Liberal Talk Radio’s Very Bad Week
Air America's rock-bottom ratings offer a valuable lesson: attempting to fill the left's void of ideas with F-words and ad hominem attacks will not fool the listeners for long.
April 9, 2008 - 12:30 am
The important spring ratings period for radio is not exactly starting out with a bang for the already beleaguered liberal talk radio format. Millions of dollars have been poured into liberal talk networks by Democrat Party activists determined to create a supposed counterbalance to conservative talkers. However, despite these efforts to create a powerful new weapon in the liberal arsenal, both listeners and advertisers have turned away from even the most heavily promoted talk luminaries from the left. One of those highly visible giants of left-wing radio is now spending some time off the air for yet another one of her whacked-out rants.
Air America Radio host Randi Rhodes, who was recently named the 40th most important radio talk host in the country by Talkers Magazine, has been suspended by her network because of an F-word-filled tirade she directed at Senator Hillary Clinton during a public appearance for Air America affiliate KKGN in San Francisco on March 22. During her speech, Rhodes repeatedly called Clinton a “big f***ing whore” while the audience responded with a mix of cheers and jeers. She made a similar reference to former Democratic Party vice-presidential nominee and Clinton supporter Geraldine Ferraro, but added that Ferraro is “David Duke in drag.”
The program director for the station claimed that it was Rhodes’ first appearance in the market and he proudly noted that it was the biggest event that KKGN had ever held. Rhodes even signed about 500 autographs!
In a city as liberal as San Francisco, with a population of over 6 million people, that seems remarkably unimpressive. In fact, the appeal of Rhodes’ captivating liberalism, in what is likely the most liberal market in the country, is undeniable. She helped the Air America station to a 28th place finish for the most recent ratings period available! Yep, 28th place.
Air America has been rather cryptic about both the reasons for the suspension and how long it will actually last. In fact, it took nearly two weeks before they did anything about the comments at all. Ferraro has called for her to be fired. Hillary has not yet said anything about the intemperate remarks. Nor has Barack Obama, who was probably too busy working on his bowling game to spare any time for comments on Randi Rhodes’ gutter talk.
The bottom line is that liberal talk radio hosts are floundering, even in markets where there is a huge base of partisans who share their leftist ideology. It is failing because the failure to provide compelling and credible infotainment necessary to attract listeners and advertisers ultimately leads to financial bankruptcy. It is failing because the lack of a moral foundation in their world view leads directly to moral bankruptcy. And it is failing because hosts who rely solely upon the strength of their voices and how loud they can yell rather than the strength of their arguments and how clearly they can communicate lead inevitably to intellectual bankruptcy.
Critics of conservative talk radio often accuse the hosts of preaching from “talking points” because the analysis of political and policy matters is often similar. But the consistency of commentary that sometimes occurs is not traceable to some mysterious and widely dispersed “talking points.” Rather, it is a shared ideology — a belief in getting government out of the way, off our backs, and out of our pockets; a commitment to freedom, independence, and self-reliance as the best route to prosperity and property; an understanding that rights and responsibilities must go hand-in-hand; a recognition that a government founded on morality and pursuit of justice is preferable to one built on “anything goes” and special treatment; and a world view that America represents the best the world can offer, not the worst — that produces conservative analysis that can sometimes resemble an echo chamber.
Liberal theology, as expressed by left-wing talk hosts, has no apparent ideological consistency. Groups that are linked only by their hatred of President Bush don’t really share a commonality of thought or policy goals. That is the real problem for liberals/Democrats. A coalition of those who support the unlimited and unrestricted abortion of unborn children, labor union activists, gay and lesbian groups that oppose traditional marriage, open-border proponents who see illegal immigrants as political and economic pawns to be played on the national chessboard, race-oriented activists, gender-oriented activists, conservative southern Democrats who remain linked to the party simply because “great-granddaddy” was a Democrat, the Code Pink crowd that wants America to retreat and cower in the face of terror, and all the other constituencies that make up the unholy alliance that has become the modern day Democratic Party is not a coalition of conscience. The only common link is a desire for political power.
As the Democrats discovered upon gaining control of the House and Senate, promises made to hold these diverse and often contradictory constituencies together during the election season have a way of dissolving into infighting and disarray once delivery on the campaign promises comes due.
The same problem plagues liberal talk radio. Telling everybody what they want to hear doesn’t work very well, or withstand even basic scrutiny, when critical thinking and open phones intrude. Inconsistency in thought and deed becomes obvious when exposed to the light of day — or night, depending on the day part.
The mainstream media has been a powerful and reliable ally for the left as it thrived in monologue form — whether in print or in the network news format. But cable news outlets, the internet, talk radio, and other forms of “new media” have brought dialogue into the process — and exposed the fault lines that lie beneath the foundations of “liberal thought”. In the increasingly competitive arena of ideas, those who talk the talk must be able to walk the walk with some level of ideological consistency. Attempting to fill the left’s void of ideas with F-words and ad hominem attacks cannot disguise that void and it will not fool the listeners for long — even in San Francisco.
Steve Gill is a statewide Tennessee radio talk host and political analyst. His website is www.gillreport.com.