Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

Coast to Coast AM

"The vaccine deniers at Coast to Coast AM," writes Karr, "benefit from having their program carried by multiple local radio stations owned by iHeartMedia, the nationwide radio conglomerate formerly known as Clear Channel Communications." (Image: Coast to Coast AM/promotional)

How Media Consolidation Endangers Our Health Amid Pandemic

The FCC has allowed local stations nationwide to become overrun by corporate giants that have little interest in vetting the syndicated disinformation they pump out over our airwaves.

Tim Karr

On Sunday, New York Times journalists Sheera Frenkel and Tiffany Hsu wrote on a topic that's gone underreported: the role that local radio and television stations play in spreading lies about COVID vaccines.

While Facebook and YouTube deserve a lot of the heat they've been getting for business models that amplify such lies, they're not the only media that profit from popularizing disinformation about COVID-19. Local broadcast outlets that rely on often sketchy syndicated programming have helped fuel the vaccine hesitancy that's prolonging the pandemic and costing us many thousands of lives.

While it's easy to blame Facebook and YouTube for business models that thrive on the spread of mis- and disinformation, we can't ignore the legacy of broadcast consolidation.

"One radio show that appears to have been part of that effect is Coast to Coast AM, which is syndicated on 640 local stations and reaches nearly three million weekly listeners," write Frenkel and Hsu. "Its host, George Noory, has in recent years interviewed Dr. Tenpenny, Robert Kennedy Jr., a lawyer and anti-vaccine activist, and Erin Elizabeth, the founder of the website Health Nut News and a vaccine skeptic."

The Center for Countering Digital Hate recently identified Tenpenny, Kennedy Jr., and Elizabeth as members of the "Disinformation Dozen," the 12 people responsible for up to 65 percent of anti-vaccine content on Facebook and Twitter.

Unfortunately, the Times doesn't devote much space to reveal the forces that make it possible for a radio program like Coast to Coast AM to become so widely syndicated. Those forces include rampant media consolidation and the ensuing loss of local reporting due to widespread layoffs.

Laying the ground for disinformation

For decades, the Federal Communications Commission has failed to fulfill its central mandates: to promote localism, diversity and competition on the public airwaves through the allocation of broadcast licenses.

The resulting industry consolidation and its related economies of scale have created an enormous decline in the number of people working to gather and distribute in-depth local news.

The local newspaper industry has suffered even greater losses. Over the past twenty years, print outlets were often loaded up with debt as their owners—including but not limited to predatory hedge funds like Alden Global Capital—went on consolidation binges. And their struggles have been compounded by the migration of local-ad spending to cheaper and more targeted placements online.

To fill the local-news gap, conglomerated broadcast owners have turned to syndicated content. So instead of those 640 local AM stations featuring reporting from local journalists, these outlets—many of which are owned by the same company—instead rely on syndicated content.

For example, the vaccine deniers at Coast to Coast AM benefit from having their program carried by multiple local radio stations owned by iHeartMedia, the nationwide radio conglomerate formerly known as Clear Channel Communications. For years, the FCC and Congress buckled to pressure from powerful broadcast-industry lobbyists and relaxed broadcast-media-ownership limits.

The colossus that was Clear Channel (which once owned and operated more than 1,200 stations) was a direct result of this deregulation. Prior to the Telecommunications Act of 1996—which permitted radio and television broadcasters to own more stations than previously allowed—Clear Channel owned just 43 radio stations.

The "synergies" of such runaway consolidation have been wholesale layoffs in local newsrooms and—to fill the news holes left behind—the syndication of cheap content across conglomerates' networks of hundreds of local stations.

Coast to Coast AM's vaccine misinformation is the spawn of the FCC's historical failure to do its job. The agency has allowed local stations to become overrun by corporate giants that have little interest in vetting the syndicated disinformation they pump out over our airwaves.

So while it's easy to blame Facebook and YouTube for business models that thrive on the spread of mis- and disinformation, we can't ignore the legacy of broadcast consolidation that has built a media system that puts lives at risk.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Tim Karr

Tim Karr

Tim Carr is the Senior Director of Strategy and Communications for Free Press and Save the Internet. Karr oversees campaigns on public broadcasting and noncommercial media, fake news and propaganda, journalism in crisis, and the future of the Internet. Before joining Free Press, Tim served as executive director of MediaChannel.org and vice president of Globalvision New Media and the Globalvision News Network.

We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Arctic Warming Nearly Four Times Faster Than Earth as a Whole, Study Finds

"Scientific data keeps showing that the situation is more urgent than we had previously thought."

Julia Conley ·


Watchdogs Say FTC Must Foster Internet 'Free from Unwanted Surveillance'

Privacy advocates want the agency to safeguard "personal data from misuse by big companies like Alphabet, Amazon, and Meta, as well as smaller but no less nefarious data brokers."

Kenny Stancil ·


WTO Threats Against US Electric Vehicle Tax Credit Prompt Calls for 'Climate Peace Clause'

"It's time to end this circular firing squad where countries threaten and, if successful, weaken or repeal one another's climate measures through trade and investment agreements."

Jake Johnson ·


In Raid of Trump Home, FBI Was Seeking Classified Nuclear Weapons Documents

"The criminal who stole top secret nuclear documents is the same one who had absolute authority to order a nuclear attack at any time."

Jake Johnson ·


Docs Show DHS Watchdog Delayed Telling Congress About Deleted Secret Service Texts

The Project on Government Oversight says the records reveal a pattern of Inspector General Joseph Cuffari "rejecting proposals to inform Congress about the Secret Service's resistance to oversight."

Jessica Corbett ·

Common Dreams Logo