The media frenzy around Rush Limbaugh's "slut" comment last week, referring to a woman who believes birth control should be offered as part of her health insurance plan, makes you wonder whether we should ignore the right-wing wackadoos on the radio.
Obviously, insults run deep on the conservative airwaves, and you might think, about anything Limbaugh says, what else is new?
Limbaugh hit a nerve last week, but Rush-like comments aren't uncommon from radio hosts in Colorado, too. And all over the country.
Should the major media, or the minor progressive media critic like me, ignore them, given the tiny audiences (mostly) who listen?
The Denver Post's Joanne Ostrow wrote a good piece a couple weeks ago laying out different explanations for why conservatives dominate on talk radio and TV.
But she didn't address the question of whether they deserve the attention of reporters, like her or me.
Should progressive journalists listen to their shows, shine the sun of the blogosphere on what they're saying, and hope the attention stops their insensitivity/hate/insults from infecting others and spreading underground? The assumption here is that educating the wider public about his stuff is a good thing.
Or does the light of day simply allow the worst of conservative talk to gain strength? The assumption being that publicity help these jokers get more people to listen to them.
But before we get to those questions, here are possible explanations, offered by Ostrow for why talk radio and TV is dominated by conservatives: 1) the right is more hate-filled, and the angrier the rhetoric, the more people gravitate to it in the talk format, and 2) conservatives own more radio conglomerates, which provide the infrastructure that the left lacks.
I'm not sure what the reason is, but I tend to agree with Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers Magazine, whom Ostrow quoted her article:
Harrison of Talkers Magazine believes conservatives dominate, "because the conservative audience is easier to target than the liberal audience."
Listeners of a conservative bent, who feel alienated and disenfranchised by big media, Hollywood and academia, represent "a perfect mind-set for radio, a niche medium, to target an audience that will be loyal," Harrison says. "They're seeking validation."
Harrison, who avers he is apolitical and speaks only as a broadcast expert, says, "the conservative audience mind-set is much more cohesive and uniform, whereas "liberal" is a broader term that takes in many different political philosophies, ethnicities, voting habits, socio-economic classes. It's not as cohesive a unit."
Ostrow reports that even though most of the radio airwaves are filled with righties ("Conservative talk radio rules 90 percent of the political airwaves today"), Denver's David Sirota pulls a cumulative weekly audience of 115,000 on AM760, beating KHOW's Peter Boyles by 2,000 listeners. But Sirota trails KOA's Mike Rosen by 30,000 listeners.
At the end of her piece, Ostrow writes that the "titans of talk actually draw tiny niche audiences."
That would include Rush Limbaugh. In other words, their voices are loud and shrill, but few real people are listening.
Unless, of course, a righty talker like Limbaugh ignites a media frenzy like he did last week. Then his audience is massive.
So this leads back to the question, should we ignore our local Colorado yappers when they get ugly (e.g., Democrat Donna Brazile as "ignorant slut," and Michelle Obama as "Chewbacca," kill all Iranians, Katrina victims who didn't leave deserved their fate, etc. )
Or is the silent treatment the best way to fight back?
If you follow my blog, you know I'm on the side of listening and exposing them. That's why I follow these talk shows and write about the misinformation, omissions, and rudeness you find there (not all the time, for sure, but too often).
I like to think that publicizing the latest talk-radio outrage, and possibly educating some people about it, undermines the audience for it in the long run, though maybe a few more people are drawn to it in the short term.
Limbaugh's idiocy last week proved my point. Now more people are educated about birth control, women, and Rush. More will dismiss the Limbaughs of the world when they say insulting or outrageous things about women who expect birth control to be covered by their health insurance. (OK, I knew, Republican Greg Brophy stands behind the substance of Limbaugh's comments, but still.,)
Limbaugh and his anti-woman cause lost ground last week -- and advertisers.
And eventually Limbaugh and his allies in Colorado will lose their audience and their jobs, as they become more and more irrelevant, right? Or is that wishful thinking?