Calvin Freiburger

Astro-Turfed Talk Radio? Hannity, Limbaugh & Beck Accused of Faking Callers

Posted on March 10 2011 8:00 am
Hailing from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, Calvin Freiburger is a political science major at Hillsdale College. He also writes for the Hillsdale Forum and his personal website, Calvin Freiburger Online.
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Not content to belittle conservative talk show hosts as merely greedy or hateful, leftists have seized upon a recent report in Tablet Magazine to cast them as liars who are scamming their own audiences, as well. The piece reveals a service offered by radio syndicate Premiere Radio, which offers to supply hosts with fake callers, the insinuation being that the next time you hear an enthusiastic fan sing Glenn Beck’s praises, or an idiotic liberal effortlessly dispatched by Sean Hannity, the whole thing might be artificial:

“Premiere On Call is our new custom caller service,” read the service’s website, which disappeared as this story was being reported (for a cached version of the site click here). “We supply voice talent to take/make your on-air calls, improvise your scenes or deliver your scripts. Using our simple online booking tool, specify the kind of voice you need, and we’ll get your the right person fast. Unless you request it, you won’t hear that same voice again for at least two months, ensuring the authenticity of your programming for avid listeners.”

Gustav Wynn at the left-wing reports that the Big Three—Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, and Beck—have all unequivocally denied that they’ve ever had actors call their shows, but he’s pretty sure that something fishy is afoot anyway:

Limbaugh sharply rebuked the suggestion, decrying media coverage of the article and denying he had ever used actors on his show as he tried to dissociate himself from the service and any possibility that he staged calls. One could even witness his brain switch gears as he begins to ask his own call screener if he was in on it. This demonstrates how quickly Rush would attempt to insulate himself should it be uncovered someone else was assigning actors to call his show, perhaps in “common purpose”.

So merely by defending himself, Limbaugh implies he’s got something to hide. Why? He just does. After all, he’s Rush Limbaugh.

Next, about 2:06 into the clip he says “over the years” people have “come to him with ideas” to “get in the act” but he “shot it down”. Okay, is this shades of Governor Walker? Who in Rush’s circle of prospective collaborators came to him with these ideas? We don’t know. He didn’t say, protecting their identities from the very listeners he was trying to assuage.

Cheap shot at the Scott Walker-Koch brothers non-story aside, let me remind Mr. Wynn that we don’t subpoena people every time we get a whiff that somebody may have approached them with a bad idea in private.  If we did, we’d never have time to go after real impropriety.

Sean Hannity also denied planting calls in response to furiously tweeted reports announcing his company sells phony call-in services. But what did Hannity have to say about the many other allegations in the same article he cited? Nothing. No point-by-point rebuttals here.

Wynn doesn’t specify which article Hannity cited, but there certainly aren’t “many” allegations in the original report by Liel Leibovitz. Maybe he’s talking about his own prior OpEdNews report on the story, which contains this passage:

While this actor’s claim does not specifically prove hosts like Hannity used the fake caller services his parent company sells, Hannity’s record of being caught manipulating public opinion, deceptively editing video, suppressing opposing views, and lopsided call ratios through the decades speaks for itself. His show doesn’t sound like America and never has.

This is rich—it turns out his first link goes to my own July 21 NewsRealBlog post about Andrew Breitbart’s discussion with Hannity about the Shirley Sherrod controversy, which doesn’t actually describe any “public opinion manipulation” (whatever that means). His second link goes to Hannity admitting that his show accidentally ran video of one large rally to depict a smaller rally, and his third merely links to a Kossack whining about how Hannity’s screeners wouldn’t let him on the air to lie about Hannity’s Freedom Concerts.

It has been documented and time-stamped on Twitter for years now, how “average” Hannity callers are denied public rebuttal time. Dissenters describe how Hannity’s screeners practice bias and intimidation, requiring they produce a return phone number in exchange for air time.

So…random lefties on the Internet whining about not monopolizing Hannity’s show is your big evidence? Really? I think I can see why Hannity didn’t think any “point-by-point rebuttals” were warranted…

Unlike the two top-rated radio mega-icons, Glenn Beck defends the pay-to-lie services, explaining real people are too dull and too inhibited. On Beck’s blog The Blaze, author and Breitbart alum Mike Opelka makes a blatant factual error saying “Tablet Magazine…neglected to exercise the most basic journalistic common courtesy — asking the accused for a response. Instead of seeking real answers, they printed what they wanted to believe.”

In fact, Tablet’s original article included a statement from Premiere spokesperson Karen Nelson who confirmed the existence of the service and shifted blame for any potential abuse onto her clients.

The only one lying here is Wynn, and quite badly. First, Opelka (not Beck, as Wynn implies) only defends the practice when used in pure entertainment shows, “not on Talk Radio where the calls literally start ringing the call-in lines an hour ahead of the show.” And okay, it’s wrong to suggest Tablet didn’t contact any of the accused, but one statement from a Premiere rep hardly invalidates Opelka’s question about not contacting representatives of Hannity, Limbaugh, or Beck. In fact, one wonders what Tablet originally asked Premiere, given that their reply to the Blaze is much clearer:

“Premiere On Call is not utilized by any of Premiere’s nationally syndicated talent, including Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck.  Premiere On Call is a recently launched audio service connecting local entertainment radio stations with great voice talent to supplement their programming needs. The service is not utilized by News/Talk programs or stations.”

Almost as an afterthought, Wynn throws in a couple left-wing names to make his screed seem bipartisan:

Whether it’s Premiere’s top-rated market leaders, like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Glenn Beck, or progressive Premiere talk hosts like Randi Rhodes or Rev. Jesse Jackson, deception in radio betrays a sacred trust given public broadcasting licensees. Listeners may wonder, now knowing deceptive actors are out there, whether talk show callers are authentic or not whenever we listen. And it is Premiere’s biggest name hosts — Limbaugh, Beck and Hannity — the people with the most leverage — who have a duty to demand that Premiere disclose which shows use the planted actor service.

Talk about a nontroversy. Yes, the use of fake callers is unethical, especially if used to falsely inflate the audience’s perception of how much support one side has, or to make the other look bad. But, as Dana Loesch points out, the service has a far more common (and ethical) use in the creation of obvious skits on entertainment programs (think Opie and Anthony). Further, there’s no actual evidence that this is going on among conservative shows.  There is, however, plenty of airwave astro-turfing coming from the Left:

One week in particular stands out: it was the week prior to the health control vote where I had five different callers call the show and every single one of them had the exact same talking points. Exact. In fact, I even Googled some of their remarks on break and surprise, surprise, they were part of an OFA talk radio call campaign. Talking points were listed instructing progressives how to engage in conversation. They were literally reading them into the phone receiver.

Indeed, left-wing “Crash the Tea Party” efforts didn’t get this same level of outrage. Neither did the Journolist revelations. Maybe it’s because liberals assume the motives of their own must always be pure, while those of conservatives are always insidious. Or maybe they’re just partisan hacks.

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