Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Thinking Seriously, About the Serious-Thinking Dennis Prager

In case anyone missed the mercilessly-hammered point of the satire below ["The Dennis Plagiar Show"], its never-stated thesis is:  The sometimes-brilliant Dennis Prager is so unmindful of both broadcast imperatives and factual integrity that his program is catastrophically undermined.

Prager is no dimwit--though he does inadvertantly say loads of dumb things on the air--but his plagued program's principal problem isn't stupidity.  Actually, Prager is stupid in one essential regard.  And profoundly so.

Prager delusionally believes one can host quality call-in newstalk radio while lacking a powerful and quick memory, an unfortunate lifelong shortcoming he increasingly and cheerfully admits to on-air.  But it should be an immediate deal-killer for any programmer, those suits who decide and bestow the precious few hosting slots.  And Prager's torpidly-slow speaking style compounds all this, by allowing his quicker-thinking listeners chance during every Prager thought-collecting pause to notice how many details the host is messing up or just missing.

Ironically enough, Prager is a highly successful public speaker, but lecturing in front of a visible audience is as vastly different an art form from skillfully hosting commercial newstalk radio for thousands or even millions of invisible and mostly-solitary listeners as is, well, nonfiction book authoring is from scrapbooking.  The Dennis Prager Show sounds like a verbal scrapbook.

Prager has been unwittingly concealing his radio ineptitude from his large fan base and often cloyingly-adoring callers because they seldom notice any of this, and probably wouldn't care even if alerted to it.  I've zero doubt that a Pragermaniac's response to even his most blatant broadcast incompetence is so biased by his or her adoration of the air personality that, if confronted with it, the worst they'd muster might be, "Oh, that's just Dennis."

That's at least in substantial part why Prager has been so undeservingly successful in a medium where, given his skill set, he has no business even being on the air.

Talk radio listeners don't need--or even want--to understand radio.  They need to enjoy it, as well as use it as part of their personal information-gathering processes.  In a perfect universe, every talk radio caller would also be as articulate and informed as the gifted hosts they're phoning, but hey, they'd also then be contributing the same added value as the highly-paid host while working for free.

The circumstance that the host gets a studio and three hours while the caller has but a phone and at most three minutes is supposedly reflective of the host possessing rare skills vital to the comfort of the audience's ears.  (I'm amazed I didn't develop a caulaflower pair within months of regular Prager listenership.)  Only those few individuals who can commandingly handle both the content and formatic ends of the complex endeavor should ever be entrusted with one of the tiny handful of radio slots available.

Many of the details I'm talking about here are left to the responsibility of the professionals who handle them, i.e., the off-air people who in the industry term "produce" a given program.  But much of what's missing from The Dennis Prager Show unfortunately can't be supplied by off-air personnel, even in this near light-speed digital era.

Any quality host inserts on the fly frequent verbal cues and aural grace notes which service the continual needs of the listener with the aim of polishing the overall sound of the show.  So whenever those needs are unmet, as they chronically are by Prager, the show sounds lousy.  To avoid confusing the listener and augment what's being said by anyone involved, the host must constantly monitor a wide range of considerations which on quality shows are all intentionally kept from the listener.  Well, maybe not hidden, but executed in such silky fashion it's as if they were concealed.

Ever wonder what goes on in a production meeting for a newstalk radio program?  Then listen to The Dennis Prager Show; he does maybe a half-dozen of them every show, whenever he floats ideas to his longtime (and, I imagine, long-suffering) producer Allen Estrin.

And yet it sure sounds like Prager never even bothers with true production meetings, maybe since, after all, he's the host, not the producer.  If so, that's convicting evidence of his criminal misunderstanding of radio.  In actuality, only to the listener and to his guests is Prager the host, whatever his title.  From this perspective on the other side of your radio, he's not the host but the "talent"--however untalented in fact that individual may be.

Television has only one thing the older (and superior) medium of radio lacks, and it isn't pictures*, it's graphics.  Though increasingly cluttered on certain info-dispensing cable networks, graphics continually inform the viewer of things that would sound hopelessly redundant on radio.  Assuming attentive technical directors in the TV control room--an unrealized presumption in far too many cases nowadays--talking heads on TV are always identified with graphical data [i.e., first line: "BRYAN STYBLE"; subhead:  "Former Seattle-based newstalk radio host and noted Dylanologist"] superimposed near the bottom of the screen.  That's why TV pros call them "supers".

But on radio, there's only sound, and two people talking at the same time never works well. Someone dubious might counter:  but a talk radio conversation is a two-way exchange, and some have three or more voices!

Right.  All the more reason why the conscientious host never neglect even for an on-air moment his numerous responsibilities to sort all this out for the listener, by regularly reminding us who's talking to whom, what time it is (so-called "time-checks", something Prager's occasionally refers to though without ever using its proper term), the local general weather conditions, what's calendrically special about that particular date, toss in a promo or two for other shows in the lineup, and oh yeah, identify what show and station they're tuned to.  And all the while, that skillful host is silently keeping an eye on the clock and those ever-oncoming breaks, segues which need to be gracefully and stylishly executed for a high-quality listening experience.  And extremely talented hosts can juggle all these newstalk-radio balls while still remaining--or more likely, just sounding--relaxed.

In the newstalk radio biz, the numerous elements every program demands are broken down into two broad categories:  "content" (i.e., the political or social viewpoints being expressed along with any information being connoted), and all the host's orchestrating verbal connectors, which are part of something known as "formatics".  This latter category, of course, is the sole and constant responsibility of talk radio hosts, never their guests or callers.

By the way, formatics is a word I fear the vocabulary-rich Prager has never even heard.  Check that; he's surely heard this industry term hundreds if not thousands of times, because he's been spending at least part of every week of his experience-saturated life inside radio stations for 30 years now.  But Prager clearly considers formatics incidental compared to content, if not being entirely oblivious to them.

Prager's staff fumbles incessantly, too:  his program's never-rotating bumper music is almost always poorly slid under the verbal proceedings--that's why they're known as "music beds", incidentally.  But that's just one of the more jarring of the many ways his engineer Sean O'Connell makes things even worse.  The produced elements--like the incomprehensible "Ultimate Issues" and "Male-Female" intro montages--are often downright sloppy, yet haven't been adjusted in years.

If Estrin is too busy aurally riding shotgun on Prager's always bumpy stagecoach ride, a would-be caller might be required to talk to a college intern screening her first show and struggling to understand a sophisticated point while trying to distill it down to the few words allowed by the usually small fields allotted on the call-queque screen.  If you want to probe, say, some of the subtle yet fundamental differences between agnosticism and atheism, Prager might just end up with "Religion is bad" on his screen.

