
The fatal flaw in Air America’s genetic code was the pretense that liberal talk radio was a great business opportunity, that progressives could have their cake and eat it too, do well by doing good, make big salaries and get a great return on investment while also pursuing an ideological agenda. Sure, every once in awhile political media like Michael Moore’s movies or Rush Limbaugh’s radio show will make money, but for those interested in influencing public opinion, media in all venues is vital whether they make money or not.
Air America scared the bejeezus out of conservatives because they had never seen such an enterprise before, and that's why Bill O'Reilly and Fox News did everything they could to smear them from its inception. The liberal blogosphere is in the same predicament. We need funds to survive and thrive and with a bad economy, ad revenues dropped off considerably in 2009.
Readers do not like to see ads on blogs for the most part, but without them C&L could not survive and neither would most highly trafficked sites. Corporations are sinking in millions of dollars at a shot to try and buy their Internet real estate while most of us already have an imprint that is virtually impossible to find without multimillion-dollar investments.
I'm trying to create jobs for bloggers and expand to combat the right-wing noise machine, but I need help to do it. I've talked to several very wealthy people who are really incredible progressives and they don't know that much about blogs even at this point in time. The wealthy progressive collective needs to rethink their positions on media and invest in the future for America if the left will have a chance to match the right. We are seeing an erosion of the MSM right in front of our eyes, and men like Coors, Murdoch and Scaife are just giddy, as news turns into opinion warfare and propaganda instead of real investigative journalism.
Air America should have had access to funds regardless of what type of profit margin it made in its first few years. In a short time, Air America delivered our country a U.S. Senator named Al Franken and a superstar TV anchor named Rachel Maddow, and the right loathed the prospects of even more good voices for the left having a place to develop. In time the influence of progressive talk radio on the AM dial would far outweigh their profit projections.
Murdoch and Moon and many others on the far right easily write off the NY Post and Washington Times as a necessary investment to the future of the conservative movement. I understand that those same resources aren't available to the left -- after all, the right tends to be about the preservation of money and power -- but there is certainly enough to build radio infrastructure and help fund the liberal blogosphere that had so much to do with the resurgence of the progressive movement in 2006 and 2008. We really need the same commitment from the left. I hope the powers that be are listening.