Talkers Revealed

by digby

This is a very interesting article written by a former right wing talk show producer revealing the secrets of the trade. I think the thing I find most interesting about it is that this fellow is obviously a fairly level headed guy but it took until the obnoxious talk radio coverage of Katrina for him to realize that their entire schtick was a fraud. I think that may be something that happened to a fair number of people. There was something so other-worldly about the way the right reacted to that disaster that it cracked the strange, post modern up-is-downism of the Bush years.

He confirms much of what we always knew about the relationship between the radio talkers and the Republican party:

Conservative talk show hosts would receive daily talking points e-mails from the Bush White House, the Republican National Committee and, during election years, GOP campaign operations. They’re not called talking points, but that’s what they are. I know, because I received them, too. During my time at WTMJ, Charlie would generally mine the e-mails, then couch the daily message in his own words. Midday talker Jeff Wagner would be more likely to rely on them verbatim. But neither used them in their entirety, or every single day.

Charlie and Jeff would also check what other conservative talk show hosts around the country were saying. Rush Limbaugh’s Web site was checked at least once daily. Atlanta-based nationally syndicated talker Neal Boortz was another popular choice. Select conservative blogs were also perused.

A smart talk show host will, from time to time, disagree publicly with a Republican president, the Republican Party, or some conservative doctrine. (President Bush’s disastrous choice of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court was one such example.) But these disagreements are strategically chosen to prove the host is an independent thinker, without appreciably harming the president or party. This is not to suggest that hosts don’t genuinely disagree with the conservative line at times. They do, more often than you might think. But they usually keep it to themselves.

This is something that blogs have to be careful to avoid. There is probably going to be plenty of "outreach" from the powers that be to keep us from going off the reservation. And even if we resist that impulse, groupthink is always a danger:

Except in presidential elections, when they will always carry water for the Republican nominee, conservative hosts won’t hurt their credibility by backing candidates they think can’t win. So if they’re uncharacteristically tepid, or even silent, about a particular race, that means the Democrat has a good chance of winning. Nor will hosts spend their credibility on an issue where they know they disagree with listeners. Charlie, for example, told me just before I left TMJ that Wisconsin’s 2006 anti-gay marriage amendment was misguided. But he knew his followers would likely vote for it in droves. So he declined to speak out directly against it.

Blue America backs candidates regardless of their supposed ability to win because it is devoted to building progressive political power over the long haul. So in my case and those of my fellow BA principles, Howie Klein, Jane Hamsher and John Amato, "running with the winner" is not a problem and I doubt it will be with most activist blogs. But there is pressure not to go beyond our audience's comfort zone. I've been doing this for nearly six years and until this past election I never had so many people writing to tell me they would never read my blog again because of some opinion they disagreed with. It's hard to know where to draw that line so you have to rely on your instincts and hope you aren't subconsciously pulling back out of fear that you'll lose your audience.

Clearly, there are some disconcerting parallels between the right wing talk radio hosts and bloggers but I'm hopeful that the more open dialog between the blogger and the reader will make it less susceptible to the kind of alternate universe the radio gasbags perpetuate. But it's something to be aware of. As much as the talk radio bubble helped the conservative movement build itself into a political powerhouse, it also helped to speed its decline. Reality always bites.

I think the potential pitfalls are fewer among progressives, simply because we don't have the same reverence for authority as part of our overall worldview and we seem to have a bigger appetite for internecine struggle than anything else. In some ways our perceived weaknesses could end up being our greatest strengths. We'll see.