But even Estrin can't screen, and this shocked and dismayed me once.  Last year I was in the middle of an on-air exchange with Prager, having somehow managed to be "held-over" a break, something every Salem show--other than Bill Bennett's, to his credit--assiduously avoids for various reasons.  (I don't have a tape, but I'd wager the only reason is by the time I finally made air, some clunky music bed signaled he didn't have even 20 seconds for me to amateurishly make my point.  You can buy a copy of that show and check me on this, but it'll cost you.  I'd tell you how much, but I'm a never-time caller at The Dennis Prager Store.)

Anyway, when Estrin got on my line while the audience was being subjected to some of the mostly substandard-sounding ads Salem manages to sell, it was to scold me for "not getting to [my] point", even though I had been, though perhaps not as swiftly as the, ahem, standards of the show mandate.

Then Estrin vetoed--under threat of not returning me to air in order to finish my interrupted presentation!--a point that would have taken precisely 14 seconds for me to add while very conceivably being life-changing for a severely-handicapped Prager fan.

Actually, maybe I shouldn't describe him as disabled all, much less severely, because radio is the only realm where this man and I are equally able.  That is, this caller had described himself as totally but only recently blind, and lamented to Prager not a fortnight prior how difficult a time he was having adjusting.

All I wanted to parenthetically add was this:  "Dennis, about that newly-blinded man for whom you said you couldn't offer anything more than your deep, sincere sympathy:  Well, I'm not much of a musician, but I recommend he should try taking up the drums late in life like I did, not before my early 50s.  Like you Dennis, I can play several instruments, but drumming is the only one I routinely play better with my eyes closed."

My "heart" doesn't break often, quite unlike the ever-saccarine Prager's.  He often insists he is "speaking from" his heart, whereas my coronary organ only serves to pump blood to places like my brain, whose mind does all my speaking for me.  Yet no exaggeration, I nearly cried when dismissively and condescendingly chided by Estrin that the unhappy man man in question "probably isn't listening again today anyway".

And I bet Estrin was even erroneous with that ugly presumption, since far more loyal newstalk radio callers are blind than are ever imagined by the listeners, simply because they never mention it.  I even described how my idea even might almost instantly improve the fellow's sad circumstance.  Taking up the drums easily makes my top ten decisions reached over my entire amateur-caller's life, for many additional reasons besides the entire new universe I find myself in while drumming away in the dark.  (Oh, and on down days, make that my top three.)  I thusly would have advanced the stated aims of Prager's "Happiness Hour", but Estrin's cruelly-callous behavior--toward the sightless guy, not me, though that sad man fortunately never heard it--had put the utter lie to his boss's trademark hour.

Okay, I guess I should have called an hour earlier that Friday, because then I might have gotten an intern screening instead during the "Happiness Hour" proper, instead of encountering Estrin during the allegedly open-line, week-concluding hour.  But before reconnecting me with St. Dennis, Estrin even called on his professional radio experience to lecture me, the obviously amateur caller, about how much time I'd be squandering, since "air-time is precious, and Dennis just doesn't have time for you to add that".  (Estrin was actually right on both those points.   Hardly in the ways he meant, but rather, in deeply darker and fully culpable meanings.  Maybe Estrin was high on some of that honey he writes and sometimes broadcasts about;  you probably can buy yourself a jar of the sweet stuff at The Dennis Prager Store.)

A year later I regret not foregoing my additional "precious" Prager airtime in favor of just slamming the phone down on Estrin after acidly replying:  "If that were true, your boss would also never air those always-weak 'week's highlights' montages you slap together for him."  You'd hope the highlights clip would at least be solid, but even it often contains glittering examples of Prager's on-air awkwardness.  I guess that seasoned pro Estrin can't even find one or two minutes of quality buried beneath the fifteen heaping hours of rotten air-time Prager prattles away each week.

If Prager was any good as a radio newstalker, he wouldn't consult his callers-dedicated  computer screen even once per program anyway for anything but the who-and-where data.  Prager's sole open-line hour per week isn't what it pretends to be.  Verbally-able callers are still bounced for the most dubious of stated reasons, and G-d knows what the true rationales are; "Dennis would prefer to answer that question by e-mail; here's his address" a female screener blithely lied to me when I wanted to ask nothing during the hour when I can supposedly raise "anything under the Sun" with Prager.  I honestly informed her I wanted merely to register my legitimate complaint about the creeping scatology on his show.  The supposedly genteel Prager frequently employs that nasty excretory C-word--which may be a lot tamer than the never-used S-word but still sure annoys many listeners--and has even disgraced his broadcast with at least one flatulence joke.  I'd tell it to you, but I'm one of the few former professional stand-up comics who never even once worked blue.  (It wasn't funny anyway, but that didn't seem to dampen Prager's chuckles after telling it.)

Maybe because throughout my entire newstalk hosting career I conducted mostly open-phones and thus seldom restricted topics, I don't know why I must show my cards to every big-time host before I can play my amateurish talk radio hand.  Every show must weed out pranksters and drunks--something far easier said than done anyway, especially by interns--but if Prager had earned even a tenth of this enormous reputation for erudition, he could easily endure for at least that single hour what I used to thrive on.  Not 24 hours per day of course, but fully offering my listeners 24 hours every week-of open-line opportunity, just in case the drive-time shows were too cluttered for KIRO callers to have their say.  (Every KIRO show had a fine and maybe even great sound, except maybe my own fifth of the KIRO lineup, or some reviewers so found my work.  Of course, I was doing just about everything but running the board--four hours per overnight, six mornings a week--over KIRO/Seattle, always learning simultaneously with my audience what subject(s) I would next find myself discussing.

That wonderful KIRO gig paid better than the money I suspect Salem finds for Estrin (unless he makes just south of six figures), but then I was just proudly holding down the underrated overnight slot, something many serious radio pros like Estrin won't lower themselves to take anyway, even as a host.  That's because it's such a supposedly marginal audience, but I know for a fact that it's got its sightless fans, at least at KIRO.

One of my sole two sympathies for Prager--the other is his 6'3" stature, which I certainly couldn't handle; I wish I were an inch or two shorter than my own 5'11"--is the shift Salem assigned him:  head-to-head weekdays, noon-to-3 Eastern time, directly against Rush.

The handful of conservative listeners the industry's decades-long reigning king hasn't already swept away for the entirety of the time-slot are thus left for Prager's bumbling show to attract, mostly only by those who mistake Limbaugh's bombastic style for meanness and thus prefer a "polite" host like Prager to hang with for a few hours.

Meanwhile, that unhappy blind man, who continues to haunt my thoughts, makes me unhappy; might that be acceptable material for this week's Happiness Hour?  Probably not, since every "dedicated" hour on Prager's show is also topic-restricted to whatever narrow question Prager thought up, maybe during his drive to the studio that day, or maybe the previous day, during one of those on-air Prager production meetings that gave little ol' amateur me a rare glimpse into the high-stakes world nationally-syndicated newstalk radio is.

