Cumulus Media tells its conservative talk show hosts to stop talking about a stolen election

‘We need to help induce national calm NOW,’ a boss wrote in a memo.
Mark Levin is a host on the Westwood One network, owned by Atlanta-based Cumulus Media. WESTWOOD ONE

Credit: Westwood One

Credit: Westwood One

Mark Levin is a host on the Westwood One network, owned by Atlanta-based Cumulus Media. WESTWOOD ONE

Last week, a radio executive at Atlanta-based Cumulus Media sent a memo telling its talk show hosts to stop spreading rhetoric about a stolen election or face termination.

“We need to help induce national calm NOW,” Brian Philips, executive vice president of content for Cumulus, wrote in an internal memo after a mob attacked the national Capitol building, first reported by Inside Music Media.

The company “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 said. “If you transgress this policy, you can expect to separate from the company immediately.”

Cumulus runs Westwood One, one of the nation’s largest syndication companies in the nation, includes major Trump-supporting hosts such as Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro and Dan Bongino.

Nationally, Cumulus is the second-largest radio operator with 416 stations, behind only iHeartMedia. In Atlanta radio, Cumulus does not own a news/talk station but operates pop station Q99.7, rock station Rock 100.5, New Country 101.5, classic hip-hop OG 97.9 and rock station 99X. Last year, it sold Talk 106.7, which largely had local hosts, to a Christian pop radio operation.

Phillips, who wrote the memo, used to run Atlanta-based alternative rock station 99X in the 1990s. He also was the president of CMT, the basic cable channel, before joining Cumulus in 2019. He did not return a text for comment about the memo.

The Washington Post noted that Levin, the day before last Wednesday’s attack on the Capitol, complained that the certification of President-elect Joe Biden in Congress was “tyranny” because he said President Donald Trump had the election stolen from him, echoing Trump’s complaints of widespread fraud, which have not been shown to be true.

“You think the framers of the Constitution … sat there and said, ‘Congress has no choice [to accept the votes], even if there’s fraud, even if there’s some court order, even if some legislature has violated the Constitution,’” Levin said. After the attack, on Fox News, Levin said he didn’t believe Trump incited the violence and thinks the mainstream media is “exploiting” the riot in an effort to “silence” conservatives and Republicans.

iHeartMedia which runs rival syndication group Premiere Networks and represents Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, has not commented about whether it has sent any guidance to its hosts.

Michael Harrison, who covers talk radio for his publication, Talkers magazine, said the Cumulus memo does not surprise him.

“Corporations are responsible for what’s on their air,” Harrison said. “They have to deal with client feedback. They have to deal with public image and protection of their license. It’s naive to think there are times when corporate bosses in American media are not paying attention to what their talk show hosts and news people are putting out. If they are not complaining, that means they approve of it, and in some cases, encourage it. They change their minds based on what’s best for their business.”

And while some critics are complaining that Cumulus is “censoring” its hosts, Harrison sees it differently. “Private corporations can control their platforms, and I believe that in and of itself is an expression of free speech in action,” he said.