WASHINGTON – Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma says he doesn't need an eye exam or a hearing aid and that he clearly remembers hearing Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Hillary Clinton of New York talk about the need for a "legislative fix" to curb conservative talk radio.
But Inhofe now says the conversation he overheard took place three years ago, not "the other day," as he told KFI talk radio host John Ziegler on Thursday night.
Boxer early Friday said the Oklahoma senator "needs new glasses or he needs to have his hearing checked" if he thinks he heard her and Clinton having a conversation about talk radio.
After Inhofe clarified his remarks, Boxer's spokeswoman, Natalie Ravitz, added:
"Perhaps he should have his memory checked too. I don't know anyone who thinks three years ago was 'the other day.'"
In an interview with FOX News Friday afternoon, Inhofe asserted that the conversation between Clinton and Boxer took place three years ago, and he brings it up regularly in talking about market-driven media.
"I’ve been telling this story for three years and told this story 100 times," the Oklahoma Republican told FOXNews.com. "I have it memorized ... I tell it the same way every time because it gets a very good reaction."
In the radio interview Thursday night, Inhofe told Ziegler:
"I was going over to vote the other day and I was walking with two very liberal gals that didn’t pay any attention to me being with them. They were outraged by something you said or Rush Limbaugh or somebody said that upset them. They said, ‘We have got to do something about this, these are nothing but far-right wing extremists. We’ve got to have a balance, there’s got to be a legislative fix to this.’"
He added: "As we got off the elevator, I said, ‘You gals don’t understand. This is market-driven and there’s no market for your liberal tripe.’"
When Ziegler asked which senators Inhofe was talking about, he replied that one was running for president, and the talk-show host guessed that the other was Boxer.
Ravitz told FOXNews.com that the conversation "never happened."
"Senator Boxer told me that either her friend Senator Inhofe needs new glasses or he needs to have his hearing checked, because that conversation never happened," Ravitz said in an e-mail.
"Jim Inhofe is wrong," added Clinton spokesman Philippe Reines. "This supposed conversation never happened, not in his presence or anywhere else."
Asked what Boxer and Clinton said three years ago when he told them 'there's no market for your liberal tripe,' Inhofe told FOXNews.com that they brushed it off.
"The elevator operator, though, she was laughing," he said.
Inhofe said he told the same story during another talk show interview earlier in the day.
Boxer's spokeswoman, Ravitz, said in response: "And I will let you know if I find an elevator operator on my side."
What brought the topic up during the Ziegler interview strewn across the Internet was the senator's recent trip to Iraq. Ziegler asked him if U.S. troops there still had the impression that the American media were not supportive of the mission there.
"I said 'no' because talk radio has totally diffused that," Inhofe said. "People now understand the truth but the liberals don’t understand."
He added: "[the troops] know the public is influenced more by conservative talk radio."
Conservative talk radio has come under increasing attack by Democrats — and even some Republicans — for trying to influence public and political opinion on hot-button issues like immigration.
Republican Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi has been under attack since his comment last week that "talk radio was running America."
The remark was part of Lott's comments about how advocates for immigration overhaul would have to "deal" with talk-radio hosts who he said don't know what is in the legislative package but want to kill it nonetheless.
Lott says his office has been flooded with critical phone calls since.
"Conservative talk radio is the single most important element of the conservative movement today. Period," Bozell said. "In fact, it could be argued that were it not for the likes of Rush Limbaugh and company, there might not be a conservative movement today."
Bozell said that in order to be successful in Middle America, broadcasters need to convince people that the radio chatter isn’t coming from radicals with an agenda.
"There’s this crazy thing called the market," Bozell said. "It’s not to say liberal talk radio has not been in existence. It’s been tried over and over again, whether it’s ... Mario Cuomo or Doug Wilder or Jim Hightower or Air America and Al Franken and every single time, it’s a miserable failure because there’s no market appetite."
Air America — the liberals’ most prominent effort to counter conservative talk radio, called "talk radio for progressive patriots" — has featured big names like Al Franken and Jeanine Garofalo. But that venture filed for bankruptcy last fall in an effort to reorganize. It was officially taken over by Green Family Media in March and then could be heard on 70 affiliates reaching a weekly audience of 1.7 million listeners, according to its Web site. It was producing 19 hours of original programming daily.
It recently revamped its voice and relaunched Air America 2.0, saying the likes of Clinton, John Edwards and Barack Obama would be just a few of its celebrity guests.
But in many major markets at the local level, Bozell said, progressives are put on the air after liberals raise a ruckus their viewpoint isn't being heard. But more often than not, he said, "It absolutely bombs and that’s why they’re not on the air."
He added: "Look at Air America. What more can I say?"
The Center for American Progress released a report Thursday that identified 75 talk show hosts as either conservative or progressive (liberal). Of those 75, 53 were identified as conservative (71 percent), while 22 (29 percent), were identified as progressive.
"The Structural Imbalance of Political Talk Radio" confirmed that talk radio, one of the most widely used media formats in America, is dominated by conservatives. It also raised questions about whether public radio broadcasts are serving the listening needs of Americans.
— In the spring of 2007, of the 257 news/talk stations owned by the top five commercial station owners, 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming was conservative, and only 9 percent was 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.
— 76 percent of the news/talk programming in the top 10 radio markets is conservative, while 24 percent is progressive
Bozell said he fears Democrats will use their power to legislate the airwaves if a successful liberal talk radio movement doesn’t take hold and Democrats win the White House and keep majorities in Congress in 2008.
A handful of Democrats have been looking to legislation in an effort to revitalize the Fairness Doctrine, the Federal Communications Commission regulation that required broadcast licensees to present controversial issues of public importance in an honest, equal and balanced manner.
In 1985, during the Reagan administration, efforts began at the FCC to unravel the doctrine. Congress tried to restore it in 1987, but the effort was vetoed by Reagan. A similar effort was made in 1991 but was vetoed by President George H.W. Bush.
The doctrine had two rules that remained in practice until 2000 — the "personal attack" rule and the "political editorial" rule. The "personal attack" stipulated that when a person or small group was subject to a character attack during a broadcast, stations had to notify them within a week, send them transcripts, and give them an opportunity to respond on air. The "political editorial" rule stipulated that when a station broadcast editorials endorsing or opposing candidates for public office, the candidates who were not endorsed must be notified and allowed an opportunity to respond.
Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for president in 2008, chairs the House Domestic Policy Subcommittee and plans to revisit the Fairness Doctrine. He said in January that the Fairness Doctrine "derived from the public interest, and that is that there should be an uninhibited marketplace of ideas. That's what the First Amendment is all about."
Rep. Maurice D. Hinchey, D-N.Y., plans to reintroduce his Media Ownership Reform Act (MORA). That bill, introduced in the last Congress, called for the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine and called for broadcast news outlets to investigate issues thoroughly and present their findings in an unbiased way.