The enablers: Conservative talk-radio hosts

Published 14 years ago -  - 14y ago 41


Image courtesy of Doug Bowman under CC BY 2.0.

When Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Denny Hastert (R-Ill.) needed to get his side of the story out to the media in wake of the Mark Foley page scandal, he didn’t choose any old media.

No 60 Minutes interview with Mike Wallace. No Meet the Press Sunday morning session with Tim Russert.

Instead, Hastert interviewed with Rush Limbaugh, Lars Larson, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Hugh Hewitt, Laura Ingram, Mark Levine, etc. Everyone who was anyone in the so-called conservative talk-show establishment, or at least nationally syndicated.

There’s a reason for this of course.

Not just because such interviewers would shy away from finding out the truth about Hastert’s knowledge of Foley’s sexually explicit emailing to House pages and instead engage in delusional paranoid fantasies about the scandal being a Democrat set-up.  It’s also because there’s a real kinship between House Republicans and talk-radio hosts. The former believe the latter helped them win control of the House back in the 1994 mid-term election, and to a certain extent that’s true. But just as these talk show hosts contributed to Republican rise to power 12 years ago in Washington, they could very well shown them the way back to minority status in Congress after this year’s mid-term election.

It’s interesting the to see the way conservative publications and pundits have been harshly critical of the GOP Congress while talk show hosts have more or less been in their corner or have defended them without hesitation. It was the Washington Times that called for Hastert to step down and resign after the Foley scandal broke while talk show hosts provided the support Hastert needed to stay on the job. Had that support not been there, maybe Hastert would be on his way out.

There’s a reason for this too. Journalists, regardless if they have “left” or “right” leanings have to have a certain level of skepticism or reserve about the subjects they report on, otherwise they are nothing more than PR flacks. The Washington Times is a very conservative newspaper, but they have to tell it like it is regardless of how it plays out and in their judgment, Hastert had to go. It was the pundit class that also the most critical of President Bush II’s nomination of Harriet Meiers to the Supreme Court.

Talk show hosts, on the other hand, will tell anyone who listens and then some that they are not journalists, only entertainers.  Thus there are no parameters of journalism that tinge their thinkers, just whatever gets ratings. No doubt they must have sensed their GOP-bound listeners wanting to fight back, saw the White House supporting Hastert and then took their cue: unabashed support for the Speaker regardless whether he or the rest of the GOP leadership are leading the party anywhere but utter defeat in November.

Not only that, but unlike journalists, talk show hosts aren’t bound by any ethics rules either. So they’re free to take junkets to Iraq sponsored by the Republican Party, get interviews with top Republican leaders, sit in on strategy sessions and be speakers at Republican fundraisers or other party events as well. Why would they jeopardize that relationship with the powers that be? Since many of these hosts were nobodies before they became famous through the magic of the transmitter and the “golden microphone”, being close to power is powerful enough to dull their critical thinking (Rush Limbaugh’s reaction to being the Lincoln Bedroom of the White House is good example of this. The George Bush I administration was trying to buy him off and he could have cared less because he was in the Lincoln Bedroom.) And having your listeners believe that you have power and influence with the holders of such power is no doubt a great way to get ahead in the Arbitron ratings over your afternoon drive-time competition.

The end result is most of the talk-show host commissariat, not all but most, supported the Meiers’ nomination (and accused its critics of “elitism”), supported nation building in Iraq, and supported or at least enabled the GOP Congress and the President to approve such less than conservative measures like the Department of Homeland Security, No Child Left Behind, The Patriot Act, and a new entitlement for prescription drugs. Maybe some were opposed to this or that, but there was never the collective outrage to such proposals as there would be if, say, a Democrat, was in the White House or if the Democrats were controlling Congress. Imagine if it was Bill Clinton as President and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi held open a vote on the House floor for three-hours!in order to round up enough votes to approved the prescription drug entitlement. Just think how the phone lines would have been lit-up like Christmas trees to such an outrage and the FAX machines humming after the talk-show host gave out the numbers for the Congressional switchboard. Where was the upheaval from AM talk radio to this clear violation of House rules that there was over the Congressional pay raise of 1989, or the crime bill or the Clinton health care proposal? Hell, a Republican controlled Congress has raised its pay many times since 1995 yet no tea party that I know of organized by a talk -show host has been held to protest such raises.

It was clear by the late 1990s that political talk-radio had ceased to be a useful forum for conservative ideas and activism outside the traditional media and became nothing more than the propaganda wing of the Republican National Committee (just like Free Republic website did in largely the same manner). This was more apparent after the 2000 election when support of George Bush II became a loyalty oath among conservatives for fear of the return of the Clintons, Al Gore and the big, bad Democrats.  9-11 just sealed the deal. Anything and everything from this administration could be justified in the context that the alternative would be worse and that the nation is at war and that’s exactly what the talk-show hosts are saying now;  even though many conservative writers and pundits who know their history a lot better than talk show hosts do realize a GOP defeat would do wonders in humbling the arrogant party establishment, getting rid of the deadwood of party hacks and other leaders who’ve made a mess of things of Washington and Iraq and force the GOP to decide what kind of party they want to be and what they want to stand for. Defeat in 1964 led to victory in 1966 and 1968. Defeat in 1976 led to victory 1980. Defeat in 1992 led to victory in 1994. And even in 2000, when for the third time in a row the Republicans failed to capture the majority of the nation’s vote in a presidential election, a near-defeat led to victory in 2002 and 2004. So why wouldn’t the pattern repeat itself after 2006 for 2008?

Obviously many talk show hosts would prefer to keep their access to the Speaker’s office and their seats on the plane to next junket then contemplate this on the AM dial. Instead of keeping the GOP on the right path, they followed them where ever they led, even if it meant off a cliff. Even if they did protest every now and then, how amazing with all those listeners, that they have such little influence in the overall direction of the party they are now tied at the hip with, and conservatism in general. Republicans became as spendthrift and power hungry as Democrats and not a thing they said or did changed that. And when one host, Charles Goyette down in Phoenix, did challenge this orthodoxy how was he treated? His station fired him thank you very much.

Pretty soon, such talk shows may have very little influence at all because they have very few listeners. Apparently surveys show that younger radio listeners that advertisers and radio stations crave, will not listen to the AM dial no matter whom or what is on. The folks at Clear Channel, who have so many of those stations and talk show hosts locked up in their contracts, panicked at this and decided to do something about it. Earlier this year in the Twin Cities a new FM station, KTLK begun on the 100.3 frequency with Limbaugh as its flagship program, moving the AM dial’s KSTP 1500 signal. The strength and clarity of the FM signal over AM will no doubt send many talk shows in the same direction especially if Clear Channel is leading the way (leaving AM in the same precarious state as it was in the late 1980s outside of the high powered frequencies before the talk format revived it). However, there’s a catch. A rating of 4.7, or a little higher or lower, in the context of an AM radio market, is very good. But why would advertisers suddenly switch from profitable FM radio accounts at stations that draw double the ratings that the talk shows do with their all-music formats? Your guess is a good as mine too.

Selling one soul, it seems, has become second nature in the conservative talk radio establishment. But, as always, there’s a price to be paid. And that may come in many ways, starting on November 7th.


Published originally at : republication allowed with this notice and hyperlink intact.”

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