February 24, 2003

Absolute style…

Marc Fisher says liberal talk-radio won’t work because the idea is based on three false assumptions. One of those assumptions I find particularly interesting:

2) The huge corporations that control most of radio want to feed only Republican ideas to pliant American ears. Oh, please. People like the Drobnys and Hillary “Vast, Right-Wing Conspiracy” Clinton hear Limbaugh as a rock-ribbed Republican. But to radio executives, he’s Jeff Christy, which was his on-air name in the ’70s, when Rush was a Top 40 jock whose shtick even then involved the “Excellence in Broadcasting” network and a lot of table-thumping. The suits at Clear Channel and other big radio companies don’t care if Rush is conservative or liberal, a Rhodes scholar or a mental midget. They want ratings—period. “The job of a talk host is to get you riled up and establish absolutes, because only an absolute point of view produces phone calls, which are really hard to generate,” says Walt Sabo, the radio consultant who is the architect of “hot talk,” the seemingly nonpolitical talk heard on FM stations. What talkers say hardly matters; how they say it is everything.

We hardly need more evidence that such programming, right or left, is merely entertainment (which makes it politically dangerous). But there it is. What I find interesting here is the focus on style over substance: Speaking in absolutes incites callers. Don’t confuse the proper search for cap-T truth (substance) by philosophers, scientists, and theologians with what’s being identified as “absolute” (style) by Sabo.

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