THE BLOG
05/02/2007 03:58 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Rush to Judgment: Talk Radio in the Land of Limbaugh and Loudmouths

I am no fan of Rush Limbaugh. The portly windbag infuriates me. Every now and then, one of his soundbites will come to my attention. I don't go looking for them. The media does it for me. Several weeks ago, it was this whopper" "the Virginia Tech gunman was a liberal." It's impossible to ascertain how he had arrived at this conclusion, since Cho, in his mad, obscene videos, had railed against the socially permissive campus culture from which he found himself isolated.

But by Rush's logic, perhaps if guns had been allowed on campus, students would have been able to shoot back at their assailant. Or maybe because Cho was an English major -- a sissified subject? -- it automatically brand him as a liberal? Or that mental illness is solely an affliction of the left? Or that conservative gun lovers have more respect for the law and would never go on a killing spree? (On the other hand, would you want to go on a hunting trip with Dick Cheney?)

Logic and facts are irrelevant in Rush's political biosphere; and by extension, they lack import among his millions of listeners. The trigger mechanism for his army of fans is emotion. Rush appeals to their heart, not the head. He strokes the right's ego by demonizing the left's id.

Filmmaker, stand-up comedian and former deejay Martin Higgins, who is the editor of The Nastiest Things Ever Said about Democrats and The Nastiest Things Ever Said About Republicans, has long followed Limbaugh's career. In fact, in the early 90s, he directed a (very funny) satirical play Rush Limbaugh in Night School in San Francisco. Here's what Higgins has to say about Rush: "He's proven to be in intimate contact with the issues for 23 years. He personally invented the format and made it viable, thereby saving AM radio from FM's domination. He said what people were thinking and what other Talkers feared saying. When he replaced Morton Downey Jr. at KBFK in Sacramento (1984) he took the concept of unrepentant, controversial gadfly to the next level. He doesn't claim to be 'balanced and fair.' He overtly panders to the right and says the things they might not know, but feel deep in their hearts. That alone would give him a 30 market share any day of the week."

As grand poobah of the talk-radio blabosphere, Rush's living proof of that adage by Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels that if you repeat a lie long enough people will start believing it. But does he really believe some of the nonsense that emerges from his mouth, like when he was bashing Michael J. Fox for faking Parkinson's?

Amid the sound and fury of talk radio, very few pockets of sanity, open-mindedness and probing intellect remain. Loudmouths, ranters, shock jocks, and Rush imitators long ago won the war of the words. The dial pretty much belongs to the emotionally charged right, despite the best efforts of liberal upstarts like Air America. Why is this so? But because I am no expert in matters of talk radio, I decided to seek out some answers from Peter B. Collins, who is host of Live from the Left Coast: The Peter B. Collins Show, for his perspective. The Marin County resident is that rare phenomenon in talk radio land: he's fair, cerebral, progressive, well-informed, thoughtful, pleasant, and won't screen callers. He invites listeners from all political camps to engage with him and his guests who are drawn from the world of politics, law, journalism, publishing, and social and environmental activism. His show is heard three hours each afternoon in Monterey, Coos Bay, and Eureka

"If I had to pick one reason why there are few successful lefties in radio, it's that we don't like the bully part of the bully pulpit, " says Collins. "Most of the successful right-wing shows are based on angry rants against America's greatest threat -- liberals. Talk radio is dominated by conservatives by a 13-to-1 ratio, and we still have to prove to station owners that they can make money with progressive talk.

"For several years, I followed Rush Limbaugh on KNBR in San Francisco, a high-testosterone AM station that's the longtime home of Giants baseball and is now all-sports. Rush came to town for a week, was treated like royalty, and granted me a one-hour interview. On the air, we got his predictable right-wing banter, in an exchange with the unspoken understanding that neither of us would go for the jugular. It was fun and he was fairly candid. 'The purpose of a caller is to make me look good,' he said, and admitted that he never makes fun of Republicans. Off the air, he talked the way radio guys do, about how lucky he was, and that he would ride it as far as he could.

"I think that Rush does believe a lot of the stuff he spouts, and considers himself a storyteller who delivers the news-based fables that support the talking points from the Weekly Standard, The Washington Times, and the GOP. His central thread is that liberals are trying to ruin his America, and he is waging the valiant fight to return to the Reagan era, before feminists, environmentalists and other liberal enemies like the "affirmative action crowd" made his life so miserable.

"The coverage of his addiction to OxyContin revealed a highly adept liar who shared his "mysterious" hearing loss and subsequent cochlear implant with his listeners and forgot to mention that he was (apparently) consuming the massive quantities of this highly addictive pain killer that were reportedly delivered to him by people like his housekeeper. He operates in a bubble that protects him from critical thinking and critical voices, and is spoon-fed strategically-timed interviews with Bush, Cheney and other GOP brass. He may not think Fox News is fair or balanced, either, but it gives him cover to repeat the crap that they make up.

The Imus firing has provided new scrutiny for the hate speech that is a consistent feature on radio and TV shows hosted by Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and a number of others. MediaMatters.org has an excellent litany of the comments of these hosts that you can read for yourself; to me, some of it is more dangerous and destructive than the offensive remark that led to the firing of Don Imus."

For the full interview with veteran talk show host Peter B. Collins, see www.politixxx.com and go to the section called Five Questions.