There are always warning signs. Romulus knew that Odoacer was coming for him. Montgomery Ward knew all about suburbia and the rise of the malls. But gargantuans are slow to turn, clumsy to maneuver.
Opinion-driven media has been an empire for several years. Bolstered by the death of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, the opinionators -- overwhelmingly conservative -- have amassed the kind of power and influence that Charles Coughlin used to pray and bray for.
Cable news networks rely on opinion (and its ill-mannered cousin, invective) to create "good TV." Newspaper chains like Gannett are putting the emphasis on "community conversation," giving more column inches to conjecture.
But talk radio is clearly King of the Opinion Empire. Politicians genuflect and pucker. Last week, Sen. Trent Lott grumbled at the defeat of immigration legislation and said "talk radio is running America. We have to deal with that problem."
Sunday saw Lott in full backpeddle:
One of the mistakes that we have made many times on legislation is it's introduced, it comes out of committee, we bring it to the floor. We never bother to explain what we're trying to do and what is in it.
I think that was the mistake that was made with immigration. Talk radio defined it without us explaining that there were reasons for it and the good things that were in it.
So the onus is not on them, it's on us to do a better job of communicating what we're trying to do.
And I just want to make — you know, look, I've been defended by talk radio many times and I will support their right to tell their side of the story, right, left or the middle, forever.
Apparently clueless: The Center for American Progress, "a progressive think-tank dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action."
The center issued a report (.pdf file) late last week about talk radio. You will be amazed that the center is amazed to learn that talk radio is big -- and overwhelmingly conservative:
•91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative, and 9 percent is progressive.
•Each weekday, 2,570 hours and 15 minutes of conservative talk are broadcast on these stations compared to 254 hours of progressive talk -- 10 times as much conservative talk as progressive talk.
•Through more than 1,700 stations across the nation, the combined news/talk format is estimated to reach more than 50 million listeners each week.
The Opinion Empire has never been more popular. Popularity breeds contempt.