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.


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