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[Cross-posted at OpEd News]
An online leak has emerged which reveals a questionable practice used by the employer of the biggest names in radio.

America's #1 and #2 radio broadcast hosts today and for decades have been Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, whose ratings and profits have dominated once thriving local markets. After industry deregulation paved the way, their boss, Premiere Radio Networks and parent company Clear Channel Communications have used a Wal-Mart model of steamrolling or acquiring small, independent original radio businesses, syndicating everything from robotized genre music stations to a political talk show hosts selling snake oil.

But according to an online account, Premiere is hiring actors to fake on-air calls to radio shows who do not divulge the scam. Before being abruptly removed, their website read:

"Premiere On Call is our new custom caller service... We supply voice talent to take/make your on-air calls, improvise your scenes or deliver your scripts. Using our simple online booking tool, specify the kind of voice you need, and we'll get your the right person fast. Unless you request it, you won't hear that same voice again for at least two months, ensuring the authenticity of your programming for avid listeners".

As reported, once the actor "passed the audition, he would be invited periodically to call in to various talk shows and recite various scenarios that made for interesting radio." In addition, the source was specifically told there would be no on-air disclosure of the fabricated nature of the call. He subsequently landed the job, at $40 per hour and a minimum one hour of work per day.

This suggests a wide network of radio clients is broadcasting bogus calls by actors, categorized by their accents or vocal qualities. Next time you hear a "gruff", "clean", "crisp", "deep", or "textured" voice, you might just be hearing a Premiere On Call actor secretively playing a real person.

But they can never go public because they are gagged from talking about it. Note their iron-clad confidentiality clause, also removed from their site, but cached here:

"Confidentially agreement: By requesting an audition you are also agreeing to keep the details of the audition and the type of work that you may perform confidential. This applies to information acquired while working for Premiere or any of its affiliates. Disclosure to any third party, sharing project information or publicizing what you do (including via social media) may be considered grounds for dismissal or further action."

"I was surprised that it seemed so open. There was really no pretense of covering it up", the actor told the interviewer.

Why is this leaker not in trouble? According to the account, Premiere had this prospective employee audition for work by actually calling in live to a show and reading one of their scripts for free. This is worse by a magnitude - offering people a financial incentive to lie about who they are is promoting a disturbing moral message to people in need of money, an awfully sinful practice that monetizes and rewards unethical behavior.

Ironically, another clause in the fine print of the one-sided contract for use of their web services makes users sign away their "moral rights" and hypocritically claims to frown upon just this type of fraud and deception, banning activities which:

"[i]mpersonate another person or entity or falsely state or otherwise misrepresent your affiliation with a person or entity, or adopt a false identity if the purpose of doing so is to mislead, deceive, or defraud another."

Industry watchers claim they would not be surprised to find any number of goofy DJ shows using plants for their various pranks and exploits, but it would be a different story if used for political shows and "astroturfing". A Premiere Radio Networks spokesperson Rachel Nelson did not deny the service was being abused, saying instead that it is the stations that are responsible for how the calls are "integrated into programs".

In 2008, we heard about an industry insider who worked at Milwaukee's WTMJ when they denied air time to sitting U.S. Senator Russ Feingold who was trying to refute slanted claims made to the Wisconsin public. Since no one filed any FCC complaints, the stations routinely turned away callers with opposing views, a former program director at the station revealed.

While this news does not specifically prove hosts like Hannity used the planted caller services his parent company sells, Hannity's record of being caught manipulating public opinion, deceptively editing tapes, suppressing opposing views, and lopsided call ratios through the decades speaks for itself. The show doesn't sound like America and never has.

It is documented and time-stamped on Twitter for years now, how "average" Hannity callers are denied public rebuttal time. Dissenters describe Hannity's screeners practice intimidation, requiring they produce a return phone number in exchange for air time.

But if Hannity's on-air calls were faked without disclosure, fines or license revocation are well within the jurisdiction of the FCC or Attorney General's office. Although it might be hard to prove the host was in on it, it's the FCC license holder that would be accountable anyway.

Hannity has always maintained it's the listeners and sponsors who decide if they want deliberately distorted programming, but this would be deception of a higher order, if he had actors pretending for example to be soldiers, or military families, doctors, health care workers, etc.

Hannity's tricks, out-of-context smears and questionable charity "expenses" demand he deny on the record his knowledge of this practice. Otherwise, it is reasonable to assume he has been doing this throughout his 20 year career, especially using his brand of logic.

