Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Talk radio and the "marketplace of ideas"

Bookworm has posted a wonderfully well-written riff touching on the appeal of conservative talk radio (can you tell I agree with her on that?).

Just yesterday I spent a couple of idle moments wondering yet again why I persist in so enjoying listening to conservative talk-radio shows (despite the annoying commercial interruptions and the occasional lapses into stupid silliness, irrelevance, or vulgarity) and why I invariably soon tire or sour on listening to anything on the more genteel and sophisticated-sounding NPR these days. (For the record, I cycle around among "blowhards"--as my husband calls them--Rush, Boortz, Laura Ingraham, Michael Medved, and Hugh Hewitt when driving, walking, ironing, or supervising the kids at the pool.)

All I could come up with was it had something to do with the active play of ideas, the embrace of debate and persuasive, logical argument that other radio entertainment just can't or won't attempt to engage in. Bookworm has put into words precisely why conservative talk radio appeals to so many as entertainment for sentient adults with critical and inquiring minds. As she writes,

From Rush it was a hop, skip and a jump to my favorite radio personality, Dennis Prager, the man I consider the most logical, humane, liberal, rational spokesman around. Again, Prager is able to be precisely this because the long, open format of talk radio allows him both to expand upon and, even more importantly, to defend his ideas. It didn’t take me long to discover Michael Medved and Hugh Hewitt. By then I realized that the blinkered world that is NPR can be very informative, but that it is not a marketplace of ideas. Every story is carefully constructed so as to advance a conclusion, but that advocacy is hidden from the credulous liberal audience. Nothing is challenged; no fresh air is allowed; and most importantly, no alternate views are given free voice. Instead, opposing views are limited to 10 or 15 second bites that are immediately rebutted in the static format of a 6 minute radio story.

So true. Unfortunately I can't get Dennis Prager's show here, but having listened to him once (while I was washing venetian blinds with Spic N Span), I wish I could.

I too have grown very disgusted with NPR in the last few years. The opinion sound bytes by Daniel Schorr just sent me over the top, yelling at the radio (and rhetorically wailing to my liberal friends): "Where is NPR's alternative viewpoint to that recurring leftist?" How refreshing it would be if the hypocritically so-called PUBLIC radio station actually attempted to balance its biased worldview by offering equal time for opining by a regularly featured conservative "blowhard:": Rush Limbaugh, Thomas Sowell, Heather MacDonald, John McWhorter...! How refreshing it would be if the PUBLIC radio station actually trusted its listening audience to handle unfiltered alternative ideas and to think and decide for itself. Instead, it creates a comforting bubble, leaving the other half of the world outside.

A person has to have attained a certain level of education and experience, has to have been around the block a few times, to have the wherewithal to start yelling back at NPR (or NBC, ABC, CBS news interviews and news reports, as I do too), and saying "That's just wrong! That's illogical! What about / Why don't you ask [fill in the blank, with the questions they never ask that I would ask, and would LOVE to hear the answers to]." Younger people, the less educated, and those just not interested in critical thinking can still swallow the NPR-MSM presentations whole and not choke or start feeling claustrophobic. Folks like me and Bookworm either grow up (or old) or learn to or want to discern better. They want more bang, more interest, more ideas for their buck, their precious listening time.

Rush Limbaugh and the raft of smart, articulate conservative talk radio hosts who follow in his footsteps today have done the country a huge service by helping adult Americans who voluntarily wish to do so understand in a public forum the meanings and implications of political, philosophical, religious, and economic ideas--and they have guided them to claiming the confidence to articulate and advocate for their convictions in the media, in education, and in politics and government. The emphasis here is on "voluntary." Nobody twists your arm to listen to Limbaugh; nobody forces you or anybody else to agree with these "blowhards" and their conservative ideas. They don't require taxpayer dollars or private contributions, and they don't pay radio stations to run their shows--their shows profit the stations. What conservative talk radio does is inform, entertain, and persuade via a fair and public airing of ideas through debate. They appeal to your working brain. It is truly a laissez-faire "marketplace of ideas" when you listen to commercial conservative talk radio.

And happily, I don't think this tide of information and debate is going to be turned back soon by any "Fairness Doctrine" that the leftists (or the Trent Lott Republicans) in Congress can attempt to come up with. "The loud people" now supposedly "running America" that so disturb Trent Lott, for example, are no more than involved and informed citizens actively participating in the political process. And that there are more of them, better informed--what a beautiful sea change that is.

Bookworm sums up:

... liberals are right to fear talk radio because, on[c]e ideas are removed from the rigidly orchestrated framework that is the MSM and NPR, and get full airing and debate, liberal ideas don’t smell so good any more.

Too true. And I believe the cat is too far out of the bag and the majority of Americans now understands this. The majority of Americans believes in free speech, unfettered public debate, persuasion over force. Any attempt to squelch public debate, even if tarted up as a "Fairness Doctrine" or falsely labeled as "hate speech," will these days be soon generally recognized for what it is--a grab for enforced power over the individual American mind. And the leftists have few tools to bring about their aims besides intimidation, attempting to appropriate the force of government to effect their bidding, and a talent for calling people names.

So far the success of conservative talk radio, the expanding market of conservative thinkers and writers, and the freewheeling internet blogosphere imply that the so-called "Fairness Doctrine" will be one attempted fraud destined to fail.

But only as long as we keep talking and debating! If that means I've become a blowhard, so be it.

UPDATE: Not all conservative talk radio hosts are worth listening to. I share Betsy's opinions of Michael Savage and of the great Brian Lamb of C-SPAN. But I will defend the goodness, the imperative, of all of these voices being allowed to speak, debate, rub up against one another. It's all educational and vital for the thinking American public. As Betsy points to here, "Good arguments are no bad thing."

UPDATE: And as Mark Steyn points out on the Hugh Hewitt show, it is not good arguments that the Democrats are after:

KJ: ...And I’ve been sitting here feeling, I don’t know, a little assaulted lately. They want to talk about talk radio all the time, but I don’t hear the advocates of the Fairness Doctrine discussing the same thing for our mainstream media. Who’s going to monitor all of these television news programs to make sure that there’s not a left wing turn? And the newspapers?

[Mark Steyn]: No, that’s what’s so crazy about it, is that the left in this country allow themselves to present themselves as impartial. There was a thing today that turned out that when someone rifled through the campaign finance records, that nine out of ten journalists in the United States donate, when they make campaign donations, to the Democratic Party....

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