Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Apolitico

The greatest myth about commercial newstalk talk radio here in the new millennium is that it's principally a political genre.

Actually, I began pointing this out long before my Open Lines for Open Minds work over KIRO commenced three years ago. This has been a central contention of mine since the previous century, when my San Francisco Bay Area audiences in the early 90s and then my Detroit listeners in the mid-90s heard me often argue that the most intellectually and aesthetically rewarding way to evaluate a newstalk radio broadcast is not on the positions expressed thereon, but rather on how well the host conducts the program.

Inclusive of that, of course, is how articulately the viewpoints are posited and defended, how effectively the guests are interviewed, and, sometimes most important, how the callers' ideas are treated. But I suspect even Styble fans were seldom persuaded of my arcane point; my hunch is, despite what they might insist to the contrary, in the end most listeners just instinctively enjoy the hosts they agree with and dislike those on the other side of their political fence.

One reason for that is probably the flourishing success of Rush Limbaugh and so many of his numerous and lesser competing firebrands. These days, ideology is in, throughout most of the commercial newstalk radio universe at least. And I expect that it shall remain so evermore, as long as the dreaded (and arguably unconstitutional) Fairness Doctrine isn't reinstated, Zeus (and FCC) forfend.

But I never realized how true I am to this newstalk-ain't-mainly-about-politics principle until I noticed something in the course of correcting an entry a couple postings below. Re-reading my critique of The Glenn Beck Program, one of the more contemptible listens in newstalk radio
["Glenn Beck's Ego Eclipses Fact", two entries below], I needed to adjust for a historical detail I'd learned only after publishing it on Wednesday. Delineating how profoundly Beck had bungled describing for his listeners a vignette about Columbus prompted me to then read a couple detailed accounts of the explorer's entire life. (That, incidentally, made me quickly regret never--despite possessing a Columbus Day birthday!--taking the trouble to learn just how remarkably dogged and triumphal a career was that of The Admiral of the Ocean Seas.) What I initially had incorrect involved Columbus's location: two years into his fourth and final voyage to the New World, he had been shipwrecked--rather than in port, as I had it--with his expedition for many months on Jamaica when he pulled, on some hostile natives, his inspired lunar eclipse ruse on Leap Year Day 1504.

But my posting was notable for what some readers might regard a much more glaring omission. As it happens, what many might consider a word vital to any review of Beck's show never once appeared in mine--and this, ironically enough, in the very essay which lambasted Beck for irresponsibly failing to include an absolutely indispensable word ("eclipse") for the benefit of his audience!

Thus my expose of Beck's sometimes staggering ignorance (too often on display in a second-tier national show on which KTTH/Seattle squanders the prominence and prestige of its morning-drive timeslot) may itself have seemed correspondingly lacking. It's true that I never employed that one particular term which surely first comes to many minds when thinking of Beck's work, whether on radio, or in his new medium, television. Yep, I never once mentioned that he's a conservative. (Actually, I doubt he'd quarrel even with his views being described as arch-conservative.)


Of course, as in nearly every aspect of life, in newstalk radio things are relative. So, sure, Beck (who's been increasingly influential nationally ever since his debut on CNN Headline a year ago) is seldom as reckless, self-righteous and unprincipled as, say, the self-described "independent conservative" Michael Savage routinely proves himself to be on his sorry syndicated Frisco-based production (carried weeknights, though never live, also by KTTH).

Still, Beck, the loudmouth political satirist, Mormon convert and (only incidentally, alas) newstalk host, nevertheless ranks, overall, as yet another talk radio embarrassment to the conservative movement. Now, I never mentioned Beck's politics in that piece despite the fact that Beck's show is every bit as ideological as Limbaugh's (though he inadvertently reveals daily he harbors but a tiny fraction of Rush's talent, either as a broadcaster or entertainer).

It's hard to remember this in 2008, but when JFK and LBJ were in office, Mort Sahl was far and away the most celebrated stand-up comedian in the nation. His politically-hip act sometimes included this one-liner: "A friend of mine is so liberal that he's never even noticed that Jesse Jackson is black!" While we await some successor funnyman to update Sahl's gag into a Barack Obama joke, I can take pride that in the course of excoriating his national newstalk radio work, I never even noticed that Glenn Beck is conservative.

BRYAN STYBLE/Seattle

1 comment:

WJR Patrick said...

Brian, it is sooo... cool that you allow us to read the blog postings you make on what's happening in that mind of yours. It would really be a shame not to be able to get the fruitful insight on things you provide us at your own leisure and effort. This post was a GREAT piece & I THOROUGHLY enjoyed " soaking it in ", as is usually the case when it comes to your intellect. They say the most worthwhile battles are the hardest fought. Don't worry, the world obviously doesn't get you now, but in time they can't continue in ignorance. Isn't that how it usually goes anyway ?