One of The Dennis Prager Show's brand-new features fails spectacularly: those listener-provided phone-number jingles Prager's been soliciting are each independently created yet share an astounding unlistenability, and are even downright unintelligible in some cases.  And this for an item whose sole purpose is to connote information vital to would-be callers!  Of course, Prager never gets around any but a tiny fraction of his waiting callers anyway.  So while further littering his already atrocious sound with yet more aural trash, Prager's at least saving such people a lot of trouble by making all but impossible to identify the necessary digits.  (I defy you to listen to one of Prager's favorite "numbers jingles"--the one he infelitiously calls the "boom-boom" one--and figure out what number to dial.)  

About the only good thing I can say about Prager's approach to talk radio hosting is when he's yelling, he sounds authentically riled.  That's as opposed to, say, Mark Levin, another abysmibally lame broadcaster, who summons artificial anger at the drop of a hat, or call.  But while Prager's intensity seems real, Prager's laughter is mostly phony.  That's because Prager thinks it helps to project such emotion, to lighten the already far-too-light preceedings, even for unfunny gags that are barely smile-worthy.  But in fact to everyone attuned to its synthetic nature, Prager's well-honed chuckling just reeks of insincerity.  And I mean that sincerely.

That previous sentence is not a reflection of any sentiment on my own part, but rather a direct rip-off of one of the most commonly-heard sentences rolling out of Prager's mouth.  He thinks he's re-emphasizing, but with this corrosive phrase he's actually daring his audience to wonder about anything he's already said which wasn't followed by that frequent I-really-mean-it redundancy.

Unless Prager is an outright liar--and I don't believe that, and never want to--his memory problem is far worse that I even imagined, as evidenced by a call made by another fellow bothered by all this insincere sincerity.  Prager sometimes cites the familiar definition of a certain Yiddish word--a kid being tried for slaying his parents requesting mercy due to his orphan status--but here's a far less murderous way to define chutspah:  when a caller in New York City begged Prager to please lay off all the I-sincerely-mean-its, Prager denied he even says it!

(Five-time published author Prager recently dusted off the old grammatical smiler that "good writers are entitled to only three exclamation points in their entire careers", the underlying theory there being good ol'  less-is-more thinking.  My previous paragraph depleted one-third of my supposed lifetime entitlement prudently.)

I don't know if I'll ever get around to reading Prager's new book, but I would love to dive deeply into his manuscripts, before they're seen by book editors who are sometimes paid several hundreds of thousands of dollars at the biggest New York publishing houses.  Still the Best Hope may be the Citizen Kane of 2012 nonfiction, or it may be the result of a laborious collaboration that started out as a bunch of scattered ideas, some maybe importantly good, and only then heavily hammered into readability.

(A minor once-published author in Tampa for whom I edited a would-be second nonfiction book delivered me this colossal gem:  "Every man should explore the deep, dark netherlands of his mind."  Might have worked in Dutch, but certainly not English.  Oh, and he still promises he'll soon remit my fee, a couple years later.  He may simply be dissatisfied because it remains, thankfully, unpublished.)

Blame both Shawn and Salem Radio--a notoriously stingy Dallas-based company for everyone but its supposedly star talent--for Prager's consistently terrible engineering, something fellow Salem newtalker Michael Medved, a terrifically talented guy, must also endure.  Limbaugh's technically sterling sound is enormously expensive to deliver, for all manner of reasons.  And Salem isn't merely interested in saving pennies, but souls as well; its faith-advancing policies are reflective of its activist Christian ownership, despite having a couple serious Jewish voices (Prager and Medved) in its lineup. 

Many daily hosts never see a radio studio more than a few times per year, if that.  That's due to the truly cancerous commercial newstalk radio advent of the "home studio", which in fact is just about never a true studio at all, but rather merely some microphone-and-mini-board setup installed in a host's basement or den and wired into whatever real broadcast facility the show is produced at, often half a continent away.  And seldom if ever is the audience informed about something they have every right to know:  that the host to whom they're so loyally listening is so lazy and disrespectful of his listeners' ears to merely drive across town for each show to a radio studio, which might in fact be right down his street.

But Prager to his absolute credit uses a radio station or at least a true studio whenever available, and in this important regard I happen for once to be in ironclad agreement with him.  Home studios unavoidably compromise the sound of those talk radio shows so-produced almost as much as cell phone technology hurts call-in radio conversations.  (More on that seismic issue in a soon-forthcoming RadioactiveSeattle essay.)  But the industry doesn't care because they long ago concluded that listeners nowadays care only about content, or at least think they only care about it.

Formatics-lean shows constitute an increasing majority of all the shows available up on the satellites, but formatics always enhance the content, by making what's said more readily digestible by listeners' minds.  This is especially important when those minds are navigating tight traffic conditions while tuned to their car radios.

The Dennis Prager Show is virtually oblivious to quality formatics, something which can only be supplied by the host.  That's what hosting is, for G-d's sake.  Prager is happy to leave these vital details unattended to or at best clumsily-attempted, presumably because his approach to talk radio has the "important" part down, serious thinking about serious issues.  But in the case of the often unintentionally-hilarious Dennis Prager Show, the host himself hasn't bothered to even minimally acquire the skill-set he needs to accomplish what he so earnestly wants to do.

What Prager doesn't know and in fact might even deeply dispute--but which Rush Limbaugh (and Bryan Styble) understand--is that every quality newstalk radio program is fully one part content and one part formatics.  Prager thinks it's only the content that matters, and thanks to his bad memory, even his content is often confused. 

Prager apparently is truly as honest as the on-air personality he portrays, as is indicated whenever he admits he's always had this memory problem.  That is, it's not an aging issue, but rather something that has been tripping him up on the air--and surely often in life since childhood as well--since he first started in radio.  I report this from first-hand experience, having started listening to Prager when he started at KABC/Los Angeles on Sunday nights in 1982.  And for a decade, I was a regular caller on his various KABC shows.  Most first-time broadcasters sound amateurish or worse first few weeks, but slowly yet steadily pick up the skills needed to minimally serve their audience's interests.  Yet Prager remains as intensely bad a talk radio host today as he was in 1982.

The multi-talented and well-intentioned Prager is seriously miscast as a call-in radio talk show host, and it makes a pretty smart guy come off on the air sometimes just to the intellectual side of Homer Simpson.  Or as Alfred E. Newman once said--or at least was attributed by the Mad editors as having said, in that funny aphorism the magazine for decades has been hiding each issue in its seldom-read masthead:  "Some people are like ink blotters.  They soak up all the information, but get it all backwards."

Prager has many good ideas, some of which are even original as far as I can determine, and in fact I actually agree with him much more frequently than I disagree with his various societal and political takes.  But because he can't mind the factual details and is ignorant of or oblivious to so many broadcasting imperatives, his nationally-syndicated Salem Radio production The Dennis Prager Show is a breathtakingly terrible radio show.

