Could the end really be in sight? Is Rush Limbaugh now sounding like he’ll say anything — a-n-y-t-h-i-n-g — to try and press the ideological hot buttons to please his audience, even if it seems like he’s cleaerly straining? Has the whale truly jumped the shark?
Forbes’ Rick Ungar thinks so. At issue is CBS’s announcement that it has signed Stephen Colbert to replace the great David Letterman. The announcement seemingly made conservative talkers go ballistic — with Limbaugh (as usual) leading the pack and characterizing CBS’s choice as an attack on the “heartland.” Limbaugh’s riff has been a godsend to cartoonists.
His words got lots of new and old media play: “CBS has just declared war on the heartland of America,” Limbaugh announced. “No longer is comedy going to be a covert assault on traditional American values, conservatism. Now it’s just wide out in the open. What this hire means is a redefinition of what is funny, and a redefinition of what is comedy. They’re blowing up the 11:30 format… they hired a partisan, so-called comedian, to run a comedy show.”
Like him or hate him, there is no disputing that Rush Limbaugh’s very special brand of mixing right-wing politics with his flare for entertainment has produced one of the most successful radio programs in the medium’s long history.
Whatever the burning political question of the day, millions of Americans have relished the opportunity to tune into Rush’s program, knowing that he would quickly take that hot potato, throw a few gallons of verbal kerosene into the mix and elevate the matter into a five alarm fire with a just a few well-chosen words spoken in the style only Rush Limbaugh could produce.
He contends Limbaugh’s grave announcement that Colbert’s appointment wasn’t just something that made sense to CBS because Colbert is popular with young viewers ($$$$ with advertisers) is so trumped (excuse the word here) up that it’s going to make him lose credibility with his listeners.
By using this occasion to create a political narrative designed to stir up his listeners, Limbaugh telegraphed to his loyal followers that he is now dependent upon feeding fully faux political nonsense that his audience instinctively—or explicitly—knows is a bunch of baloney.
This is, in fact, how talk radio works.
I’ve long noted that political parties if they’re smart (and the GOP isn’t right now) try to aggregate interests and build and expand their coalitions. Talk show hosts, on the other hand, need to whip up a demographic that they can get to tune in regularly and steadily — an audience of the like minded — so they can deliver that demographic package to advertisers due to a)good ratings b)an impressive demographic profile of the audience.
On May 6 some of these talk show “secrets” about how it really works will be featured in a new novel by XM Radio and CNN talk show host Michael Smerconish, who made the painful transition from conservative talker to independent. According to its advance billing, the book, “Talk: a Novel”will be “an explosive novel exposing the inner workings of conservative talk radio and campaign politics” and become the “Primary Colors” of the talk radio industry. The Daily Beast Editor-in-Chief John Avlon also detailed the talk radio scene (right and left) in his famous, superb book “Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America.”
However, it may well be the first time that he attempted to shove a diet down the throats of any semi-rational listeners still living in the real world made up of nonsense that even his most loyal listener could not possibly swallow.
That’s a problem for Rush.
…A show like Limbaugh’s is wholly reliant on his listeners’ willingness to believe—or suspend belief—no matter how ‘out there’ their guru’s arguments may be. While it is one thing for me to sneer at much of what Limbaugh may present, it is quite another when he attempts to sell his loyal audience on stuff they already know, through personal experience, to be false and fraudulent hokum.
He argues that this means Limbaugh is running on empty.
Rush’s audience knew that his anti-Colbert rant was nonsense the minute it left Limbaugh’s lips. How did they know?
While Limbaugh’s listeners may be inclined to believe the words of the great Rush Limbaugh, these aging listeners are the very people who can no longer find anything on TV to watch because everything is so skewed to the young viewer. They know all too well that it has nothing to do with their politics and everything to do with their age and being outside the desired demographic.
Rush Limbaugh ‘works’ when he can fire up his audience with red-hot ideology designed to bring out the anger of his listeners. But no entertainer succeeds when they try to stupidly pull the wool over the very listeners who have been loyal—and Limbaugh’s effort to politicize the Colbert hiring was just that.
On the other hand, time after time it has been proven that much of ideological talk radio is just that: telling an audience what they want to hear, the way they want to hear it.
There are already a lot of talk radio groupies on the right and left running around out there — bumping into walls because the wool has been pulled so tightly over their eyes.
OF RELATED INTEREST:
Michael Smerconish’s new book, which promises to use fiction to reveal how talk radio really works:
John Avlon’s must-read book which takes a look at “wingnuts” on the left and right and on the very fringes of America: