Monday, November 17, 2008

WORKING WITH RIGHT WING TALK SHOW HOSTS

Dan Shelly, Milwaukee Magazine The more talk show hosts squawk about something - the louder their voice, the greater their emotion, the more effusive their arguments - the more they're worried about the issue. For example, talk show hosts eagerly participated in the 2004 Swift Boating of John Kerry because they really feared he was going to win. This is a common talk show tactic: If you lack compelling arguments in favor of your candidate or point of view, attack the other side. These attacks often rely on two key rhetorical devices, which I call You Know What Would Happen If and The Preemptive Strike.

Using the first strategy, a host will describe something a liberal has said or done that conservatives disagree with, but for which the liberal has not been widely criticized, and then say, "You know what would happen if a conservative had said (or done) that? He (or she) would have been filleted by the 'liberal media.' " This is particularly effective because it's a two-fer, simultaneously reinforcing the notion that conservatives are victims and that "liberals" are the enemy.

The second strategy, The Preemptive Strike, is used when a host knows that news reflecting poorly on conservative dogma is about to break or become more widespread. When news of the alleged massacre at Haditha first trickled out in the summer of 2006, not even Iraq War chest-thumper Charlie Sykes would defend the U.S. Marines accused of killing innocent civilians in the Iraqi village. So he spent lots of air time criticizing how the "mainstream media" was sure to sensationalize the story in the coming weeks. Charlie would kill the messengers before any message had even been delivered.

Good talk show hosts can get their listeners so lathered up that they truly can change public policy. They can inspire like-minded folks to flood the phone lines and e-mail inboxes of aldermen, county supervisors, legislators and federal lawmakers. They can inspire their followers to vote for candidates the hosts prefer. How? By pounding away on an issue or candidate, hour after hour, day after day. Hosts will extol the virtues of the favored candidate or, more likely, exploit whatever Achilles heel the other candidate might have. Influencing elections is more likely to occur at the local rather than national level, but that still gives talk radio power.

By the way, here's a way to prognosticate elections just by listening to talk shows: Except in presidential elections, when they will always carry water for the Republican nominee, conservative hosts won't hurt their credibility by backing candidates they think can't win. So if they're uncharacteristically tepid, or even silent, about a particular race, that means the Democrat has a good chance of winning. Nor will hosts spend their credibility on an issue where they know they disagree with listeners. Charlie, for example, told me just before I left WTMJ that Wisconsin's 2006 anti-gay marriage amendment was misguided. But he knew his followers would likely vote for it in droves. So he declined to speak out directly against it.

2 Comments:

At November 17, 2008 3:34 PM, Anonymous Tom Puckett said...

"When in doubt, run in circles, scream and shout"

 
At November 17, 2008 4:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

When McGovern advocated a living wage the mainstream media reacted as if he'd proposed mandatory cannibalism.

 

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