This Article Updated Here

Updated - see important follow ups:

Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck Respond To Report That Parent Company Hires Actors for Call-ins

Report: Glenn Beck Staged Calls as Wacky DJ, More Questions Abound

How Hannity's "Fair and Open" Screeners Censor Liberals

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Comment Preferences

  •  Free burgers! (with undisclosed horsemeat!) (14+ / 0-)

    This is like a restaurant selling steaks that turn out to be horsemeat.   You think you're getting beef but you're getting horse.  It's fraud and misrepresentation.  

    It also resembles the Payola scandals involving the music industry in the mid 20th century.  That practice was made illegal: the general term is "undisclosed paid promotion."  

    This should already be illegal under the same regulations.  At very minimum it should specifically be subject to a "truth in labeling law" where hosts are required to disclose at the beginning of each segment, "some of our callers may be paid actors."  

    There was a Supreme Court decision that allowed Fox to overtly lie on their news programs.  However that differs from this as follows:

    The complicating issue in the Fox decision is that one person's "lie" is another person's "editorial position," creating a broad gray zone in which much is opinion and much is arguable.  It is arguably reasonable to assert that government shouldn't tread into that gray zone, lest it produce a chilling effect on speech.  

    This has none of those complications:  

    Radio stations are giving the impression that callers are real and calls are real, when in fact they are paid actors.  That's misrepresentation at a fundamental level.

    Money is changing hands to provide a false impression to listeners, and by extension, to potential advertisers.  When a potential advertiser bases a decision to advertise, upon that impression, they have in effect been defrauded, regardless of whatever fine print may be in the actual advertising contract.

    These calls also resemble "paid testimonials," and there are bound to be reams of case law on that subject.  

    The difference between disclosed and undisclosed, makes all the difference in the world.

    So what is needed here is a major investigation leading to legislation that either bans the practice or requires on-air disclosures at the top of each segment.  

    Given the practices around paid shills on the internet, it would be reasonable to extend the investigation, discussion, and legislation accordingly, to cover all forms of paid testimonial-like content masquerading as honest or unpaid content.  

    Arguably there is a free speech right to have paid actors call a program.  But there is no arguable basis for misrepresentation by omission when money changes hands, any more than there is for a restaurant omitting the word "horse" from its description of a "steak."  

    •  The payola stuff was already illegal. (7+ / 0-)

      That statute dated to the '30s, so I'm assuming it was already illegal.

      There was no Supreme Court case allowing FNC to lie; that's an urban legend.  Rather, a FL state appellate court held that there's no rule or reg against lying.  

      •  "The Media Can Legally Lie" (7+ / 0-)

        The Media Can Legally Lie

        By Mike Gaddy
        Writer for


         FOX appealed the case, and on February 14, 2003 the Florida Second District Court of Appeals unanimously overturned the settlement awarded to Akre. The Court held that Akre’s threat to report the station’s actions to the FCC did not deserve protection under Florida’s whistle blower statute, because Florida’s whistle blower law states that an employer must violate an adopted “law, rule, or regulation." In a stunningly narrow interpretation of FCC rules, the Florida Appeals court claimed that the FCC policy against falsification of the news does not rise to the level of a "law, rule, or regulation," it was simply a "policy." Therefore, it is up to the station whether or not it wants to report honestly.

        During their appeal, FOX asserted that there are no written rules against distorting news in the media. They argued that, under the First Amendment, broadcasters have the right to lie or deliberately distort news reports on public airwaves. Fox attorneys did not dispute Akre’s claim that they pressured her to broadcast a false story, they simply maintained that it was their right to do so. After the appeal verdict WTVT general manager Bob Linger commented, “It’s vindication for WTVT, and we’re very pleased… It’s the case we’ve been making for two years. She never had a legal claim.”

        May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house. George Carlin

        by msmacgyver on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 08:16:42 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  per below i stand corrected about USSC, however: (0+ / 0-)

        As I've already pointed out, this is different from the gray zone of editorial discretion.  This is pay-to-play, it's verbal payola rather than musical payola.  

        And you're running around here defending it in a manner that is highly questionable.  

  •  and in case any shills or trolls pop up here... (13+ / 0-)

    ... claiming that it doesn't matter because listeners aren't paying to listen to the radio:

    Thought experiment #1:

    You set up a fake organization and get volunteers to give their time to doing various tasks for the organization, during their spare time.  However in the end, there's no organization and the time they spent was completely wasted.  

    No money changed hands, but the outcome is still actionable: the "volunteers" were effectively defrauded of time they might have chosen to spend otherwise, had they been fully informed.  

    Failure to disclose the true nature of the activity is what makes it fraudulent and actionable.  

