Rebuking Rush

The Times-Dispatch this morning uses one of its editorials to criticize Rush Limbaugh and his “serial vulgarisms.” Inspired by the recent Limbaugh-Michael J. Fox controversy, the newspaper writes that “A conservatism that took itself seriously would not lionize Limbaugh and his ilk.”

That may be true, but a Republican Party that is serious about winning elections is not likely to disassociate itself from Limbaugh and his millions of listeners anytime soon. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleeza Rice, and (most recently) Dennis Hastert all have been on Rush’s show, and there is no question that Rush has served the GOP’s agenda well over the years. Limbaugh has been a key factor both in branding conservatism as a populist ideology, and in putting into circulation literally thousands of soundbites, half-truths, and put-downs designed to advance conservative aims. It is seriously disingenuous for conservative Republicans to now portray Rush as some sort of a renegade crazy cousin, when in fact he has been an integral part of the party propaganda machine for over a decade.

The RTD also uses the editorial (for the second time in a week) to celebrate the apparent financial downfall of Air America, the liberal talk radio network. Two observations: first, one should be deeply skeptical of the RTD’s attempt to assert a moral equivalence between the way Rush talks about his political opponents and the way even the most strident liberals depict leaders like Bush. I’m sure folks on the air at Air America sometimes have gone overboard the bounds of civility, but they’d have a tall order to attempt to match Rush’s well-established jargon for belittling opponents.

Second, count me as one not deeply surprised by Air America’s problems. It may be that liberals prefer reading and making their own efforts to form their own opinions rather than have them presented ready-made for them by a radio show host. There probably is a market out there for informative, news-based radio and commentary from a left-liberal perspective aimed at relatively well-educated audiences, but it’s unrealistic to think such shows are going to generate millions of listeners or obtain a wide populist following (particularly to the extent that such shows comport themselves according to norms of decency which have never much troubled Rush et al). Going mass market and populist would require an entirely different approach (and set of expectations as to the quality of content), I suspect. Currently Air America is not planning to go off the air, but once they get squared away with their creditors they are going to have to reorganize themselves and adopt a more realistic near-term business model.

Air America itself is claiming that its financial problems are hardly unprecedented in this field, pointing out that conservative broadcasters in the past often ran at a loss for many years without the plug being pulled by patient investors–the kind of patient, politically commited investors the network now lacks.

Published in: on October 26, 2006 at 10:36 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. Actually I agreed with the TD’s editorial for the most part. Neither Rush or Air America really does a good job.

    But the bigger questions are about media reform- specifically how much Media General wants to change the FCC’s media consolidation rules- this is the real threat to democracy.

    I hope groups like the Sierra Club and the ACLU will recognize how much they depend on the media and let their members know just how important independent media and net neutrality are.

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