Jim Quinn lands on media watchdog's radar

Media Matters thinks Jim Quinn's hot-button speeches can be hazardous to listeners, so he gets a "radioactive" rating from the watchdog group.

You can follow what the top syndicated talk hosts are saying -- and you don't even have to listen -- thanks to media watchdog groups who monitor them on a daily basis.

Media Matters, which launched in 2004, is a progressive/liberal organization whose site monitors all media -- print, broadcast and Web. Its "Radioactive" section is devoted to extensive coverage of syndicated talk radio.

The site monitors well-known nationally syndicated hosts such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and others who reach large audiences. In recent months, WPGB-FM (104.7) morning host Jim Quinn has been appearing on its radar occasionally.

Media Matters was founded by David Brock, who had written about the Clinton-era Troopergate controversy and the book "The Real Anita Hill." His conversion from right-leaning journalism is detailed in his memoir, "Blinded by the Right: The Conscience of an Ex-Conservative."

The group's mission is "to pick up on what the right-wing talkers are discussing across the country, draw awareness to what was being said on the public airwaves ... and to analyze and correct conservative misinformation in the media," says Media Matters senior researcher Julie Millican.

"We decided to expand our radio coverage and start to pick up more regional hosts, who have big market shares and big audiences but generally fly under the radar," Millican says.

Media Matters is among a group of media watchdogs who look at our airwaves from every angle of the equation. Parents Television Council, for example, was founded by conservative activist L. Brent Bozell III and is outspoken about profanity, sexual content and violence on television and other media.

Along with Media Matters, groups watching the content of conservative talk shows include the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), which launched an advertiser and listener boycott campaign against syndicated Michael Savage in response to his anti-Islam comments. CAIR, whose mission is to build an understanding of Islam and protect civil liberties, extends its activism into the general political arena but also focuses on talk radio.

Although the "Quinn and Rose" show is produced here, airing on WPGB-FM (104.7), it's also syndicated to 17 other stations around the country and carried on XM Satellite Radio.

Media Matters called Quinn to task for several comments made on his program. In one show excerpt posted on Radioactive, he said: "You know, if you were a slave in the old South, what did you get as a slave? You got free room and board, you got free money, and you got rewarded for having children because that was just, you know, tomorrow's slave. ... Can I ask a question? How's that different from welfare? You get a free house, you get free food, and you get rewarded for having children. Oh, wait a minute, hold on a second. There is a difference: The slave had to work for it."

The site lists other broadcasts, including one in which Quinn refers to NOW (the National Organization for Women) as "the National Organization of Whores," because they're "political whores."

WPGB program director Jay Bohannon calls the Media Matters protests "a non-factor." He says the postings generate large numbers of e-mails from people who "didn't even hear this broadcast. It probably helps Jim Quinn more than hurts him.

"Media Matters paints these guys as entirely mean-spirited and having no other agenda than to go on the air with malicious intent," Bohannon says. "That's not the case at all. They have their opinions. They're conservative.

"[Media Matters is] far left, and our hosts are pretty far right, so yeah, there's going to be that animosity between them."

"Media Matters is not just a bunch of liberal bloggers exercising their First Amendment rights," Quinn warns, citing the nonprofit organization's financial support from wealthy liberal donors. "Any critique of media speech by Media Matters for America carries with it the implied threat of government censorship."

Like many conservative talk hosts, Quinn and Rose raise the issue of a possible revival of the Fairness Doctrine. "It is a weak argument that suggests that speech may be stifled without the doctrine," Tennent says. "It's virtually impossible in today's environment to deny access to certain viewpoints -- or to find outlets that air them."

On the Quinn and Rose War Room Web site (http://warroom.com), there's an online petition opposing the Fairness Doctrine that listeners can sign. The petition encourages listeners "to urge Congress and government officials to reject any and all efforts to censor, limit or restrain the right of conservatives."

But Millican maintains that Media Matters isn't out to silence or censor these talk hosts. "It's important to keep an eye on what's being said on the public airwaves. People should be aware of what's out there. They can say whatever they want to say. But people are entitled to know that's what being said on their airwaves, and they're entitled to be offended about it."

A site/blog called Talk Radio Watchdog launched in October, but founder John Agress has put it on temporary hiatus to focus on other projects.

Talk Radio Watchdog summarizes conservative talk highlights, blogging about topics of the day and how specific hosts presented them.

Agress, who worked in radio news, wanted to send a message to the nation's talkers. As he wrote on the site: "After unmercifully bashing Bill Clinton, I hoped the radio talkers would tone it down during the George W. Bush years. But they're still as loud and as angry as ever ... and I don't think any rhetorical softening is in the wood. ... All I'm asking is for you to chill out a little ... and cut out the vitriol so we can begin an intelligent, measured dialogue on our future as a nation."

Adrian McCoy can be reached at 412-263-1865 or amccoy@post-gazette.com. First Published January 25, 2009 5:00 AM


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