Howard Stern embarks on 'jihad' to defeat Bush
By STEVEN THOMMA
June 11, 2004
WASHINGTON -- Forget Al Franken. Democrats have a new champion on talk radio that they hope will counter the likes of conservative icons Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. It's shock jock Howard Stern.
Known more for crude talk of sex and lewd acts than politics or public policy, Stern has launched an on-air crusade he calls a "jihad" to defeat President Bush. He blames Bush for a government crackdown on his use of obscenity on the air.
And he's having an impact, apparently boosting the prospects of Sen. John Kerry, D- Mass., according to a new Democratic poll released Thursday. That was welcome news to Democrats who have long ached for a liberal voice on talk radio and have watched in frustration as former comic Franken has struggled with a new program that has limited airplay.
"Howard Stern is the most influential political talk-show host in America today," said Michael Harrison, the editor of Talkers magazine, which covers the talk-radio industry.
Stern is going after Bush with near-obsessive zeal, a notable development in a medium in which 20 of the top 27 talk-show hosts are conservatives, including the top-rated Limbaugh and Hannity.
Stern's Web site preaches the virtues of freedom of speech and includes links to numerous articles, sometimes obscene ones, criticizing or ridiculing Bush. On the air, he spends more and more time urging his listeners to vote against Bush.
"I'm asking you to do me one favor: Vote against Bush," he said on one recent program. "I call on all fans of the show to vote against Bush," he said on another. "We're going to deliver the White House to John Kerry."
Stern's anti-Bush crusade stems from the Federal Communications Commission's efforts to combat indecency on the public airwaves. The FCC recently fined radio station owner Clear Channel Communications a record $1.75 million for airing some Stern comments that the FCC deemed offensive. Stern objects that the FCC is censoring his right to free speech. Clear Channel pulled him off its six stations that aired him, though he remains on the air on 36 other stations nationwide.
It's that audience that could make Stern's campaign so important.
He has an estimated 8.5 million listeners each week, third after the 14.5 million who listen to Limbaugh and the 12 million who listen to Hannity, according to Talkers magazine.
But Limbaugh and Hannity devote their programs almost entirely to politics and policy. Their audiences are already interested in politics, and decidedly conservative.
Stern's listeners are less interested in politics and more likely to be undecided, and thus are better prospects to be persuaded one way or the other, Harrison said.
"The Hannity/Limbaugh audience already knows where it's going," he said. "The Stern audience is fertile ground."