Columnist Patrick McIlheran, the Journal Sentinel’s unfortunate sop to the wing-nut demographic, thinks two decades of poison on the nation's airwaves is a great thing. He celebrated Rush Limbaugh’s 20th anniversary on Sunday with a warm fuzzy back-rub of a column that included not only loads of gibberish of his own, but also self-serving cameos from Charlie Sykes and Mark Belling, the top-two purveyors of the Dark Trade locally.
Not coincidentally, Limbaugh’s spawning from the cocoon of a failed radio disc jockey to the beautiful butterfly of GOP mouthpiece occurred the minute the paint was dry on the Reagan FCC’s termination of the Fairness Doctrine, which had kept radio airwaves on an ideologically even keel almost since the birth of the limited-bandwidth, federally-regulated medium. It was an obscure action at the time, but the right-wing had a plan and hit the ground running with relentless and unapologetic squawking from all manner of formerly repressed hamm radio hate-mongers who knew in their hearts that "equal time" was for sissies and Communists. With his smug, know-it-all demeanor and elitist I-got-mine-get-yours self-aggrandizement, Limbaugh was the perfect blowhard to take the "new" format (really, just McCarthyism with commercials) to fill the void on a musically-obsolete AM radio band grasping for something to do before and after sports programming.
What Limbaugh and his national and local ilk do is create an alternative universe where right is wrong, up is down and "callers" to their staged shows always agree with the host (and those who pretend not to are quickly convinced by the host’s brilliance) . When Bill Clinton was president for eight years, they ran a constant campaign of lies against him, 24/7, on radio shows across the country. For the eight years of Junior Bush, they have conducted an incredibly universal and tightly-scripted defense for the worst administration in American history. There has never been this kind of one-sided, talking-pointed political advocacy in the history of the electronic media and it has poisoned the political atmosphere in ways it has never been before.
What I don’t get is why McIlheran thinks this kind of slop is entertaining. "Better to be entertaining than tedious when talking of serious things," says Paddy Mac. Oh, really? Yes, dead American soldiers can be so tedious, let’s let Limbaugh play politics with their memories by claiming the Democrats don’t support the troops. That Katrina thing was tedious, was it not? Let’s make things more interesting by lying about the level of grief and death and let’s pretend the Bushies responded just great and it was all the black mayor’s and the female governor’s fault. There. How tedious can things be when you give yourself license to dance on so many graves?
To expand on his "points", McIlheran quotes Belling and Sykes. Hey, I know he’s just a former copy boy and not a real journalist, but McIlheran using Sykes to make his vapid points is like quoting your girlfriend. Sykes sweet-talks him by reciting the old talk-radio-is-just-an-alternative-to-the-liberal-media cannard, and Paddy Mac eats it up like last night’s chocolate strawberries. We "swim in a sea of liberal ideas", you see, and blowhards like Sykes and Limbaugh just provide "an alternative frame" for those who were suddenly not "alone". What a load of hooey. Right-wing nut-jobs were never in danger of being lonely or of not getting their message heard. But their supposed oppression and victimization is their stock in trade -- see, for instance their hand-wringing about the supposed reinstatement of the Fairness Doctrine by the Democrats, something that they know is not going to happen.
Of course, the whole notion of a liberal media is complete nonsense. Before the right-wing slime machine got going on the radio, nobody ever got a daily show on the airwaves to drive political points, urge the election and defeat of candidates and propositions and otherwise argue all day long for any point of view. To compare the simple reporting of inconvenient facts – the truth being the real enemy of reality-twisters like Sykes and Limbaugh – to the 24/7 propaganda campaigns of the GOP shills that make up the entirety of right-wing radio, is ridiculous.
But, it’s one of those things that, repeated enough, become perceived as truth, which is a game the wing-nut squawkers play all too well. McIlheran plays the game himself, explaining the inexplicable appeal of radio lies by claiming "there are people besides us who don’t think America is the world’s foremost problem and who doubt that more government is the answer to all dilemmas". Yeah, except for the small matter that liberals don’t think that "America is the world’s foremost problem" or that "more government is the answer to all dilemmas". The notion that we do is one of those convenient lies told by people like Sykes, Limbaugh and McIlheran, who are doing nothing but playing their listeners/readers for fools.
But, for Paddy Mac (he says), it’s all about laughing at the unbearable pain of the news. "We’ve learned to laugh at the news instead of getting depressed," he writes. But, this, too, is a lie. Claiming that Limbaugh and Sykes and the rest of the wing-nuts are just harmless comedians gives them too much credit as entertainers (as a group, they are as funny as a heart attack) and not enough as committed, scripted ideologues. They know what they are doing and pretending to be entertainers is an effort to take themselves off the hook for their outrages and the fact that the Republican party should have to claim every minute of every one of their shows as an in-kind contribution.
See also: Whallah!