I've explained at least once on-air to the hosts of Orlando's American Adversaries call-in show that their particular political views are completely irrelevant to this lifelong radio guy.  "It wouldn't matter to me if your show was to the left of Trotsky or the right of Himmler" I hyperbolically insisted--and even noted that either of those would-be productions would actually be inherently more interesting shows than the one I was saying this on!--"because I don't care about ideology, I care about good radio."

I regularly called in contributions to their show in the earliest days of The American Adversaries in 2010 because I heard their earnestness, but felt sorry about the fact that their intentions were being undermined by neither of them being an experienced radio pro, what Limbaugh terms a "highly-trained broadcast professional".  Or in a typical listener's words, anyone who "sounds great on the air".  Listeners don't need to know about formatics or any of the many considerations every high quality talk show attends to, but they do hugely benefit from them.  So whenever they're absent--a phenomenon known as "bad radio"--the listeners' ears are severely punished.

To their credit and my amazement, Larry Adams and Christopher Hart not only didn't resent my repeated call-in complaints about their production--again, not of their viewpoints, but the way they were being presented--but rather actually appreciated the critiques from a retired longtime newstalk radio yakker.  Or at least said they did.  And vastly more important, they accordingly worked hard on bumping up their sound, and remain improving with lots of improvement distance yet to cover.

Whereas on the verge of beginning his fourth decade on the air, the ever-inept Prager still hasn't even figured out how to read simple commercial copy without an annoying singsong.  And he may be totally unaware of all of this, since for 30 years Prager always has seemed to naively believe he's sounded just fine throughout the time he's been (mis-)doing radio.  But that's confusing success with talent.  In any event, if his work didn't demonstrate such utter and constant contempt for long-established broadcast standards, I would never have been so savagely satirical of him below.

When I first I heard him happily musing on-air about his weak memory, I tried to but couldn't make air on The Dennis Prager Show that day, for the simple reason that he didn't take many calls.  Like every day.  He endlessly claims he'll soon go to the phones, and may even intend to, but still in effect is lying by frequently giving out the numbers and repeatedly pledging to take calls over a three-hour show that nonetheless sometimes concludes with only two callers ever being heard.

Prager's seldom-realized intentions to absorb caller input are constantly thwarted by the clumsy way he conducts the show.  And even the handful who get on the show are thusly allotted insufficient air-time to get out whatever they're trying to say.  That's because truly vast amounts of Prager's limited airtime is squandered by his broadcasting ineptitude.

And as a result, Prager nowadays voices empty apologies hourly to those screened-and-waiting potential callers haven't already hung up in frustration or simple recognition that making air was hopeless.  But instead of hourly lamenting how "I wish could have taken your calls", he should be daily apologizing for never having done his broadcast homework since 1982.

And not just to those unaired callers, some of whom quite possibly have been on hold nearly three hours, patiently but quixotically waiting for Prager to stop bumbling and get it together to allow time for their brief contributions.  Instead, the daily apology should be issued to everyone tuned in, for allowing his broadcast boneheadedness to contaminate their listening experience and--if they're one of those screened-yet-unaired callers--maybe even substantially raising their phone bills.

There's at least a thousand ways a host can gracefully bring a caller on to have his say, yet Prager seems to have pared it to down a single banal variation--"Okay, let's now go to [caller] in [locale].   Hi, [caller], Dennis Prager."  (Actually, the second sentence there would be fine--and even reinforcing of the entire sequence--if employed in what is known as a "format", but for that to work his slate must be completely cleaned for the first sentence every time.  Or one at least strives for that.)

Accordingly, I am confident that below is a transcript of not merely what I wanted to say, but also how he would have introduced our exchange:

"Okay, let's now go to Bryan in Seattle.  Hi Bryan, Dennis Prager."  

"Hey Dennis, first off, let me re-emphasize something I've been telling you on-air since 1982 down in L.A.; that is, that I'm always grateful for the opportunity to contribute to your broadcast.  And I particularly appreciated what you just so cheerfully admitted to earlier this show.  That is, that you don't now nor have ever been lucky enough to possess tremendous mental recall, what you termed "a good memory".  But it's unfathomable why your immediate next sentence wasn't something like, 'Therefore, I am retiring from newstalk radio at the conclusion of this final edition of The Dennis Prager Show, and in sad fact, should never have been ever granted my own program in the first place.' "


* Any decent radio show generates gazillions more images than do even the best-produced television shows, but they're inconspicuous for the simple reason that they're in the mind of each listener.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Dennis Plagiar Show

Wednesday, July 25, 2012
9:23 am PT

Of course, when I met her inside that lovely little bookstore around the corner from our studios, she told me she had entitled it The Rosanne Rosannadana Story.  How was I to know she'd lie in her autobiography?  But in the end, I guess it was pretty much a wash, because we got considerable coverage on that.  But it was fair, I have to admit.  The coverage, I mean.  She wasn't fair, she was a liar!  But I've never denied the media was fair throughout the entire episode.

Actually, "the media were fair" is the correct way to say that, grammatically.  That's Latin for you; always gotta be careful when you try to pluralize anything in an ancient tongue!  You can't just add an S.  Heh, heh.  Yes, we do like to keep things tidy with the language here on The Dennis Prager Show, because language is so vital; after all, it's the currency of our thoughts!

Hey, now that's a cool phrase!  And thought!  Let's keep it!  Allen, remind me to do a "currency of our thoughts" liner for The Dennis Prager Show, a lot of our liners are getting stale anyway, I suppose.  And I would think that should work well on the promo page of Prager U, as well.  Really oughta do a new one for the Happiness Hour though.

But anyway, that woman, that author, I mean:  when someone just baldly lies to you, there's not much you can do about it!  Of course, I've been lucky, for I've always had a thick shock of hair up there.  Been very fortunate in that regard, I admit.  Thank G-d I've been lucky about that.  I remember as a kid in Brooklyn, I remember when reading all those books and always thinking, wondering:  if I'm lucky, I'll never end up like him.  Now what was that character's name?  No, I know, of course.  But I'm wondering if either of you two do, huh, Guys? Huh? Huh?  Neither of you got this one?  Well, his name was Rex Luther, that was it.  Or maybe Tex.

Now I know what you're thinking: you only read comic books when you were a kid, Prager!  No!  I also read Martin Luther.  And Martin Luther King, Jr.  Now, I don't read much by MLK the Third, I admit, though he's got a couple books out himself, I guess.  I've got a new book out, remember.  Visit The Dennis Prager Store online, where I think we can still get you your own autographed copy Still the Best Hope.

By the way, I never really thought Delores was the best Hope, at least not until Bob died.  Did they have children?  By the way, they both reached the age of 100, did you know that?  Well you do now, that's why you never want to miss The Dennis Prager Show.  Oh, the fun we have here, something to get your mind off all this dreadfully bad news.

