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The Gap That Wasn't There

February 23, 2003

The air war is about to heat up, but it's not a paratrooper assault on Baghdad. A group of venture capitalists from Chicago and an Atlanta radio executive, done with talking, are investing an initial $10 million to create a national liberal radio network.

The aim is to challenge conservative bad boys by giving regular air time to the likes of liberal wit Al Franken, who wrote the 1996 book "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot." The proposal itself is comical.

If the left wing has for decades obsessed about corporate power, the right has been addicted to complaints about media bias. Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and others catapulted to stardom by warning angry conservatives of a supposed liberal media conspiracy. Former CBS reporter and producer Bernard Goldberg's book "Bias" recently shot to the bestseller lists by charging Goldberg's colleagues with shortchanging the truth and demonizing conservatives.

Now the left is flipping the debate around. In his overheated "What Liberal Media?" Nation writer Eric Alterman claims that the press is -- guess what? -- really more conservative than liberal. The liberal-network investors, who have backed Democratic candidates in the past, apparently agree.

Atlanta radio executive Jon Sinton says the investors' intent is to "engage in skit comedy, parody, political satire." The dubious idea here is that liberal talk shows that failed were mere victims of bad marketing. But with National Public Radio and Pacifica News Service stations cramming the left side of the dial, there's no dearth of liberal radio shows. To make this point, "Doonesbury" cartoonist Garry Trudeau had resident talk-show host Mark Slackmeyer receive a call from desperate Democrats asking him to do a left-leaning show -- not realizing he had been for years.

The backers of the new network might consider tuning in before they waste time and money aping the on-air antics their side has long derided.

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