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Proclaiming that talk radio hosts are merely performers is a cop-out

That's Entertainment?

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I have written much about talk radio in the past and have often focused my criticism on Sean Hannity, much to the chagrin of many WTMA listeners, City Paper readers, and of course, Sean Hannity fans.

Consider the following letter to the editor in the previous issue of City Paper: "When [Mr. Hunter] had his knickers constantly in a knot over Hannity, Jack simply didn't get it. Hannity is a performer, not a politician or a pundit ... To keep whining about Hannity made as much sense as constantly complaining about a role that some successful actor played in a movie."

Whenever I criticize talk radio, this same point is made again and again — these guys are simply entertainers and should not to be taken seriously. Sometimes I wish this was true.

I fell in love with talk radio as a teenager listening to Rush Limbaugh. As a guitar-playing, punk-rock kid long submerged in the predictable, progressive politics of bands like The Clash and The Dead Kennedys, Rush inspired me to question my own immature liberalism. I have considered myself a conservative ever since.

In 1992, Limbaugh supported Pat Buchanan in protest during the Republican presidential primary against George H.W. Bush. It's hard to fathom Rush doing this today as he not only rarely criticizes the current Bush administration, but now cheerleads daily for John McCain, who is arguably less conservative than either Bush. Taking the cue of early Limbaugh, I have made a habit of holding the Republican Party's feet to the conservative fire, even if it means losing elections.

But now Rush, virtually every other host, and a significant portion of their audience believe the role of right-wing talk radio is to help deliver elections to Republicans, conservative or not. And it's no coincidence that the GOP has become considerably less conservative with the rise of talk radio. I'm not the least bit "entertained" by this.

One shining example to the contrary was last summer, when talk radio riled up listeners to call their Washington representatives to oppose "Comprehensive Immigration Reform," which would have amounted to nothing less than amnesty for millions of illegal aliens in the U.S. The response was so overwhelming that the Capitol Hill switchboard was actually shut down. And as Bush, McCain, and Lindsey Graham would likely attest, pro-amnesty Republicans were not entertained by this reaction.

Nor was Barack Obama likely entertained this election year when Limbaugh encouraged Republican listeners to vote for Hillary Clinton during the Democratic primaries. Known as "Operation Chaos," most believe more votes were cast for Clinton than Obama in Texas and other states due solely to Limbaugh's influence.

When it comes to covering the war in Iraq, the U.S. media is generally awful but talk radio is even worse. American men and women have died and will continue to die overseas under the direction of Washington, D.C., officials who are elected to office by voters, a sizeable portion of which spend more time listening to talk radio than watching television news or reading the newspaper. With Hannity being perhaps the worst culprit, talk radio uniformly promotes what many consider the worst foreign policy disaster in American history, never questioning the president's wisdom, yet always affirming it.

Conservatives dominate virtually every talk format in each radio market to such an extent that local hosts typically consider it a necessity to duplicate their nationally syndicated colleagues.

For every call or e-mail I've ever received pointing out that talk radio is "just entertainment," I have received dozens and dozens of responses that reflect the perspective of men like Limbaugh, Hannity, and all the rest. For years, conservatives complained about the impact of the liberal media on the voting public. They were correct. Conservative talk radio has unquestionably had the same impact, perhaps even deeper.

While democracy can be entertaining, the notion that the occasional wit of some of this country's primary political players should automatically shield them from criticism is completely nonsensical. And while any pundit's job is in part showbiz, politics isn't a play, America isn't a movie, and in their supporting roles, talk radio's biggest stars are much more likely to win elections than an Academy award.

Catch Southern Avenger commentaries every Tuesday and Friday at 7:50 a.m. on the "Morning Buzz with Richard Todd" on 1250 AM WTMA.

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