Letter to the Editor

How an industry took over a political party

Friday, November 5, 2021

Not surprisingly, Democrats across the country got walloped in this week’s off-year election. Wanna know why? Put aside the staid, predictable analysis offered by paid political pundits and read Talk Radio’s America: How an industry took over a political party that took over the United States, by Brian Rosenwald.

Yeah, buy the book! You won’t regret it. And since friends don’t encourage friends to shop at Amazon, buy it through a local, independent book store...

Rosenwald talks about how Rush Limbaugh led AM radio from irrelevance in the 1980s to its present status as a political powerhouse.

Rosenwald also talks about how, early on in his career, Limbaugh was a failure, being fired from one radio stint after another. Limbaugh wasn’t very political. He didn’t bother to vote until his 30s. It will probably surprise you that Rosenwald says, “Limbaugh was so entertaining that he would have been equally successful had he been a liberal.”

Ouch. Opportunity squandered ... perhaps.

Entertainment (and the advertising revenue it brought in) was Limbaugh’s bottom line. He had no political agenda at first, and often used, even abused, parody.

Once, by way of taking a shot at the Great Peace March (my first foray into social change work), Limbaugh told his audience that if you play Una Paloma Blanca backwards you’ll hear the voice of the devil. Limbaugh knew he was making it up. Much of his audience believed it.

Another on-air stunt, if you can call it that, had Limbaugh demonstrating his opposition to abortion by “aborting” callers while playing the sound of a vacuum cleaner and human screams. Yeah, thoroughly disgusting. But day after day, that sort of behavior brought home the audience - and along with it, increased advertising sales.

Limbaugh was a horrible person who would do anything to bump up his ratings and make money for the stations that carried him. He was also an amazing entertainer who understood the power of talk radio better than anyone.

And look where it got us! As Rosenwald points out, right-wing talk radio set the stage for Fox News. One American News Network. Newsmax. President Donald J. Trump.

Again, if you want to understand our current (and growing) political dysfunction, read Talk Radio’s America. If I were rich, I’d buy a copy for every elected Democrat in the country, because if Democrats understood what Rosenwald understands, we’d see action on the 1996 Telecommunications Act and the Fairness Doctrine before Republicans take over Congress again in 2022. (Yeah, I just made a prediction, not a tough one either.)