After months of stoking anger about alleged election fraud, one of America’s largest talk-radio companies has decided on an abrupt change of direction.
Cumulus Media, which employs some of the most popular right-leaning talk-radio hosts in the United States, has told its on-air personalities to stop suggesting that the election was stolen from President Donald Trump – or else face termination.
A Cumulus executive issued the directive on Wednesday, just as Congress met to certify Joe Biden’s election victory and an angry mob of Trump supporters marched on the Capitol, overwhelmed police and briefly occupied the building, terrorizing lawmakers and leading to the deaths of five people.
“We need to help induce national calm NOW,” Brian Philips, executive vice president of content for Cumulus, wrote in an internal memo, which was first reported by Inside Music Media. Cumulus and its program syndication arm, Westwood One, “will not tolerate any suggestion that the election has not ended. The election has been resolved and there are no alternate acceptable ‘paths.’ “
The memo adds: “If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately.”
A Cumulus representative did not respond to repeated requests for comment on Sunday.
The new policy is a stunning corporate clampdown on the kind of provocative and even inflammatory talk that has long driven the business model for Cumulus and other talk show broadcasters. And it came as Apple, Google and Amazon cut off essential business services to Parler, the pro-Trump social media network where users have promoted falsehoods about election fraud and praised the mob that assaulted the Capitol. Apple and Google removed the Parler app from the offerings for its smartphones, while Amazon suspended it from its Web-hosting services. (Amazon founder and chief executive Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
Atlanta-based Cumulus owns 416 radio stations in 84 regions across the country. Many of its stations broadcast a talk format, a medium that has been dominated by a conservative point of view for decades. In addition to its national personalities, it employs local talk-radio hosts in many of its markets.
Cumulus’s biggest stations include WMAL in Washington, KABC in Los Angeles, WLS in Chicago and KGO in San Francisco, all of which air a news-talk format.
The memo appears to reflect the reality that voters, presidential electors, courts and now Congress have accepted or certified that Biden won the election and is the president-elect. It may also be an attempt to cool down emotions that led to Wednesday’s invasion of the Capitol, and to mollify advertisers that are concerned about being associated with programs that could be inciting listeners to violence.
But it also reveals some of the hidden corporate hand behind what is said and discussed on talk-radio programs. Rather than a medium of freethinking individuals expressing passionately held beliefs, the memo reminds that hosts are subject to corporate mandates and control.