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January-November 1996: Study Shows that Limbaugh Listeners Distrust Mainstream Media Even as They Make Heavy Use of It

The Annenberg Public Policy Center conducts an eleven-month survey of political talk radio, focusing primarily on broadcasts by conservative Rush Limbaugh. It obtains, or creates, daily transcripts of Limbaugh’s shows. Subjected to content analysis, the researchers find that Limbaugh focuses most strongly on the following topics:
bullet President Bill Clinton (100 percent, or discussed every day).
bullet The mainstream media (100 percent), focusing on the New York Times (83 percent), the Washington Post (66 percent), CNN (57 percent), and the three major broadcast networks, ABC, CBS, and NBC, at least 39 percent. Many, but not all, of these mentions are negative. Limbaugh also positively cites the Wall Street Journal (48 percent) and the Washington Times (32 percent), and often directs listeners to these news producers’ content.
bullet Democrats (96 percent).
bullet Republicans (94 percent).
bullet Senator Bob Dole (R-KS), the Republican presidential contender (91 percent).
bullet Hillary Clinton, the First Lady (88 percent).
As noted, most of Limbaugh’s remarks about mainstream media outlets are negative, except when they provide something with which he can agree—most often news items or tidbits that he can use to denigrate the Clintons, the Clinton administration, or Congressional Democrats.
Findings - The Annenberg study finds that Limbaugh’s listeners distrust the mainstream media more than any other group measured (two of the study’s authors, Kathleen Hall Jamieson and Joseph N. Cappella, later note that Fox News has not yet emerged as a powerful conservative alternative). In the 1996 study, that mistrust does not translate into a general shunning of mainstream news for conservative alternatives, but in a 2004 study also conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center, that dynamic will have changed, with many Limbaugh listeners getting the bulk of their news from Fox News and from conservative Internet news providers. In 1996, Limbaugh’s listeners are heavy consumers of mainstream media reporting, albeit with a strong skeptical bent. [Jamieson and Cappella, 2008, pp. 168-171]

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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