Anyway, I want to conclude that nasty business about that author.  Though the coverage was fair, the weather sure wasn't that morning when we were walking over here to the studio in that downpour.  But she had her umbrella with her, so we didn't get too wet on the way over.  You have to worry about things like that around sophisticated broadcasting equipment; I first learned that in 1982.

Anyway, let's tie up this business about the author.  It never was going to anything more than a quickie courtesy interview at the top of the show anyway, five minutes tops!  She promised she'd have me on her TV show about Still the Best Hope.  That's the way they do it in the publishing industry, it's called cross-promotion.  But I admit, it all comes down to I'll-stratch-your-back-if-you'll-scratch-mine.

Now that can be both embarrassing and uncomfortable, when your back starts seriously itching and you're stuck behind a microphone until the next break.  Anyway, if I'd have known she'd claim the title of her autobiography was Eleanor Roosevelt Was an Imposter, she'd never have even gotten past security downstairs, much less make air and actually get the bogus plug in, right out of the gate.

Then again, you really can't blame her for that, because publishers really want you to push the title whenever you're a guest.  That's because many hosts are such idiots when it comes to something even as simple as getting your title right.  But she was a sneaky one, wasn't she!  And that's why we have the 7-second relay in this business, because you have to!

Now, if you're quick on your feet--actually, I should be careful to say "our feet", because it is a teamwork thing, The Dennis Prager Show is, always need to give credit where credit is due.  And my credit card payment is overdue, just the Amex one, though, not my Visa actually, but hey, I'm not complaining; I'm paid well to host The Dennis Prager Show.  Very well.  It would not even necessarily be hyperbole for me to even say "very, very well", with the second superlative in there.  Especially if you count the lecture fees, but that's actually a separate company, but hey, you know what they always say, the bucks stop here.

But the truth is, and listeners to The Dennis Prager Show know how I'm dedicated to the truth--I'm paid very well indeed.  Maybe not infinitely well, obviously, but I'm not complaining.  Wouldn't up the numbers much even if I did, I'd guess.  By the way, my birthday is coming up on August 2nd and I never complain when I open a gift box of cigars.  Not of the exploding type, mind you; that would just result in a lot of embarrassing questions from the Feds.

And you can trust me on this, you don't want the AMF coming down on you, they seem to never give up.  You might even end up in a cell right next to that murderous monster.  Well, probably not next to his, and obviously not if you're female, and I'm sure he's kept in much more spartan surroundings anyway, or oughta be at least.  Hey Allen, why doncha keep that idea for an offbeat Male-Female Hour on The  Dennis Prager Show, comparing the respective reactions of each gender toward incarceration!  Maybe sometime when Alison Armstrong is guesting, I'd bet she'd have some interesting things to say about that.

Anyway, in any kind of situation like that crafty broad put us in--the author, I mean, not Alison!--careful, responsible broadcasters know always to have a promo handy on a moment's standby.  We don't run promos for Prager University just to fill airtime, after all!  And yes, I think it affirms a certain, I don't know, a certain maximum masculinity if a guy can call a gal a broad.  When guys get together with themselves, I mean.  Though I hear some babes even consider it flattering.  Others, I guess, figure it's just a man thing.

But yeah, being set up that bitch author was all my fault, I admit it.  I never once blamed it on Allen behind the glass in there; I'm the one who met her in the bookstore, after all.  Even as a married man, you always find your eye wandering, I admit it!  But only your eye.  Well, maybe both of them, but you know what I mean.

But anyway, as I bet Allen recalls, that morning was our last show before a Dennis Prager Cruise, I remember that one because it was unique!  It was the only Dennis Prager Cruise we ever did at Christmastime.  As I recall, that was the one that went all the way up to the Arctic Circle, or maybe just around it, I forget.

You know, it's impossible not to notice how beautiful the North American West Coast is along its entire length!  Wasn't that also the Dennis Prager Cruise where I kept hearing that Tom Cruise was aboard?  I never saw him, mind you, but I bet that rumor was true, because I sure heard his name a lot that week!

Speaking of names, what was the name of that lovely woman who dubbed me The Sinatra of Talk Radio?  Anyone recall?  You Sean?  I mean, did we ever even send her a bouquet of roses for that?  Never any doubt about that making the our Friday highlights clip!  Heh, heh...heh heh.   Ah, Francis Albert.  You can't do better than that, boy how Frank could croon a ballad!

"The Ballad of the Thin Man"!   Ha!  Heh, heh, sorry, Folks, but I just flashed on a title of a song that I've only heard once.   But in some sort of weird way it's been echoing in my mind.  You could even say I was all but haunted it by it for years, and to this very day I can quote its odd title verbatim.  The Columbia professor who played it for me one afternoon in his office insisted it was rock music, but it actually sounded like sorta like classical.

And you know how I know classical music:  inside and out, even back then.  This was during the 60s, when I was probably the nerdiest student on the Columbia campus.  Oh, and by the way, the Jewish guy singing it wasn't exactly singing it at all, but he certainly carried that lovely melody just magnificently, in his own way every bit as powerfully yet suavely as Sinatra!  But this song's weird lyrics seemed dark in some sorta way; guess that's why the song haunted me for years.

The point is, it has the distinction of being the only rock song title I could quote exactly when I was growing up!  It was called "The Ballad of the Thin Man"; you can fact-check me on that one verbatim, and I'd even wager of box of my favorite smokes on it.  But it was the song, not the title that hit me, of course.  Oh, how I loved that odd but moving song!  Such a graceful melody, and pretty decent piano work as well by, what's-his-name, this Jewish guy, something Jones maybe?  Quincy, maybe?  No, that can't be right.  And Jones isn't usually a Jewish surname, so maybe I'm mis-remembering that part.  Happens.

But the reason I definitely remember its title exactly was because I was so surprised when this long-haired professor who played it for me insisted "The Ballad of the Thin Man" was a rock song. As any Dennis Prager Show listener knows, I'm a classical music guy first and foremost.  So ironic how the term "longhair" changed its meaning through the years.  I don't hear much rock music,  I admit that.  I do!

You have to prioritize things in life and you can't hear it all after all, so I don't know many rock songs.  Most all of it's garbage anyway, or at least in my opinion, as my listeners well know.  And they also know when it comes to classical music, I'm recognized as a critic.  But frequent public speakers like me never like to recognize the face of some hostile critic sitting in the first row.

Of course, not all rock's junk.  I like some of it, I must admit--I like that doo-wop genre, for instance, but I wonder why they call it that?  I mean, there's always the potential of someone erroneously taking it as an Italian slur.  You gotta be careful about that in any of New York City's five boroughs, actually, not just in Brooklyn, where I grew up.

