McMINNVILLE, Ore. (BP)–“Why aren’t there any left-wing talk show hosts?” was the headline that graced an article in the May 8 edition of the Chicago Tribune. On the same day the Washington Post featured a story under the banner “Talk Radio, Top Volume On the Right: Bill O’Reilly’s Debut Points Up The Dearth of Liberal Voices.” Both reports opined the reality that liberal voices on the radio, in Post writer Paul Farhi’s words, “can’t or don’t attract much of a crowd.”
Farhi and Tribune reporter Raoul V. Mowatt both explored explanations for the popularity of conservative talk-radio. Among the possible reasons given for the proliferation of right leaning voices on the airwaves was the political persuasion of station ownership, i.e. a vast conservative conspiracy. However, Farhi also quoted Tom Taylor, editor of the trade publication “M Street Daily,” who offered a different explanation. “Radio stations would do whatever works,” he said. “If they found a whole lineup of liberals, moderates, Methodists, Seventh-Day Adventists, or Elizabethan poets that got the ratings, they’d do it.”
Another suggestion for the popularity of conservative talk-radio was theatrics. At least on the national level, the over-the-top rants of certain hosts were deemed as offering a certain amount of entertainment value. However, this does not explain the popularity of local conservative talk hosts. In liberal Oregon, where I dwell, Portland’s most successful talk-radio programming is geared to the right. One would be hard pressed to describe the collective style of these hosts as angry out-of-control ranting.
Farhi and Mowatt did not offer a compelling reason why conservative talk radio succeeds at the bottom line — that is attracting a large enough audience so as to be profitable. What neither writer did suggest was the possibility that the content of the message was a factor. While both articles failed to recognize this profound prospect, it was nevertheless contained in their reports.
The liberal talk hosts that Farhi and Mowatt interviewed suggested that they (liberals) failed to attract a significant audience because their message is “nuanced” and “more confusing.” The reason for this complexity, it was explained, was due to their open minded, non-judgmental discussion of issues. Conservatives, it was said, approach issues in a “black and white… good and evil” manner that is much easier to comprehend. The translation: Liberals are fair-minded and intellectual while conservatives are narrow-minded simpletons. It is precisely this inability of liberals to recognize their own bias that is a key reason they fail on talk-radio.
Farhi illustrates this reality, as well as his own bias, when he describes Jesse Jackson and Mario Cuomo, both who tried and failed in the talk show arena, as “progressive.” If Jackson and Cuomo are progressive then the devil must surely be wearing snowshoes about now.
When you tune into a conservative radio show, what you hear is what you get. There is no pretense of balance. The hosts are loud and proud of their conservatism. They offer no apology for the right-of-center views they express. You may not agree with the message but at least you know what to expect — a conservative bias.
Farhi and Mowatt apparently could not bring themselves to suggest, or even consider, that perhaps thoughtful, responsible, hard working Americans might actually identify with the content of conservative talk-radio.
In his book, “How I Accidentally Joined the Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy (and Found Inner Peace),” Harry Stein details his journey from liberalism to his present day status as a conservative once deemed by “The Village Voice,” a left-leaning publication, as a “well-known explicative deleted.”
Of his pilgrimage Stein writes, “…something began to happen — mainly to the country, and incidentally to people like me. As feminism and multiculturalism more and more sought to remake society, attacking much that had served humanity well as narrow or even antique, we concluded we could no longer in good conscience remain on that side.” He continues, “There was too little respect for the accumulated wisdom of the ages and too much playing havoc with truth and common sense. Indeed, many of us were soon startled to find ourselves tagged conservative (and often worse) for holding firm to old-fashioned liberalism: a bed rock commitment to fairness and individual liberty.”
In essence, Stein points out that it was not he that changed but rather it was American liberalism that shifted. The ideology that now dominates popular liberal thought has moved beyond left field into cheap seats that advocates condoms for kids, multicultural malarkey, special rights for gays-bisexuals-transsexuals, and an extreme environmentalism that touts “animals are people, too.”
So, why aren’t there any left-wing radio-talk show hosts? In keeping with my “narrow-minded, intellectually challenged” conservatism, I will answer this question in a “simplistic, easy to comprehend manner.” It’s the message, stupid.
Boggs is Baptist Press’ regular Friday columnist. He is pastor of Valley Baptist Church, McMinnville, Ore.