You already know how Media Matters, Think Progress, and other left-wing groups are targeting Rush Limbaugh’s advertisers with threats of secondary boycotts.

The Rush secondary boycott is part of a strategy which has been refined by left-wing groups like Color of Change over the past several years to bully advertisers into dropping right-wing speech.  That strategy has resulted in several of the highest profile conservative talk show hosts being put on an advertiser blacklist, including by companies such as Ford, Sony and Amex which still do business with left-wing websites like Gawker.  (added:  see comment re Amex)

It’s not clear how financially effective the threats have been in Rush’s case.  While Rush has lost numerous high profile advertisers, many of the advertisers who have “dropped” Rush never advertised in the first place.

The NY Times reports today that the financial effect on Premiere Networks, which syndicates Rush’s show, has been minimal.  A report yesterday that Premiere was suspending “barter spots” was taken as a sign that Rush’s programming was in trouble, but The Times reports that isn’t the case:

On Monday, Premiere caused a stir by telling its news and talk affiliates — the ones that carry Mr. Limbaugh’s show — that for the next two weeks, they could stop running the barter ad spots they were normally required to broadcast….

Premiere said the suspension of its barter spots (which are played by stations in lieu of paying for services directly) did not affect live programs like Mr. Limbaugh’s show, but its critics interpreted the move as proof that local radio stations were being affected by the boycott.

That said, something in The Times article caught my attention:

Media Matters found that on Tuesday, on the New York City station WABC, nearly every commercial spot was a public service announcement, typically played free by stations for nonprofit groups and causes.

That Media Matters narrative of dead air time, based entirely on the “online feed” from WABC in NYC, has received enormous attention and given hope to those who seek to force Rush off the air.

WABC is owned by Cumulus Broadcasting Media, which bought Citadel Broadcasting last year and now owns all the ABC radio stations.  Cumulus is experiencing financial difficulties as a result of the Citadel acquisition, and needs a big winner.

Numerous Cumulus stations now broadcast Rush, but Cumulus has bigger plans for the 12-3 p.m. time slot, namely Mike Huckabee.  Cumulus’ CEO admitted as much the other day:

Cumulus CEO Lew Dickey isn’t rooting against Premiere-syndicated Rush Limbaugh, which clears on a number of important Cumulus-owned stations. But Dickey tells this morning’s Q4 conference call that “there are pluses and minuses associated with this.” He says Cumulus has “seen a real opportunity” to talk about Cumulus Media-syndicated Mike Huckabee, whose daily three-hour show launches in April. Dickey says Huckabee has already signed up 110 affiliates, with the tagline, “more conversation, less confrontation.”

There is a strange confluence of interests here.

Moving in on Rush’s territory makes economic sense for Cumulus, which would rid its stations of high cost deals.  Replacing Rush with Huckabee, an in-house personality who presumably would allow Cumulus to keep more of the pie, may make economic sense given the financial pressure on Cumulus.

More worrisome for the future of conservative talk radio is that Cumulus is using Huckabee to advance a ”more conversation, less confrontation” conservative talk radio strategy.

Watered down conservate talk radio fits in perfectly with the Media Matters/Think Progress/Color of Change demand that confrontational conservative talk radio hosts like Rush be taken off the airwaves.  Not surprisingly, Media Matters was gleeful at Dickie’s talk about replacing Rush with Huckabee.

Cumulus’ “more conversation, less confrontation” approach waters down the one media outlet (radio) where conservatives are dominant and replaces those who are willing to push back with milquetoast.

Rather than the fairness doctrine being imposed by government, it will result from intimidation by left-wing groups so that the only acceptable conservative talk show host will be someone who avoids confronting groups like Media Matters.

Replacing Rush and other boycotted talk radio hosts with ”more conversation, less confrontation” as a result of the left-wing secondary boycott of conservative talk radio would be a capitulation of the highest order.

Which brings me back to WABC’s dead air time.

That sounds like the perfect excuse for Cumulus, which owns WABC, to announce that it is replacing Rush on its flagship station with Huckabee, doesn’t it?

 
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