Below is a commentary from Glenn Beck, who anchors "Glenn Beck" on Headline News nightly at 7 and 9 ET.
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.
" .. Nothing ... will drive more listeners to conservative talk radio than a liberal back in the White House," says Beck.
Well, actually, it's not just the rumors of my demise; it's me, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and every other conservative talk radio host.
Here's how the theory goes:
1. Rush Limbaugh is the most powerful and influential conservative talk radio host around.
2. Rush Limbaugh spoke out on the air against John McCain.
3. John McCain still did well in the primaries.
4. Rush Limbaugh must have no power or influence.
5. Conservative talk radio is dead.
But that cute little theory leaves out a few important facts.
First, no one -- from Rush, to Schwarzenegger, to Ted Kennedy, to Oprah -- has enough power to dictate an election. Nor should they. The founding fathers thought that might be a bad idea -- remember, they had already gotten their fill of the whole monarchy thing.
Secondly, I don't wake up every morning hoping to influence anyone to do anything. Unlike Air America (the liberal radio network that has consistently failed) I don't consider it my job to win elections for any one candidate, let alone an entire political party. My job is to entertain. Period. If people relate to what I say, and maybe find a little piece of themselves in the process, then great, I get to keep my job for another day.
But let's put that aside for a second and assume hypothetically that talk radio's mission is to directly influence behavior. Let's even assume that all the hosts get a morning talking-points email directly from the White House and/or Halliburton with our "original thoughts" of the day outlined.
What influence would any of that really even have on an election?
Sure, conservative talk radio has an enormous audience -- tens of millions of listeners -- but over 215 million Americans were eligible to vote in 2004. So even if talk radio hosts could completely manipulate every single voter in their audiences, it would still be just a fraction of the voting public. In a close general election, with two vastly different candidates, that fraction could very well make a difference. But in a wide-open primary with a half-dozen candidates all claiming to be conservative? Not a chance.
Even when people point to instances where talk radio has had influence, they're missing the point: it's not the hosts who had the power, it's our listeners. For example, when the McCain-Kennedy immigration bill was being rubber stamped through Congress last year, it was conservative talk radio that ignited the fire that eventually stopped the bill in its tracks. But that fire didn't start because we brainwashed people; it started because we focused them.
We didn't change anyone's opinion, we just helped open their eyes to the one they already had. And that is the real power of talk radio -- we can take an issue or a problem and shine a national spotlight on it. Sometimes enough people look and decide that it warrants action. Sometimes they don't. But that's not our decision to make; and it's certainly not our job to make it.
Part of the reason why this is even a story is that the media doesn't understand talk radio at all. They like to pretend that our listeners are one big, dumb voting block that's ordered around by us hosts. But while that would make our advertisers extraordinarily happy (and wealthy) people, the reality is that our listeners are exceptionally smart, independent people.
Years of open, honest conversations on the air have resulted in an implicit trust between talk radio listeners and some hosts. But just because you trust someone doesn't mean you always agree with them let alone blindly follow them. For example, you might trust your real estate agent, but you're not going to buy a house just because they describe it to you. Talk radio is the same way: we bring our listeners to the issues we think they might like, but they ultimately do their own homework and make their own decisions.
Our listeners are the people who actually know what McCain-Feingold is. They are the people who have done a full cost-benefit study of McCain-Lieberman. They are the people who have listened to hours of analysis on the Z-Visa buried in McCain-Kennedy. They are the people who care enough to know what they're actually voting for.
As a result, some of them have considered all of the information and decided that John McCain is worth their vote because he is brilliantly ahead of the curve. Others have decided that he's simply the best bet to keep Clinton or Obama out of the White House. But the vast majority of them have spread their votes out among candidates named Huckabee, Romney, and Paul (and, in some cases, Giuliani, Thompson, Hunter and Tancredo as well).
No matter the reason, the point is that our listeners have their own brains. They make up their own minds. Talk radio may be one source of information, but it's certainly not their only one.
The biggest irony in all of this is that most of the people who are claiming (or is it hoping?) that talk radio has no influence are the same people who are hoping for a Hillary/McCain match-up this November.
Why is that ironic? Because nothing -- absolutely nothing -- will drive more listeners to conservative talk radio than a liberal back in the White House.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer. E-mail to a friend