And where the Dodgers played at Ebbets Field, of course.  The team's departure left nearly everybody back in Brooklyn back then brokenhearted, baseball fan or not.   Everybody hated the Dodgers owner O'Malley still many years after they moved to L.A.  But when I ended up living here in the L.A. area, it was so nice to have the Dodgers locally again that I've since forgiven O'Malley.  But not O'Reilly, at least not yet, not for what he did.  You know, Bill's even taller than me!  At 6' 3", it's not often I have to look up to anyone, but with Bill's stature, y0u have to, even me.

Anyway, I've publicly admitted numerous times on this very broadcast that I don't have a very good memory for detail.  Never have!  And it isn't an age issue--memory has always maybe been my biggest problem.  My brother Stanley, who is five years older, has a terrific memory for detail, and even my father, who will be 94 on his next birthday, G-d willing, has slowed down a bit of course over the years, but he still seems to have a better memory for detail than I have!  I kid you not!  And mom, who lived to 93, never seemed to forget anything either.  Stan became a physician, while I ended up a newstalk radio host.  Medicine's a discipline which demands memory for all kinds of detail just to survive your first year of med school, let alone eventually getting the M.D.

You might think talk radio would also require the same kind of memory for detail, but it doesn't!   You can have access to everything you need to look up right here in the studio, now that you have the Internet.  Before the Internet, back in 1982 when I started in radio doing a religious show, actually, I used to have lug all those reference books to the studio every Sunday night.  And even back then I always had a team of professionals you folks at home or in your cars virtually never hear that I can call on, even in the middle of a show.  Allen and Sean's predecessors here on The Dennis Prager Show.  That's why I always call The Dennis Prager Show a team effort, even those the program's title suggests it's all me.

The title of that song is, anyway, is what stuck with me, because it was so banal, just like Hannah Arendt famously said about the banality of evil.  Yet sometimes no matter how forgetful you are, some phrases or titles or names are just burned into your brain.  No, the name of that rock song is one thing about rock music I can recall verbatim.  "The Ballad of the Thin Man", come on, fact-check me on this one!

But that's obviously the exception when it comes to rock, I admit.  In fact, it wouldn't be too extreme to admit I hate rock music, if you can call it that.  Well, not only can you call it, many of the young folk do call it that.  I guess that's why they're called rock musicians.  But that doesn't make what they generate beautiful or even listenable.

Yep, most r0ck is just, in a word: garbage.  And you wouldn't be far off if you entitled even a comprehensive history of rock music with just that succinct a title, just Garbage.  I'm into punctuation, so maybe Garbage! would even be better, you know, with an explanation point, like those guys at Jeopardy! do over in Culver City.  Yeah, when it comes to titles in publishing, Shakespeare's rule is still the standard:  brevity is the soul of wit.  So Garbage! might be the perfect title for a history of rock, and maybe even a witty one.

Book publishers tend to prefer short titles, I've learned that over the years, yep, the one-word title is the ideal.  Just like Das Kapital.  Well, that would be two words, actually, because when you see it in the original German, you know, with the Das part, it's two.  But you see, in English it's of course then just Capital.  And you always capitalize nouns in German, that's the rule, and Germans are really known for following rules, or at least orders.  So anyway, in English the title translates to just a single word, Capital, that's just one word.

Capital punishment is the only appropriate fate for this bastard behind the Aurora atrocity.  But anyway, I wanna finish my point on "The Ballad of the Thin Man".  Say, I wonder if that song was what they based all those wonderful Thin Man movies on?  Boy, the way that pair solved those mysteries they'd always be stumbling upon!  Who was it who played the husband, what's his name, uh, Colin Powell?  No, that can't be right.

But I know Teresa Wright played with Powell, whatever his first name was.  Or maybe is; I certainly don't want to put anyone in the grave ahead of their time!  Wonder if he is still with us?  He'd be pretty old by now, I'm, sure, but I don't ever remember seeing an obituary for Powell!  But both Hopes lived past 100, so who knows?  But Bob and Delores weren't nearly the hip couple that I so much enjoyed watching Wright and Powell portray in all those lovely old black-and-white films!  Nora and Nick Fury, always solving whodunits with such elan!  And their cute little dog Astro!

Man, that couple always'd be so stylishly attired!  Speaking of which, I'm tired, and we're still in the first hour of The Dennis Prager Show!  But that's what we've come to expect lately, what with one busy news-day after another!

I admit it!  And I mean this sincerely, it's hard to keep some of this straight!  I told that high school student at the end of the show yesterday, who asked me if he should consider quitting school and instead just listen to The Dennis Prager Show.  I told him, "I can't teach you meth, and I can't teach you algebra."  Never could get that quadrangle equation thing figured out, really.  Not all equations, mind you, I mean, I know that E equals m-c squared, I although I admit I don't understand it.  Alex Trebek, now there's a square emcee for you!

Anyway, as I told that young caller yesterday, you will learn infinitely more about values by listening to my show than you ever will in high school.  There's lots I don't remember, but I recall very clearly using that word: infinitely.  And now today every liberal's saying, "Prager advises teen to drop out".  Too bad it was at the tail end of the show, 'cause I suspect our exchange would have generated some calls.  Have I given out the numbers yet?

Looking up here, I see we have someone who describes himself as a second-time caller, so let's hear again from Fish in Duluth.  Wait a second, Fish just called yesterday, didn't I take his call just yesterday, Allen?  Yeah!  He was the guy who got annoyed when I got his name wrong, 'cause it was really, what, Fiah, I guess.  Fiah, yeah, that sounds right, and hey, I've been thinking about that.  Not only does "Fish" look like "Fiah" in the tiny font up there on the screen that Sean can't seem to rectify, but when I saw that the call was coming from Minnesota, I thought, hey, they've got one thousand lakes there, or so their license plates claim, at least.  So I wanted to know if Fish was a nickname or not; figured maybe he got "Fish" because he was always gone fishing or something.

Actually, the applicable G is usually, as they say, "dropped", not like our calls on talk radio so often, I mean, but rather just so it's pronounced fishin', for effect.  Apostrophes can be tough, even if it's only "its"; such a little word but such a big difficulty for so many people.

But Fish could be onto somethin' here.  I mean with his phrase, second-time caller.
I like the sound of it....heh, heh, heh, you don't hear that phrase in talk radio, because in this business, it's always first-time caller, that's the common phrase.  So you know, Fish's idea has got a certain ring to it.  How about, "We keep the customer satisfied on The Dennis Prager Show; that's why we have so many second-time callers!" Jot that down, Allen, I think it'll work well for a promo for The Dennis Prager Show.  A short one like that we should be able to voice in less than a couple dozen takes, I'd imagine.  Probably will do it before the show tomorrow, assuming Sean and Allen are up on things here on The Dennis Prager Show.

