Hold onto your horses (or are they used to it by now?): The 24/7 outrage industry is again slipping into high gear — this time upset over President Barack Obama accusing conservative talk show and GOP titans Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh of using “troublesome” rhetoric and vitriol on their programs.
In today’s political climate, where anger and rage are seemingly required contractual expressions of partisanship and ideological solidarity, Obama’s comment against “red meat” rhetoric is now morphing into more red meat — both on the talk shows and among their fans who loyally follow them and suggest that red meat is really whole grains.
The catalyst is news of an interview Obama gave with CBS News which is now being characterized as “pushback.” The Hill’s Briefing Room blog has a good summary:
President Barack Obama pushed back against criticism from two of his most strident opponents, conservative talk hosts Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, in an interview aired Friday.
Asked by CBS’s “Early Show” about the strong critiques of his time in the White House, Obama volunteered Beck and Limbaugh and said they have spewed “vitriol” against him.
“When you listen to Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck, it’s pretty apparent, but keep in mind that there have been periods in American history where this kind of vitriol comes out,” Obama said. “It happens often when you’ve got an economy that is making people more anxious, and people are feeling that there’s a lot of change that needs to take place. But that’s not the vast majority of Americans. But that’s not the vast majority of Americans.”
Obama has faced tough opposition from the right, especially during the healthcare debate, which some Democrats have said has translated into acts of hate and violence against some lawmakers.
Some liberals and Democratic lawmakers have blamed Republicans and right-wing media, such as Limbaugh, Beck and Fox News, which hosts Beck show, of fueling such anger.
But Obama and other Democrats have called on Democrats to not place partisan blame for threats to lawmakers.
This wasn’t the whole interview, of course. It touched on a few other areas. But here is a bit more on the talk radio host subject, via the CBS News website:
In a brief interview with “The Early Show” co-anchor Harry Smith Thursday before they shot some hoops on the White House basketball court, Mr. Obama called the extreme nature of some of the barbs directed his way on conservative talk shows “troublesome.” He also said he’s “concerned about a political climate in which the other side is demonized” – an observation meant for both Republicans and Democrats.
(We have often touched on the whole aspect of demonization and the increasing role it plays in American politics and new and old media discussion in our many posts here on TMV)
The remarks came in response to Smith telling him he’s been listening to talk radio and “the kindest of terms you’re sometimes referred to out in America is ‘a Socialist.’ The worst of which I’ve heard is — called ‘a Nazi.”‘
Asked by Smith whether he’s “aware of the level of enmity that crosses the airwaves and that people have made part of their daily conversation” about him, Mr. Obama replied, “Well — I mean, I think that — when you’ve listened to Rush Limbaugh or Glen Beck it’s …”
“It’s beyond that,” Smith interjected.
“It’s pretty – apparent,” the president continued, “and — it’s troublesome. But — you know, keep in mind that there have been periods in American history where this kind of — this kind of vitriol comes out. It happens often when — you’ve got an economy that is making people more anxious and people are feeling that there’s a lot of change that needs to take place. But that’s not the vast majority of Americans.
“I do think that everybody has a responsibility, Democrats or Republicans, to tone down some of this rhetoric. And the truth is some of these comments when you actually ask, well, this is based on what? This notion that ‘Obama’s a Socialist,’ for example. Nobody can really (he chuckled) give you a good answer — much less when they, you know, make…”
AND further down:
“I do think that there is a tone and tenor — that needs to change, where we can disagree without being disagreeable or making wild accusations about the other side. And I think that’s what most Americans would like to see, as well.
An extremist declaration?
An attack on free speech?
A blatant lie?
Here is how it’s playing on Twitter do a search for Limbaugh Obama and you get a page that shows you there are many Tweets similar to these:
The_Hot_News CBS Smears Talk Radio– Obama Says Rush Limbaugh & Glenn Beck Are “Troublesome” (Video) http://t.love.com/315160464
jmac_coolio Limbaugh responds to Obama: ‘Never in my life have I seen a regime like this’ | Washington Examiner: http://bit.ly/aInqY7 via @addthis.
DrIvEsWIFt RT @WashingtonScene: Obama stiffarms Limbaugh and Beck http://bit.ly/9gZAnQ
floridajewel Obama Calls Out Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck For Troublesome Rhetoric #politics http://bit.ly/9PvKCJ /
edmondesq @freddoso Limbaugh 100% correct about #Obama. So are you. Great work.
IdaFlo Obama stiffarms Limbaugh & Beck – http://bit.ly/9E9h9r via @addthis >>they don’t “spawn vitriol” but reveal & reflect it
clergywomen RT @edmondesq: “Most Americans do not believe Pres #Obama is trying 2 do what’s best 4 the country “- Rush Limbaugh (In a word? BINGO)
Here’s the video so you can judge for yourself.
Watch CBS News Videos Online
Is Obama being unfair about talk radio? In a word: no,
Almost any broadcaster who isn’t trying to score political points or who wasn’t on camera to defend a talk radio show on the right OR on the left would tell you so.
