Independent John Avlon (and writer of Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America) had some very interesting points to make about conservatives, Replicans, and talk radio as entertainment:
[Broadcasters] who used to present themselves as centrists — for example MSNBC’s Ed Schultz –now dial up partisan anger to 11 every night. These political performers become prisoners of their own shtick — they cannot evolve or they will be called traitors by the tribe they have developed. They can only move in one direction: further out into the extremes….
…..This dynamic also inspires the peddling of paranoia to pump up ratings…
Political entertainers pretend to sell ideology and integrity, but what they are literally selling is advertising — and the pursuit of coin can also lead to some compromising positions….
The seamless success of this model in creating issues and crafting narratives has made the out-of-power Republican Party effectively subservient to the conservative media crowd. The tail is wagging the dog; partisan media is driving the GOP message and not the other way around.
Regarding the mainstream media’s political coverage:
The spin cycle is baked into the booking of guests where predictable partisanship is encouraged. Conflict sells and balanced analysis is considered bad for ratings — it takes too long to get to the truth.
Joe Gandelman of The Moderate Voice has a great historical perspective about radio with broadcasting vs narrowcasting:
A talk show host’s (quite legitimate) goal is to saw off a portion of the populace, capture and define that key demographic, keep the demographic returning over and over again (which you do by being outrageous and angry), get more of that demographic and deliver it to paying advertisers. Moreover, it’s important to keep in mind that 21st century America is the era of “narrowcasting” where segments are the name of the game versus the 50s and early 60s goal of “broadcasting” — which in effect sought to piece together entertainment coalitions of different ages and groups.
You can really extend narrowcasting to all the successful multi-million dollar niche markets outside of radio, as I had mentioned how comic book companies and pro wrestling companies target their fanatical base and can get away with charging them high prices for their product.
Regarding John Avlon’s book, here is a review from Stephen Tobey that I think sums it up best:
I especially like the part where he examines three of the most over-the-top complaints about Obama: that he’s a Communist, a Nazi and the Antichrist, talking to actual Communists and Nazis.
I doubt the book will change many minds. I’ve long felt that as much as people say they want civility, they really don’t. They want the name-calling and demonizing of the opposition. Many of them, I’m sure, would think less of Ronald Reagan if they knew he routinely had a beer with Tip O’Neil at the end of the workday (or deny that ever happened).
Still, when all you hear from one side or the other is how the country is being destroyed and the sky is falling, it’s refreshing to hear some more reasonable voices.
Ultimately it seems to be that our society has because philosophically fragmented and devolved into left wing vs right wing, and that the ignorant labeling is a necessary defense mechanism. That being said, people are like sheep and are heavily influenced by what they see and hear. If we had good role models in high places on the radio (or say, if we had a Phil Hendrie-type in his prime having the most radio listeners instead of the Rush/Savage/Beck unholy triad) perhaps this schism wouldn’t be so apparent.
Instead of the constant end of the world scenarios and Parrot Syndrome of repeating what Rush Limbaugh, or even rationalizing extremist talk radio by saying “It may be entertainment, but love them or hate them, they still have valid points”, let’s challenge each other to bring a fresh and clean perspective to the table without the rhetoric. Rush can’t do it: he attacks moderates and “being balanced” all the time
I mean, when I blog about pro wrestling, I focus on how the guys worked in the ring, and how the show was produced, I don’t make headlines that make it sound real (“Ric Flair Breaks Dusty Rhodes’ Leg: Why Hasn’t Flair Been Suspended?”) , so I think it’s a bit irresponsible to take political entertainers seriously.
It’s one thing to say “Yeah, I know it’s entertainment”, but it you go ahead and listen to them every day and become influenced by their opinions, views, and facts, it’s impossible not to have their skewed attitudes embedded into your soul.
Whereas sports, movies, wrestling, and other form of entertainment have their serious fans and serious talking heads, at the end of the day, we all know it’s just a game or fiction. Where extreme talk radio and politics differs is that they force you to “picks sides”, defend your beliefs, and push you into a cultural war. It’s very personal. A Yankees fan and a Mets fan can co-exist at the ballpark. I’ve done business with a Red Sox fan, it’s no big deal, since we know it’s a game. A Michael Savage fanatic probably won’t be friends with an Al Franken fan. John McCain vs Barack Obama was a friendship deal-breaker for some people.
Take a look at some of talk radio’s big advertisers- most of the products focus on paranoia, angry white men, scared white women, get rich quick schemes, and small business owners trying to survive. Most of the mainstream advertisers won’t touch them anymore because they don’t want their product associated with anger and hatred, the subtle bigotry and sexism on those shows, and the insane longing for a 1950′s America. Of course, the big joke is that the hosts are living the life of Riley with their millions and may not necessarily believe/practice their own gimmick off-air.