See how cleverly we slip them in, in radio?  Just the show's name itself is a promo in itself!  That's why we don't call the show, oh, I dunno, Dukis!  Or Doofus.  Who'd want to listen to "The Doofus Show"?  And that wouldn't work at all, also because of double-entendre, you gotta watch out for that in radio.  I learned that my first year on the air, back in 1982.

Anyway, we'd better go to the phones, you never know what you'll reel in from this lake.  That's a metaphor I bet Fish, Fiah I mean, would appreciate, but he dropped off.  Have I even given out the numbers yet?  Oh well, the lines are sure jammed today, even without!  

Well, it's been intense around The Dennis Prager Show for quite a few days now, and we all know why.  Anyway, let me take some of your calls now, so let's go to James in Aurora, Colorado, who says here in the comment field that he "formerly lived in Orange County."  Wonder if he means California or Florida, there's one in each state, you know.  Hmmm...--and I wonder why he wants us to know where he used to live?  Well, let's find out without any further ado and talk to James, up in The Rocky Mountain State.  Hi, James in Aurora, Dennis Prager.

No!  Another dropout caller!  Okay, then let's try this one: Leonard in Santa Barbara, Dennis Prager.

"Hello Dennis, I'm a first-time caller, and I want you to know what an honor it is to speak with you finally.  Believe it or not, I heard you from nearly the start, and I can attest to your accurate memory:  it was indeed 1982 when I started listening to Religion on the Line with Dennis Prager, I caught you darned near every Sunday night back when you were on KABC down in L.A.  I listened because I'm fascinated by religion, and no one could dispute your street cred as a pioneer of a serious radio talk about religion.  Preachers have been an annoying part of radio from its earliest decades, but you were doing something way elevated from that, and even your worst critic would credit you for that."

Wow...with us from the start, eh?  I'm flattered and humbled, Sir!  The floor's yours.

"Anyway, I know you studied philosophy at Columbia University, Dennis, and that's what I want to discuss with you.  But first, about that woman who called you The Sinatra of Talk Radio?  She's got the right idea, but the wrong recording artist!  Look, I yield to no one in my respect for nearly the entirety of the Francis Albert catalogue, but no Dennis, you're not the Frank Sinatra of Talk Radio, you're the John Lyden of Talk Radio!"

John Lyden, hmmm, I admit it, I don't think I know his work, Leonard!

"Oh, I bet you've heard him without realizing it.  He's gotten lots of radio airplay with each of the bands he's been most identified with.  You may him know him best from his more recent work as the frontman for Public Image, Ltd.  But that British band's fans often shorten it to just PiL."

But that would be Pill, wouldn't it?  Who'd want to be in a band named Pill, or even listen to them?  Heh, heh, heh, just kidding, Leonard.  No, I can't say I've got all, or even any Public Homage Limited albums, although I do seem to recall owning something by The Love-Limited Orchestra.  Are you sure you're not thinking of that band, Leonard?  That guy Barry Black had one of the best, or at least lowest, voices ever.  One sexy brotha, you gotta admit, but shoulda laid off the burgers and pizza.  Maybe'd still be with us; I remember seeing that obit!

"No, Dennis, I'm quite sure it's Public Image, Ltd.  That's John Lyden's band."

Well, I thank you for the lovely sentiment anyway, Leonard.  What a sweet thing to say!  Oh, I forgot, Allen keeps complaining I use the word "sweet" too much, and he's the guy who's got that honey thing going, how's that for irony?  Huh?  Huh?  So anyway, Leonard, what do you--what?...That's what he--?  Oops, Leonard in Santa Barbara just dropped off the line there.  That's too bad, we've sure had rotten luck with the phone system these last few days here on The Dennis Prager Show.  Can we work on that problem, Sean?  I mean, you can't do call-in radio without reliable phone lines.

Anyway, Leonard wanted to talk about philosophy, and it's too bad he dropped off, for I don't think I've mentioned Kierkegaarde's name even once yet this week on The Dennis Prager Show!  Well, maybe once or twice, I'm not sure, I've never claimed to have a good memory.

But speaking of philosophy, here's a fun philosophical question for a week when the news has been mostly anything but fun:  Why doesn't anyone ever call it "Saint Babs"?   I mean, since "santa" means saint in Spanish, it'd be a natural, right?  Especially since Barbra Streisand lives there.

Did you ever notice her name is spelled with one less A?  Well, her first name I mean, you'd never spell it S-T-R-E-I-S-double-A-N-D!  Well, actually maybe you might, if she was Danish; Kierkegaarde's got that double-A in it, after all!  Copenhagen sure is nice this time of year, by the way.  Maybe we'll take the next Dennis Prager Cruise to the Baltic!  What's that?---Streisand's still in Malibu, you say?  Well, close enough!   They're both just up the coast, after all, Allen, so let's not quibble.  It's a gloriously beautiful coastline that California has been blessed with, no doubt about it.  Quite memorable.

Inspired in unfortunately large part by actual Dennis Prager broadcasts, principally 7/23-24/2012 

Monday, September 21, 2009

Throwing the Book at Obama

Unlike most of my erstwhile colleagues in commercial newstalk radio, I don't pretend to understand much if any of the nuts and bolts of the current healthcare debate.

But I do understand the English language. And that's why I was so gratified to see President Obama's appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulis yesterday. Mind you, not because that element of the President's weekend media blitz necessarily made any of the complex issue's details more clear, but rather because of Stephanopolis's prop-assisted manner of interviewing him. When challenging him on whether a "mandate" qualifies as a "tax"—which it clearly does—the host trotted out Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary to cite the definition of the word tax.

Regular listeners to my KIRO broadcasts know that book is the closest thing to a Bible this agnostic ever cites. Because of all the various other Webster's dictionaries out there—there's an abundance because the Merriam-Webster company decades ago lost exclusive rights to its founder Noah Webster's name—Merriam-Webster's is the gold-standard of the lexicographer's art.

Many nights on KIRO I explained the half-dozen or so reasons why their dictionary is so superior to all others, but the most compelling is that their dictionaries feature the finest definitional writing in the entire cluttered field. Merriam-Webster's consistently offers more tightly-written definitions than any of their estimable competitors.

Thus when Stephanopoulis cited "a charge usually of money imposed by authority on persons or property for public purposes", the President was left with absolutely no wiggle room to deny that any governmentally-mandated fee indeed constitutes a tax. But he did anyway.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Get Back to Work, Rush!

Rush Limbaugh, architect and executor of the finest and most influential broadcast in commercial newstalk radio history, has become dangerously fat and lazy.

RadioactiveSeattle readers and Michael Medved Show regular listeners know that "Bryan in Seattle" doesn't do fat jokes, so I'm not referring to his girth, which he's slimmed down again anyway of late. Rather, while Limbaugh continues routinely taking days or weeks off in a fashion that might have even embarrassed Johnny Carson, a threat has emerged to Limbaugh's supremacy of my favorite media genre, by someone who's working harder if not smarter, and is closing in on his rear as the newstalk radio kingpin and king-maker.

