The interview with John Batchelor on the front page of this week’s Jewish Press should clarify, for anyone who still doesn’t get it, why Batchelor’s show is thriving while many of talk radio’s erstwhile Big Names suffer declining ratings.
Batchelor’s answers to interviewer Sara Lehmann’s questions offer a marked contrast to the prefabricated, often inane, talking points endlessly repeated by too many right-wing hosts. Really, how many times in a given hour can a listener with an IQ above room temperature abide hearing how Ronald Reagan was a precursor of today’s Tea Party activists (he was nothing of the kind) or how Sarah Palin is Abe Lincoln in heels (she is nothing of the sort) before feeling the need to slam the radio against the nearest wall?
In the introduction to her interview with Batchelor, Lehmann quotes from an article by John Avlon. In that piece, radio executive Randall Bloomquist, referring to the drop in listeners experienced by the likes of Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin, tells Avlon, “if we ever want to grow, if we want to expand, we’ve got to be doing more than 18 hours a day of ‘Obama is a socialist.’ “
The Monitor saw this coming three years ago. In a piece written for Commentary magazine’s Contentions blog, your always modest correspondent vented his frustration with the way conservative radio hosts were treating John McCain even as it was becoming obvious that McCain stood a better than fair chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination later that year.
“The relentless pounding of McCain,” I wrote, “while certainly popular with some conservatives, has elicited a growing backlash among others, with a number of conservative bloggers expressing disdain for the tactics of Limbaugh and company – some of them saying they can no longer bring themselves to listen to the very voices that for so long had constituted a focal point of their day.”
I admitted to knowing that feeling, noting that my own personal moratorium on Limbaugh and Hannity (I’d listened only sporadically, and never enthusiastically, to the various other hosts who had taken to treating McCain as though he were a Trotskyite trying to crash a conservative ball) began in stages, since old habits and loyalties do die hard.
I’d begin each day thinking that maybe the attacks on the senator would at long last start to diminish, in number if not intensity. But within minutes of either host opening his show the sliming would pick up right where it had left off the day before, with little or no regard for nuance or perspective. I’d switch to sports talk for an hour or so before returning to Limbaugh or Hannity, only to once again find myself muttering at the radio and reaching for the dial.
I noted that while “talk radio has, with rare exceptions, always been the thinnest of intellectual gruel, the rise of conservative talkers – which took place in the years just before the Internet changed everything about the way we consume news – was a galvanizing event for those of us who always saw through the neutral posturing of the Walter Cronkites, the John Chancellors, the Roger Mudds of that era. At last we had a slice of mass media we could call our own and by which we could help sway policy and elections and stay connected to fellow conservatives across the country.
“But talk radio is already something of a dinosaur, a rusted hulk lying on the side of the information superhighway. How could it be otherwise, in an age when we can log on and directly link to thousands of conservative websites and blogs – when we can communicate, unfiltered and instantaneously, with like-minded people not just across the country but around the world?
“Sean Hannity can insist all he wants that John McCain is a liberal, but simply by Googling McCain’s lifetime voting record we can see for ourselves that if he’s a liberal, words have no meaning. Rush Limbaugh can loudly champion Mitt Romney as the second coming of Barry Goldwater, but a quick Internet search is enough to confirm that Romney is anything but.”
Three years later, I would take back none of what I wrote. If anything, the reaction in right-wing radioland to the election of Barack Obama and his first two years in the White House has served only to amplify the problems already evident in 2008.
Jason Maoz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org