Monday, August 04, 2008

20 Years of Limbaugh

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!


Anonymous said...

Ah yes, once again the tolerant and open-minded Mike Plaisted rears his bulbous, bloviating head to name-call, whine, and generally be jealous of others who have had success with their political views.

Let's take an inventory of the kind, gentle, warm words (aka liberal talking points) Mike uses to describe those with opposing views to him:

The Dark Trade
Repressed hamm radio hate-mongers
Blowhard (again)
Right-wing nut-jobs
Right-wing slime machine

Would you even be writing a column like this if Air America had actually suceeded? What would you have said if Al Franken had actually had MORE listeners than Rush Limbaugh? Would you still call for the archaic and sophomoric Fairness Doctrine? Would you have been defending conservative talk radio if Al, Randi, et al were a smashing success across the country?

I have a simple solution for you Mike:

1) Turn off your radio
2) Seek out investors, line up advertisers, and approach an existing AM station with your plan to bring wonderful liberal talk to the Milwaukee airwaves.

My guess is that you're far too lazy/inexperienced to do the latter so my recommendation is to simply turn off your radio since it appears to cause you so much internal strife.

Mike Plaisted said...

I'm sorry, I don't recall committing to "kind, gentle warm words" - that's reserved for Sykes and McIlerhan while they pat each other on the back and congratulate themselves on having access to hours and hours of valuable airtime on 50,000-watt radio stations to spread GOP lies.

Is it "whining" to point these things out? Are the only opinions that matter those of others with radio programs? You know, for a bunch of bullies, the wing-nuts sure are a sensitive bunch.

Air America is a convenient punching bag for you guys, but what does that have to do with anything? They had to build stations from scratch, usually at the lower and low-power end of the dial. Right-wing radio was handed formerly-respectable clear-channel stations like WTMJ, with all the promotion that only stations like that can bring. Plus, the pretend black-and-white and GOP-scripted world of wing-nut radio is a bit easier to get across to an audience than the shades of grey, nuance and (yes) independence of lefties, especially since they all say the same things in the same way every day.

So, your whole premise (a familiar right-wing talking point) that Air America somehow lost in a fair war of ideas is ludicrous. Give Al Franken (or Bill Mahr or Keith Ohlberman or Lewis Black, etc.) a drive-time show on a full-power station, with the kind of writing, format and promotion help that the wing-nuts get, and they'll kick Limbaugh's ass. But they'll never get that chance and, besides, they all have real jobs.

Tom McMahon said...

Mike Plaisted gives us a highly-distilled form of left-of-center commentary, an absinthe-and-Everclear concoction for conservatives -- and I am one -- to light up and down in one courageous gulp. And just like when you were 18, you do it not so much for the enlightenment, but more for the thrill to see if you really can do it. To then complain that you've burnt your tongue is really to miss the whole point.

Anonymous said...

Yes,Limbaugh is the prototypical conservative of our time; he doesn't need to go on the street for his drugs like the underpriveleged he loathes, not when he has doctors to provide his fix for him.

He can spout conservative family values while stuffing his briefcase with viagra for a quick, out of country vacation.

He can speak of the value war with all the fervor and reverence of one who has never seen it, his atrophied ass sitting on a hemorrhiod donut as his fingers clutch his beloved golden microphone.

He is a true American hero for our time. Please do not speak ill of him.

Anonymous said...

Poor liberals - nobody wants to listen to them. I guess when that's the case you just try to shut up the people you disagree with.

Problem is, they don't have a clear understanding of what Freedom of Speech actually entails.

Anonymous said...

Shame on you Mike, isn't the term "Paddy" a racial slam on Irishmen? Oops, I forgot that only conservatives can be racially insensitive.

The so called "Fairness Doctrine" was a form of censorship that should never have been implemented in the first place.

Other Side said...

While the word Paddy is often used as a derogative term referring to Irishman, it is also the diminutive of name Patrick. The point being, is that all you got, anonymous2?


Problem is, they don't have a clear understanding of what Freedom of Speech actually entails.

Mike must have enough of an understanding to allow your drivel to appear, anonymous1. I wonder if you would be so willing to allow opposing views if, you know, you actually had a blog of your own.

