Goodbye, Toxic Talk

Building on yesterday’s Steve Gill post, I thought folks might be interested in this November column, “Talk Must Expand Beyond Politics To Survive.” Doug Stephen hosts a nationally-syndicated talk radio show, and he writes about the fallout experienced across the talk radio spectrum following Rush Limbaugh’s attacks on Sandra Fluke:

I’m not here to argue the point, but rather to tell you what this ONE incident has cost me as an independent in a sea of big corporate operators, who are obviously losing tens of millions of dollars due to this one event.

So far this year, my losses are in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Cancellations, avoidance and decisions to just not buy across the whole format, no matter what the content, have led to this rude awakening.

I’m not looking for Limbaugh to send me a check (although that would be nice), but I do think we have to let it be known that his actions have been devastating to our survival. I do think we have to do what we can to expand the format and let agencies know that their message can be safe with those who produce good programs that are fun, relevant and aimed at a different audience. Letting the news media, and even agencies, get away with lumping all hosts and content together is irresponsible for them and their clients because they know they get the best results from spots delivered in the spoken word formats.

What he’s saying is, Limbaugh’s inflammatory style has driven advertisers away from talk radio programming in general, and it’s hurting smaller players as well as the big guys. I’m not surprised, are you? So much political talk radio is toxic, and no advertiser wants to be the target of boycotts, constantly drawn into one national battle after another, forced to pick a side in the culture wars or debates over climate change. That’s the very stuff advertisers want to stay away from — at least publicly. Big corporate advertisers keep their political actions off the national radar, spending millions on lobbyists and shadowy front groups like ALEC or the American Enterprise Institute. Publicly it’s all hugs and lollipops.

I’m reminded that last summer, Ed Schultz and Sean Hannity told people to back off the boycotts because “a lot of people are getting hurt.” Awww. You know who else gets hurt by the toxic talk radio? Our democracy. Our political process. The nation as a whole, frozen in gridlock, where any timid step in one direction gins up howls of protest from the base on either side of the political spectrum.

People are burning out on politics, and I have to think talk radio is a big reason why. The conventional wisdom was always, inflammatory talk drives ratings and ratings are what advertisers care about. Neither of these suppositions appears to be true. I’ve always thought that negative talk and stuff like inflammatory campaign ads turns people off, and certainly major corporate advertisers are more concerned about their company’s image than anything else. If it’s not driving ratings or advertising revenue, then maybe the days of Limbaugh and the rest are waning.

For me, personally, I do listen to talk radio and watch cable television, but I avoid the political opinion stuff like the plague. I crave news and discussion of issues, not opinion. I have XM/Sirius in the car and at the house, but I rarely listen to the Talk Left channel. I listen to the BBC, World Radio, and the public radio channels: PRX and NPR. These channels don’t shove opinion and politics at you, it’s news and discussion of current events. When I watch TV it’s usually local news. If I watch MSNBC it’s not for Rachel Maddow or Ed Schultz, it’s for shows like Melissa Harris-Perry or Up With Chris, where they discuss issues, not repeat talking points. I think this is the future of news and talk radio.

Does this mean all our problems are solved and we can return to having sane national conversations? No. Rush, Hannity and the like are way too important to the Wingnut Welfare Machine to go away. They’re the grease that keeps the right’s political grift machine moving. But I think that machine has taken a big hit, and will have to find another way to evangelize to anyone not already under the conservative rock.

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10 Comments

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10 responses to “Goodbye, Toxic Talk

  1. Good points here. On a similar note, the idiot, Dave Ramsey, is no longer on local Nashville station 99.7. Heard he is on 102.5 the Zone. Also, he has lost many of his affiliate stations nationwide.

    • Dave Ramsey is an idiot? I don’t listen to him, but I thought he preached “common-sense” financial responsibility. You know, pay off your debts, keep a year’s worth of savings for emergencies, stuff like that. I know he’s some kind of Christian and says his financial advice is Biblical or some such, but I didn’t know he was an idiot.

      • He does preach those things (pay off debt, keep 6-mos savings, etc) – which are sound. However, he is an idiot because a lot of his advice is outdated, and/or overly simplistic:
        – invest in the stock market (make rich people richer)
        – he tells people time and again to buy a $1000 car to drive around for a few years (yes, you can tell he is so wealthy, he has not stepped foot on a used car lot in 10 years or so)
        – he advocates against whole life insurance ad nauseum, not taking into account that some people do not qualify for term life insurance, and can only qualify for whole life insurance.
        – he advocates against using credit at all. It is a known fact that insurance premiums, as well as mortgage rates (mortgages are the only kind of debt he is OK with) are based largely on a person’s credit score. Dave’s advice here will guarantee a person pays more than they should.
        I could go on… but that is the essence of the point.

      • Well, the stock market does outperform other options for investment, historically. Not saying it’s not a crap shoot, but if you’ve got the money, say an IRA or 401k, your probability of seeing that grow is better with the stock market than stuffing it in your mattress. But of course it’s still risky and yes, Wall Street is notoriously corrupt.

        The thing that gets me about Wall Street is that while we all agree it’s a casino, it’s not a democratic one. There are investment opportunities available to the super wealthy and big funds that aren’t available to the average joe and jane. I KNEW big shitpile was going to implode, I knew the real estate bubble was going to burst and the credit default swaps were going to drag it down. I knew it, 100%. And yet, you’d think I could have made money off of that knowledge, the way the people in Michael Lewis’ “The Big Short” did. Those people became bazillionaires. But those deals were not available to a peon like me. They were available to people betting a couple hundred thousand dollars. To me that was a safe bet, the probability of that coming down was 100%. But no, I’m supposed to gamble on whether shares of some stupid stock are going to go up or down a teensy weensy bit. Feh.

  2. My TV is tuned in semi-permanently to MSNBC…. And for some reason, I ‘m addicted to Lawrence’s O’ Donnel’s Last Word. I can sometimes do without Ed Schultz and Rachel Maddow, oh, and Rev. Al Sharpton… Chris Matthews more often than not amuses me, and I love Alex Wagner and Chris Hayes. There’s one political analyst that I don’t like on MSNBC. Sometimes he subs for ed Schultz, but his name escapes me at the moment. He’s half white and half black. Like Al Sharpton, he’s too blindingly biased. I don’t know…. it’s just my opinion, Martin Bashir too is in the extreme, hahah, but I like him, for some reason. I like Steve Konacki.

  3. kosh III

    Evewn though I rarely agreed with him, I sure miss intelligent right wing discourse from William F Buckley.

  4. The career arcs of Father Coughlin and Walter Winchell could be instructive.

  5. Shredder

    I have heard that talk radio is undergoing a fundamental shift away from political talk to investment/money shows. I find this troubling in that, as you point out above, SB, you cant really make money from it unless you have a huge portfolio. But Wall St would love to make us ordinary folks believe we can just sit back and do our daily trades and make money. (Recall people like Jim Cramer in the 90s trying to popularize that.) What a scam. A trader once told me, and I think this is right, that the real profit in the Street is in acting on what amounts to inside info, and that those of us playing the markets based on news reports and such are always way behind the curve. Further, to be able to really profit no matter which way the winds are blowing, IOW on both the ups and downs, the big dogs need to have lots of sheeple out there making bets on short term “trends” which they are being fed by the news organizations. Sounds conspiratorial, I know, but … just look at who made off like bandits on all those derivatives, default swaps, etc etc. Bottom line – there isn’t the profit there used to be in the political talk shows so there is now a switch to money talk shows. After the deregulation mania of the last 20 years, talk radio shows about money appear calculated to take advantage of the lax regulatory environment while it’s still here.