Glenn Beck is every bit the "demagoon" that Maureen Dowd has so astutely dubbed him, but the sad fact is that his presence and popularity are each growing at a frightening rate to those of us who value quality newstalk radio and are not impressed by half-informed diatribes of the sort Beck has raised to an art form. And Beck's on a winning streak now that Van Jones is out at the White House. Limbaugh's unprecedented success with his factual approach to refuting the Clinton agenda during the 90s gave some hope to those of us who fear the masses are indeed herd-like, easily manipulated and unable to digest the type of complex political analysis that Limbaugh is so adept at streamlining. In sharp contrast, Beck's recent success with reckless populist activism is sadly confirming that emotionalism trumps intellectuality every time.

For all of the left's dismissiveness that Limbaugh is "just an entertainer" and a prevaricating one at that, the fact is, as RadioactiveSeattle has documented, that he deals in the factual, if ideologically selective. Limbaugh's only real distortions are when he exaggerates for comedic effect. But increasingly his lampooning of the Obama administration as a bunch of Marxists is increasingly less funny than it is an excuse for his critics to dismiss him as a fringe agitator.

Meanwhile, Beck, who should be so dismissed, is using his breathtaking ratings surge on Fox New Channel and the resignation of Obama advisor Jones--in the wake of Beck's high-profile television campaign against the so-called "Green Czar" with collectivist sensibilities--as a sledgehammer to try to shatter the coalition that the President has assembled for his liberal agenda.

Limbaugh, who has no regular television presence, still benefits from a vastly larger and stronger affiliate base for his radio empire, but that may be threatened as Beck continues his energetic rise on lesser stations, fortified by his tireless, if dubious, public campaigns and numerous public appearances--including an upcoming one here in Seattle in a baseball stadium, for G-d's sake. Add to that the fact that Beck has never seen a marginally-legitimate advertiser he wouldn't enthusiastically endorse, and local listeners around the nation are hearing Beck's plaintive voice these days a lot more than they hear Limbaugh's.

To someone who doesn't listen closely--and my hunch is that that's at least 80% of both Limbaugh's and Beck's audiences--the two seem almost indistinguishable, both being newstalk radio blowhards constantly carping at the leftist in the White House and his team of believers. But Limbaugh, when you filter out the jokes, is a serious conservative critic of a team he truly believes is injurious to the American capitalistic future. Whereas Beck is a shallow-thinking agitator who is using his newfound populist popularity to leverage what he freely admits is an effort to "take back the country".

Never mind that no one has "stolen" our nation; Obama was freely elected, and I'm still glad I voted for him. But while I agree with a lot of the statist critiques of this Administration levelled by both Limbaugh and Beck, the latter frames everything in his cloying, recovering-drunk sanctimony. Who else regularly implores his listeners to "pray for me"? Sadly, that's a whole lot funnier than any of the forced "bits" Beck and his new on-air partner Pat Gray foist upon their long-suffering listeners.

In media, exposure is like Woody Allen's famous dictum about life: 50% of it is just showing up. With Beck's voice ascendant, if Limbaugh doesn't get back to the work ethic that put him on the top, he risks beginning replaced as the heart and soul of the conservative movement by a pretender--in both senses of the word--who has neither his intellectual heft nor his satirical gifts. Beck's true agenda seems to be to set himself up as the de facto leader of a government in exile. During the 90s, Limbaugh himself attained that through broadcast excellence, as the name of his network suggests, but Beck is just muscling his way to the top. If Rush doesn't get back to working hard, he may soon find himself playing second fiddle to a guy with none of his smarts or his principles.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009


Much of conservative newstalk radio this week has been savaging the President's upcoming address to the nation's students. These hosts include my hero (if not necessarily this dedicated agnostic's ideological soul-mate) Michael Medved and the delightfully acerbic Mark Steyn (filling in for Limbaugh on the Excellence in Broadcasting Network).

The charge generally is that Obama is using this as an excuse to indoctrinate our schoolchildren with his putative statism.

Notwithstanding those silly "How I Can Help the President" letters-to-themselves that second-graders are being instructed to write, I think this has the makings of a terrific Presidential tradition. And it would perfectly tie in with a radical Department of Education revamping I've advocated.

I've long argued over KIRO/Seattle and earlier stations which have aired my commercial newstalk radio broadcasts for continuation of the grand and sensible American tradition of local control of education. Locally-elected school boards and their appointed administrators, not Federal policy, should dictate curricula. But I do see a vital federal role.

Like many, I've advocated a dismantlement of the Education Department, but my idea has a twist. Medved and others want to see a total dissolution of the Federal Department.

My proposal is cleverly less sweeping. Unlike the standard conservative position, that the entire cabinet level position be eliminated first by Executive Order and later confirmed by Congressional act, I favor instead a drastic downsizing of the Ed Department, which incidentally was one of the many mistaken advents of the Carter Administration. That is, I think every position but the Secretary of Education should be abolished.

So leave the Secretary and a tiny support staff for the office, tiny for pretty much all they would have to do is schedule the Secretary's numerous appearances in each of the 50 states. For in my Administration, the Secretary's sole job would be, on short notice, to visit local school boards, administrators and even classrooms, lending the Administration's prestige and influence to further whatever general educational aims my Administration rhetorically espouses.

The threat of an occasional visit by the Secretary of Education would have a noticeable effect on local school boards maintaining their standards, naturally fearful of the national spotlight being shed on their substandard management of the locals' educational future.

This idea need not be restricted to the Secretary. If you like, also retain with the Secretary the office's various Undersecretaries and Assistant Secretaries to widen the reach of this approach.

In this context, an annual Presidential Address to the Students each September could set the tone for that entire scholastic year, not to mention giving at least those students paying attention to their video screens a stake in the national improvement of our much-documented failing classrooms.

One vital idea that seems lost on many marginal students is why so many years of one's youth must be devoted to education in the first place. Presidents might be uniquely positioned to explain to those disillusioned by the entire process why it's not only in their personal interest but also, appealing to the natural patriotism even lackluster students often possess, how it's in the national interest for each of them to laboriously learn how to not improperly use apostrophes and why it's—not its—important to know who our nation's 4th President* was.

Meanwhile, Obama's initiative is being lampooned as a stunt, but many Presidential addresses circumstantially have that air anyway. This one, well-executed and inspirational—two Presidential details Obama's usually got down, in sharp contrast to his earnest and principled but inarticulate predecessor—would go a long way toward sheparding our nation's students, primary, secondary and collegiate alike, toward avoidance of squandering the twin gifts of youth and education.


* That would be James Madison, so-called Father of the Constitution, for those who didn't pay sufficient attention in grade school.