You know, what gets me about conservative Fairness of Doctrine arguments is that they always say that reenactment of the doctrine would quell free speech. How would that be? In fact, it would merely ensure that all points of view were represented. Who's really for less free speech?

Bert said...

Very good post Mike.

Both sides on this seem to be talking a lot about the popularity of Rush and talk radio. While these fellows have an audience, that doesn't mean as much as McIlheran, etc. think it does. Demagogues with easy answers (free market!, follow the constitution!) and a handy, simplistic, enemy ("the left") can always whip up followers -- read your Erich Fromm or read about that dear man Father Coughlan from earlier in the century.

They also pretend that the lack of liberal radio shows means something profound. You're right that they make too much of Air America. Still, I have the impression that Jon Stewart, Steven Colbert, Keith Olbermann, Green Day ("I'm not part of a redneck agenda), and, before them, Rage Against the Machine, have managed to attract an audience. It's just not on AM radio.

Is right-wing radio automatically more popular? Because of Rush's wealth, legions of people have tried to copy him successfully. I can't name all the dozens of conservative dudes who have come and gone quickly on Milwaukee airwaves. But the fact is that most right-wing talkers have also failed, certainly more than the total number of left-wingers.

I also agree with you Mike that the effect of this medium, while overstated, has been negative. In the name of protecting the privileged, they are hostile to two elements of U.S. society that I value as crucial ingredients to the democratic society I support. They are hostile to the existence of public education for all, and to an independent and adversarial press. More bluntly, they hate America.

Anonymous said...

Twenty years speaks for itself. Thanks for your compliments to Limbaugh and McIlheran.

You left wing nuts will never have anyone to compare with Mr Limbaugh.


AnotherTosaVoter said...

Mike, I cannot help but point out that you have avoided answering my question, and this talking point-filled post strengthens my argument.

Are there any non-Limbaugh/Hannity/Sykes/Belling spouted opposing, even conservative, arguments that have any merit?

Limbaugh and Sykes are easy and tired targets. How about addressing the issues?

Anonymous said...

Conservative talk radio hosts are evil, racist, hate-mongers and need to be silenced, yadda, yadda, yadda....we get it Mike, you hate them with every bone in your body.

Are you capable of any original thought or is it just the same drivel that I can get from other left-wing nut-job bloggers and columnists?

Show us how you're a different breed of wing-nut liberal and what's makes you and your points unique and intriguing. Other than your blogs about Bruce Springsteen, it's all been pretty much the same post recycled to fit the right-wing hatred of the day.

Anonymous said...

Interesting discussion. I wonder what the influence of right wing talk radio is now, since the NY Times is reporting that GOP voter registrations are down. Rush probably doesn't care, he has a nice $25 million contract (a true man of the people). Nice work if you can get it.

Prosqtor said...

Isn't Olbermann on basic cable? With his own show? And advertising and the weight of NBC / GE (Big Electricity?) behind him?

Olbermann is on head-to-head with Fox News' "O'Reilly Factor," right?

And gets his butt kicked in ratings every single night.

And all he does is spout Obama's talking points and hump Chris Matthews' leg as he attempts to channel Edward R. Murrow.

Jealousy is a terrible thing. I think all that "independent thinking" and concern for things that are beyond your control has you wound up tightly this week. Maybe kick back with the band and light one up instead of worrying about what Bushitler did today...

Anonymous said...

Anony 10:39

Couldn't agree more. Mike writes--often beautifully--about music. but come to politics it is the same old post every time.

Remember that old post about Bush, the one after the state of the union? Plaisted took the poit of view of a tired and bewildered Bush on the ride home. I've always been under the impression that was an autobiography--at least to the extent he likes to wade into political commentary. There's never and light or joy here--except when Plaisted writes about music.

How sad.

But I also ge the point about doing the shot. I'm proud to be a paddy. said...

Next you will try and tell us you support the first amendment.

You get to air your gripes. But don't pretend your views are any more relevant just because you disagree with the 3 or 4 right wing talk shows in the nation that you can find.

There are a lot of people out there. Let them all speak and don't condemn success and popularity. That's just dumb.

Unknown said...

limbaugh, sykes, belling, mcilheran: like the four points of a swastika, the next axis of evil.