Conservative talk radio has had an even greater impact than conservative television. Rush Limbaugh, a benefactor of Scaife’s largess, began his radio broadcast in 1988 on WABC in New York. By 1998 he was reaching 20,000,000 listeners a week on 643 radio stations. Back in the Nixon days, Vice President Spiro Agnew had talked about a biased, liberal, media, but it was Limbaugh who made this an important national issue. He harps on this theme in every broadcast, thus fanning dissatisfaction with the mainstream media and improving the market for his product. With this argument he created a standard around which cultural embattled cultural conservatives could rally. They were encouraged to believe they were a put-upon minority even after they had won the control of the national government and a majority of the states. This approach was most appealing to white males, who became the largest part of conservative talk radio’s audience. They were attracted by the rudeness and crudeness of these commentators. Even Gordon Liddy’s urging followers to kill ATF agents was acceptable; “Head shots, head shots...kill the sons of bitches.”
California’s John Zeigler’s locker room talk seems to satisfy some basic male needs, and his claim that Gray Davis was human waste that needed to flushed resonated with his audience. The right wing hosts are popular because they push people’s buttons and stimulate primal impulses such as fear of the “Other” and play to intense my- country- right- or- wrong nationalism. They encourage an intense comradeship, similar to that found in an army barracks. People who telephone these hosts fall all over themselves about being honored to talk to these shock jocks. Limbaugh’s followers call themselves “ditto heads.” Much grumbling and whining marks the comradeship of the right wing radio broadcast. Appeals are made to fairly primitive mass feelings., and the same simplistic arguments are repeated over and over again. Any idea that could disturb their collective self-satisfaction was belittled.
Limbaugh’s chief mission seemed to be the demonization of Democrats and liberals, and he repeatedly warns listeners that the evil liberals are plotting to destroy American culture and undermine the nation’s strength. He appeared unable to differentiate between liberals and Democrats. Though seldom mentioning God, he embraces the agenda of the Christian Right, and constantly attacks feminists, environmentalists, and homosexuals. His attacks upon Bill Clinton’s personal life were unceasing. Even Clinton’s daughter Chelsea was not spared Limbaugh’s nasty comments, as he called her “the White House dog.” Another major theme was his contempt for the poor and his belief that the nation could not afford the money spent on welfare. His willingness to air unsubstantiated charges and clear falsehoods have spawned a number of web sites devoted to correcting his statements.
He has been praised for playing a central role in giving Republicans control of both houses of Congress in 1995, and Speaker Newt Gingrich said they shared the same goal: to “make Bill Clinton the enemy of normal Americans.” To a significant extent they succeeded. Limbaugh did so by constant discussion of Clinton’s personal life, but the broadcaster had almost nothing to say about revelations about the personal lives of Gingrich, Henry Hyde, and other Clinton tormentors. Limbaugh has a brother who is also in the anti-liberal information industry and who claimed in Prosecution “liberals are waging war against Christianity.”
Even after the Republican victory of 2002, Rush found it necessary to refer to the NAACP as “the enemy” and warn listeners about how successful liberals are at launching personal attacks against Republican leaders. He suggested that though the liberals had sustained a defeat, they might launch a counter-attack as the Nazis did in the Battle of the Bulge. When Clinton Commerce Secretary Ron Brown’s plane crashed, Grant said he thought Brown might have survived “because at heart I’m a pessimist.” Brown was an African American, a race Bob Grant called “subhumanoids” and “screaming savages.” It was also about race. He once asked his audience of “dittoheads” why composites of criminals often look like Jesse Jackson and was heard to tell a caller, “Take that bone out of your nose and call me back.” Limbaugh is anti-gay and anti- environmentalist, often using the term “environmental wackos.” Limbaugh also mined the theme that “bleeding-heart” liberal judges were responsible for a perceived increase in crime
Limbaugh began broadcasting nationally in 1988 and had at least 14.5 million listeners per week by December 2002. He captured the hearts and minds of millions with a mix “of mirth with a radio preacher’s urgency and a demagogue’s viciousness.” His great success has inspired many imitators. Together, Rush and Rush wannabes, have had a great impact upon the American political landscape and have done much to make the Republican base larger, angrier, and less inclined to civil dialogue.” Arousing anger was an important function of the right-wing talk shows, but creating a sense of belonging and association with successful, productive people was also important. Limbaugh’s “ditto heads” come to see themselves as part of a noble and enlightened fraternity battling the unspeakable evil of liberalism. Theirs is a noble cause, they believe, because they are fighting to remove government restrictions from capable and productive people like themselves. From Limbaugh, Mike Gallagher, Sean Hannity, Bill O’Reilly, Gordon Liddy, Oliver North, and others they learn that they are superior in every way to those who expect help from government or are working to expand it and defile traditional values. Rush and the other conservative radio commentators were unable to turn away even briefly from generating anger and paranoia after their election triumph in 2002. They almost immediately took to creating anger against and fear of Nancy Pelosi, the new leader of the diminished Democratic minority in the House of Representative. Even if she led a cohesive party, the fact is that minority leaders have very little clout in today’s House. In a news conference on November 20, 2002, Democratic Senate leader Tom Daschle acknowledged that Rush Limbaugh and the many other right-wing talk show hosts give the GOP a great edge in elections, and he attributed the Democratic defeat in 2002 partly to their influence. He noted that their shrill rhetoric generates an extraordinary emotional fervor that energizes many people and gets them to work hard in elections.
