Unless you've been living without electricity for the past few months, you've probably heard (or at the very least, heard about) the rage directed toward John McCain by various famous conservative talk radio personalities. The radio crusade against McCain in favor of Mitt Romney on the basis of "true conservative" credentials featured AM stalwarts like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham expressing disgust at the idea of a McCain victory.
They warned listeners that every Huckabee vote would serve only to propel the untrustworthy closet liberal, McCain, toward a nomination. They tried to rally the base for Romney. Then, Super Tuesday. By Wednesday morning, it was clear that their strongly-expressed preference for a McCain defeat didn't translate into voter action.
What does that mean? What does it tell us about conservative talk radio when a concerted effort by on-air personalities who are often perceived to be the vanguard of Republican/conservative movement politics are unable to deliver?
Some people will tell you it means that we're witnessing the death of the genre. Conservative talk radio is on its way out, its influence dwindling. Maybe it's overstepped its bounds. Enough people are arguing that right wing gabbing is on its deathbed that one of its practitioners feel a need to address the claim. Glenn Beck recently ran down the "talk is dead" argument and presented his case for the genre's vitality.
Beck contends that he talks, people listen and it all ends right about there. Sometimes, they follow along. Sometimes the listeners do their own thing. Strangely enough, that isn't the usual kind of crazy Beck peddles. He might be onto something. In a hard-to-read mish-mash of bizarre punctuation and spelling, another fan of conservative talk makes an argument similar to Beck's: It's just entertainment and perspective, it isn't control or power. This might be the first truth upon which Lonnie Walker's Blog has stumbled.
At first glance, those minimizations of talk radio's power seem more like excuse-making or back-pedaling. After all, we know that folks like Rush, et al., enjoy claiming influence and trade upon their ostensible king-maker status regularly. It feels like the claims of impotence are forced. Do you think you'd see such modesty if Romney trounced McCain? Probably not. Even Beck tries to take credit for "focusing" voters on issues like immigration.
The "we're just shows, we don't boss people around" arguments are, most likely, attempts to mitigate the appearance of irrelevancy. It's as if an admitted weakness is somehow better than one denied. Even though the motivations might be wrong, the argument is probably right.
Talk radio can't swing a national election process. There are many listeners, but not THAT many. If the audience was that huge and that responsive, the talkers would all have big-time TV shows. At the very least, they'd find sponsors who didn't shill gold investment schemes and medicated foot powders. If Mark Levin and Laura Ingraham could spark movements, they wouldn't be hanging out on the AM dial.
Right wing talk radio has a limited audience and a limited ability to effectuate change out in the "real world". The jabberers get a lot of press and attention, but they just don't amount to much.
The funny thing is that many on the left have feared the talk radio bogeyman, believing that it really might hide under the bed some day. Democrats worry about the (bullshit) Fairness Doctrine and consider reviving it. Liberals have fits listening the latest spew of nonsense from chronic diarreaha of the mouth victims on the radio. All this time, they didn't need to be afraid of the monster people listened to on their commutes to work. Conservative talk radio hosts are sheep in wolves' clothing.
You see, I don't think right wing gabbing is in decline. I don't think it's losing power.
I don't think it's ever been important in the first place. Orange Punch described Super Tuesday as a test of talk radio's real powers. If it was, the mouths didn't pull down A's.
I didn't always feel that way, but it's starting to make sense. What if all of this attention paid to talk radio has been misdirected from the beginning? What if people (at least most of us) have never really taken these jerk-offs seriously in the first place? What if the emperor really is ass naked when you drag him out from behind the microphone. Have some of us been worried about an institution that has less influence than Kennedy family endorsements (and we know how powerful those are)? Maybe talk radio just isn't a very big deal...
What about talk radio being at the forefront of past conservative resurgences, you ask? Consider the possibility of coincidence. Could it be that the railing right of radio was simply playing a tune that was compatible with public perspective anyway? You know the old saying about a broken clock, right? It has the time correct twice every day, people. Maybe that's been the case with talk radio.
Mary Schmidt seems to agree with me. I found her marketing-oriented blog and she applies expertise from her field to this issue:
"So it goes in any kind of marketing - simply turning up the volume doesn’t work anymore. And, your past “success” could have nothing to do with you. For example, the 'influence' of talk radio could, in fact, be nothing more than a coincidence. People were frightened, so they voted for the Ramblin’ Rove machine, which was pushing all the fear buttons. Rush and his clown crew blatting away just happened to be the noise going on at the same time."
Glenn Beck says:
"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."
Stop talking about the death of talk radio and start realizing that it's never been a huge force in the first place.
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