    Thought experiment #2:

    You set up outside a Jewish or Muslim house of worship with a sign saying "Free Veggie Dogs!"  After members of the flock have eaten the "Veggie Dogs," they discover that they actually contain some amount of pork, which as we all know is forbidden to members of both faiths.  

    At that point, getting sued or prosecuted would be the least of your worries: you might end up getting torn limb from limb.  

    The fact that the "dogs" were free is irrelevant: the promotion was misleading because it failed to disclose a material fact that would have enabled people to exercise informed choice.  

  •  Must See Michale Moore to Wis America is Not Broke (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Cassandra77, JVolvo

    Michael Moore to Wisconsin -- "America is Not Broke"  Inspirational, MUST SEE TV!

    Let's Not Surrender our Democracy!

    “Protests, Demanding Freedom, New Archetypes

    Everyone listening to the news knows there are protests occurring in the Mideast and the U.S. It is important to understand that humanity has entered a stage of intellectual development where it is able, for the first time, to aspire toward freedom. Humanity’s task is to be the World Disciple. Before it can assume this spiritual task it must find its voice and seek freedom and liberation. This revolution esoterically has to do with the “death” of the personality and entering into the Kingdom of the Soul. Humanity, the masses, calling for democracy (self rule), continues to demand liberation in Aquarius, through its revolution ruler of freedom, Uranus.

    We are in Pisces now (month & progressed U.S. Sun), ruled by Neptune, dissolver of all things obstructing humanity’s next developmental stage. We could call this Neptune time a pre-collapse stage, pre-new world stage. Before the new era is built, the old forms withdraw as the new Aquarian archetypes (freedom, liberation, community) take shape.”

    (I think we have every reason to be and to stay hopeful and confident!)

  •  Get ready for R-wing backlash (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Woody, vinylgirl, JVolvo, annominous

    with one planted liberal caller blasted across the airwaves and shown thousands of times on Faux.  

  •  A return to the Fairness Doctrine would be good. (10+ / 0-)

    If you go back to first principles/first actions of who the Right began to dismantle the democratic process you will center on the fundamental necessity of make the public airwaves a private domain.

    The Kock Brothers road map, begun in the aftermath of the Goldwater-era failures focus on three things, in order:

    1) Privatize the public discourse.  Including destroying the fairness doctrine.

    2) Create institutions to claim privatizing all functions of society is best (Heritage, Cato, etc.)

    3) Privatize all possible govt functions.   War and Peace.

  •  There isn't any direct link (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    walkshills, johnny wurster

    You need a person that has actually been paid to call their shows.

    I know this happens already, but it isn't proven. The obvious ones are the fake lefties.

    "Don't fall or we both go." Derek Hersey 1957-1993

    by ban nock on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 05:46:02 AM PST

  •  Move along...nothing to see here! (nm) (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    Whenever loyalty to the enterprise becomes more important than simple morality, there you will find evil functioning smoothly -Roger Ebert

    by boojieboy on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 06:38:26 AM PST

  •  There are plenty of them (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mickT, walkshills

    out there - not just on call-in shows, but on Daily Kos and the Washington Post (crawling with them) and everywhere else.  Shaping opinion is a full time job and wherever people are, there are going to be paid plants working the crowd.  

  •  On any given day, on any given story... (0+ / 0-)

    ...what's the truth and how do you know?
    I don't mean you.
    But what about the widespread dissemination of lies to people who don't know, or don't care to know?
    Take the premise of this diary to it's limit, and here we are. Millions of voters who willingly vote against their own interests; against themselves, against their neighbors, hell, against everybody, at times.
    Who thinks we're even making a dent in this wall of lies?
    Pass me that dish of blind optimism, I think I need an extra helping.
    Good diary, thanks.

  •  the paid right wing callers (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    to Thom Hartmann, Randi, Ed and others of our small number of liberal programs are obvious.  They all start with the same line...maybe it is the same guy..."I listen to both sides of the radio, but....  Then they take one thing the host has said (maybe weeks ago) twist it and then speak over the host.  

    "The United States should have a foundation free from the influence of clergy."Thomas Jefferson (also attributed to George Washington and John Adams)

    by regis on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 09:45:35 AM PST

  •  So basically like Penthouse Letters, eh? ;-) n/t (0+ / 0-)

    Information is abundant, wisdom is scarce. The Druid

    by FarWestGirl on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 11:33:52 AM PST

  •  GOP strategery: call girls and rent boys! n/t (0+ / 0-)

    Dream, that's the thing to do (Johnny Mercer)

    by plankbob on Sun Mar 06, 2011 at 03:31:30 PM PST

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