The same rhetoric results in making life much more difficult for Democratic politicians because they are often confronted and threatened by people who believe all the charges made on talk shows. Limbaugh’s attacks were supplemented by newspaper advertisements calling Daschle an ally of Saddam Hussein because the senator opposed drilling oil wells in the Anwar reserve. American Renewal, a Christian Right organization, funded the advertisements. Daschle noted that when he was being attacked as an obstructionist he and his family had to face many more unpleasant confrontations and threats than under normal conditions. He twice used the word “pray” in relation to his concern that this kind of rhetoric could eventually do long term damage to American political institutions. Limbaugh responded to this complaint by running a skit that mocked Daschle for complaining that his family was receiving telephoned death threats, claiming Daschle was lying and making the charge for political reasons. Democratic criticism of Limbaugh led the mainstream press to grant him extended interviews on television, thus elevating him to respectable status among political commentators. He was given long and respectful interview on Tim Russert’s CNBC program and on CNN’s “Reliable Sources.”
Matt Drudge’s web page was also very effective cog in the Republican attack machine, and many GOP publicists like to draw material from it. On August 10, 1997, Drudge found it necessary to retract a story he circulated that White House aid Sid Blumenthal was a wife-beater. The admission did not reduce Drudge’s star/hero status among the New Right one iota. Perhaps they assumed that all Clinton assistants must be deeply depraved people. Not satisfied with the retraction, the Blumenthals went to court for satisfaction. It developed that the story began at a 1994 dinner where a Wall Street Journal publicist bragged that the paper had legal documents proving that Blumenthal regularly beat his wife. Blumenthal denied feeding Drudge the information. Drudge, financed indirectly by Richard Mellon Scaife, refused to name his source. It turned out there were no police reports or documents. The press largely ignored Blumenthal’s litigation. It was covered by the Austin Chronicle and the Arkansas Democrat Gazette. By 2004, the Drudge web site was getting 6.5 million hits a day. Among those consulting this site are radio hosts--not all of them conservative- who are looking for material to discuss on the air.
A New York Times/CBS poll in 1988 demonstrated the success of the Republican information machine. It revealed that 20% of Americans thought Republicans were fair to all classes and 64% believed the GOP was mainly concerned with helping the rich. Despite these beliefs, the GOP had succeeded by then in selling itself as the party of the disaffected. This was done through effective manipulation of cultural issues and directing random anger toward liberals. In that year, George H.W. Bush successfully identified Democratic presidential nominee Michael Dukakis with Willie Horton, a black convicted murder who raped a white woman on a weekend furlough. Bush also denounced the Massachusetts governor as a “card-carrying member” of the American Civil Liberties Union. By 2003, conservatives dominated political discussion and frequently set the tone of political reporting. They accomplished this by aggressively marketing their ideas through a large and well-financed network of foundations. Many of their newspapers and political pundits make no pretense of doing anything more than propagandizing their side of political issues, and in this way they play an important role in setting the agenda for political discussion.
Mainline journalists, who are essentially committed to fairness and evenhandedness, must take into account the spin the conservative journalists place on the news. Likewise, in an effort to avoid charges of media bias, they have given space to unproven and outrageous charges developed by some of the conservative media’s less respectable members. The clearly biased Fox News has captured a large share of the cable news audience and has forced the other cable operations to hire a large stable of one-sided commentators, thus making cable news, particularly in the evenings, a vast echo chamber for right wing views. Finally, a large array of right wing national talk show hosts, together with their innumerable local counterparts, daily fill the airwaves with political propaganda and anger against liberals. Their influence will grow as the market share of the three main networks decreases and as smaller numbers of people read newspapers. Fewer than 20% of young adults read the news. If this tendency continues, what little an ever-growing proportion of American voters know about current events will come from the right-wing information network, which includes a multitude of well-done right-wing blogs.
So long as the shock of rapid social and economic change buffet
s American culture, the conservative information machine is likely to be successful in recruiting and retaining a substantial base for the Republican Party. Despite the many economic insecurities facing voters who were not college educated, 77% of those earning between $30,000 and $40,000 a year think they are doing well and do not seem very worried about their futures. For the future, many seem to “put their trust in the state lottery system.” They have learned that they cannot and should not “look to the federal government or labor unions to throw them a lifeline.” They are more concerned about how the sexual come-ons and violence of contemporary culture threaten their families, and they identify Democrats with the libertine values that menace their families. Even demographic tendencies cooperate with the conservative information machine. In the Europe and the United States, progressive secularists are much likely to have childless or small families than cultural conservatives. The fact that cultural conservatives are considerably more fertile helps “explain the gradual drift of American culture toward religious fundamentalism and social conservatism.” The states carried by George W. Bush in 2004 had 11% higher fertility rates than those carried by Democrat John Kerry. Some fear this will eventually spell the “death of the [influence of the] Enlightenment.” This is probably an exaggerated fear, but it does not bode well for progressives.
Sherman has written African American Baseball: A brief History, which can be acquired from LuLu Publishing on line.http://www.lulu.com/browse/search.php?search_forum
"Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past." Orwell-- The US is probably moving toward becoming a heavily controlled Rightist state. This blog is an effort to document how that happened.
- Sherman De Brosse
- Sherm spent seven years writing an analytical chronicle of what the Republicans have been up to since the 1970s. It discusses elements in the Republican coalition, their ideologies, strategies, informational and financial resources, and election shenanigans. Abuses of power by the Reagan and G. W. Bush administration and the Republican Congresses are detailed. The New Republican Coalition : Its Rise and Impact, The Seventies to Present (Publish America) can be acquired by calling 301-695-1707. On line, go to http://www.publishamerica.com/shopping. It can also be obtained through the on-line operations of Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Do not consider purchasing it if you are looking for something that mirrors the mainstream media!