In fact, there is nothing wrong or unusual for talk radio hosts to try and stir up their audiences. That’s the broadcast biz.
The shift here is how much it has come to dominate how American politics now operates as well.
Once again we are locked in this American political ballet where you need to assert one thing to stay in lockstep with your side but the reality may be quite different.
THE FACT: Any good talk radio show host of the right OR left is going to try to gain listeners by carving out a demographic. This is different from the coalition building that political parties have traditionally tried to do.
Political parties gain power (usually) by aggregating interests. Talk show hosts (left and right) build an audience by aggravating interests and rallying to their sides others who agree with them and don’t like others.
They have to keep raising (or lowering depending on how you look at) the bar on outrageous or punchy talk,monologues or calls to increase an audience share that is then delivered to advertisers.
Neither Glenn Beck nor Rush Limbaugh can be confused with CSPAN, or a traditional news interview — or even the late Paul Harvey. They are professional hot-button pushers. That is how they make their living — both are superb professional broadcasters in their how they use the microphone and, in particular, how they pace their shows. If anyone could do it, then Air America — let’s forget the lousy business model — would have had a lot more successful hosts. Many of them were not pro or skilled broadcasters — and it showed in the quality of the shows (and ratings).
Host such as Bill O’Reilly, Sean Hannity, Rachael Maddow, Keith Olbermann, Ed Schultz — all are carving out demographics. And — yes — all indulge in vitriol from time to time.
If they put on a show that was zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz they wouldn’t last a month.
So virtiol IS A FACT (on the left just listen to Mike Malloy who once said “I hate moderates,”; on the right listen to Michael Savage, an conservative entertaining broadcaster whose schtick is to literally start yelling and name calling then a minute later switch and talk about how to make a perfect Italian meatball).
On TV and radio, this goes back to the days of Alan Burke, Joe Pyne.
So there IS vitriol and it IS aimed at the White House. So what else is new?
The difference now is that America’s political discussion is changing into the talk radio political culture where discussion is more yelling and anger and rage versus real, serious debate over actual issues and points of policy.
And this goes right down the line from talk radio, to political debate, to the Internet (two years ago I got off of a ventriloquist’s email list believe it or not due to some of the screaming about…politics and religion where it did not even belong).
There are several other signs in our society of how things have changed. In comedy, generations loved the Three Stooges. But in early 21st century the old Stooges films (even colorized) leave many young people cold today because they can watch the real thing on “Jackass” — real people getting really hurt. Bullying is a huge topic in schools not just due to the recent incident where a girl committed suicide but due to school shootings over the past decade.
Bullying is now not only physical but also coupled with cyberspace bullying. Cyberspace bullying is essentially vitriol.
And here in California?
If your middle finger won’t work you have a “driving disbility.”
The next question is whether Obama was SMART or POLITICALLY DUMB to single out Beck and Rush.
Again the answer in the short term, ill-advised. In the long-term smart.
The reason: Beck and Limbaugh will have fun with this. Limbaugh already is calling the administration a “regime” and saying many fear for their country — which is as accurate a statement about how his millions of listeners feel, and even how many on the left or center who can’t get jobs feel. It’s as 100 percent accurate as it is indeed accurate saying that he and Beck use vitriol and rhetoric that doesn’t bring the country together but divides it.
There could be a method to Obama’s nonmadness here.
He KNOWS his comments will never convince Limbaugh/Beck fans or members of the talk radio political culture. They hate him no matter what.
He KNOWS his comments are already the viewpoint of those on the left who can’t stand Limbaugh and Beck. Given the alternative, they will support Obama (almost) no matter what.
Why, one day if Barack Obama wanted, he could even press for offshore drilling and they’d support him on that, too…
But Obama here may be talking — once again — to the country’s MIDDLE that may be p.o.’ed at the economy and other things and listen to Limbaugh and Beck (the middle is always split and nonmonolithic; some in the middle can’t stand conservative talkers and others listen in)..
And even if they’re not listening to talk show hosts, he’s using talk radio and Beck and Limbaugh as a devices to again present himself as the country’s calmer “grown up” — saying in effect “Just listen to all this noise and pessmism and screaming swirling around me. This is serious stuff we have to do. Why don’t we just talk about our differences?”
Whether this is how he operates in practice or not is another story, open to debate. But this is how he is presenting himself on many occasions.
He did it yesterday as well when he mocked the press — presenting press coverage as alarmist and even silly when you think about it:
Is it triangulation?
Whatever you call it, Obama seems to be charting his own course here, admitting that he may veer to the left while not giving the left all it wants, stating a fact about today’s broadcasting about how audiences are won, pointing out how the media functions in a 24/7 news cycle where analyists read from often cloudy, nonfunctioning, or nonexistant crystal balls with great certainty, and thus putting himself as Mr. Reason within the context he describes — for those in the middle to decide.
And the middle can decide elections.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.