August 15, 2001
If the "liberal media" cliché ever had a reality, it had
to have existed sometime before Rush Limbaugh burst upon the
AM talk radio scene about 13 years ago (when I was around
40). So in the first three-fourths of my life a couple of
accepted conventions were: 1) that political conservatives
consisted of "lunatic fringers," extremists, outside the mainstream,
vaguely anti-social or solitary types, and 2) that AM talk
radio was a sleepy type of unthreatening thing, composed of
information, advice, and entertainment.
Most of my employment consisted of inside-outside tasks,
driving to service sites for about one-third of most days,
with the rest of the day in the office. Talk radio was a big
feature of my daily routine. Wherever I was, in large markets
briefly, in smaller ones mostly, there was usually a local
talk show likely to be hosted by one of those lunatic fringe
guys, whom I could ignore as being "a nut." Then there were
the more reasonable nationwide programs with psychologists
or psychiatrists like Dr. Joy and David Viscott, and some
mild-mannered generalist like Michael Jackson.
Imagine the jolt when Rush Limbaugh replaced one of my gentle
opinionists. The Limbaugh steamroller was marked by, first
of all, the hot bumper music. This was DEFINITELY un-right-wing.
Before this, rock 'n' roll was considered to be the province
of liberals. Conservatism was supposedly for the old, un-hip,
and the deadly serious. Then there was the "humor," the ridicule,
the parodies. Above all else was the single-mindedness. His
focus was relentless. Take no prisoners. Scorched earth. There
was no good liberal and no bad right-winger. But the supporting
corollary was that Rush Limbaugh completely screened out any
callers or suggestions of being "fringe." He stopped all callers
of the John Birchers or Tri-Lateralist persuasions in their
tracks. He was unrepentant and unapologetic about his right-wingedness.
He acted as if it belonged in the mainstream, that it WAS
the mainstream, that it was normal.
Once relieved of any half-heartedness, Limbaugh was free
to unleash the most impressive mastery of propaganda skills:
The demonization and ridiculing of "enemies," the mini-skit
and song parodies, exaggeration, omission, distortion, disinformation,
not to mention outright misrepresentation. In the background,
the Reagan administration presented Hollywood tableaux of
countless photo-ops in front of hundreds of American flags.
The liberals were made out to be unpatriotic, against God,
kooky, fringe, liking unnatural things such as anti-melodious
modernist classical music and ugly art.
The breaking-down of conventions of the presumably "liberal"
radical young - the music, the language, the inhibitions -
had played topsy-turvy with who was "fringe" and who was not.
Once Rush Limbaugh took hold, the right-wingers took hold
of most of talk radio, then came Fox News and Dr. Laura. But
most disturbing was the right-wingization of erstwhile Democrats
like Tim Russert and Chris Matthews. One explanation that
was given to me was that the ratings for commentary programming
comes from older, more conservative people.
But now we have the spectacle of CNN in negotiations with
Rush Limbaugh, presumably to court right-wing ratings. And
the takeover continues. So in the corporate global village,
with ever larger and fewer corporate cartels limiting the
availability of competition in philosophical ideas, I propose
that CNN hang on its screens, "Closed on account of transformation."