The knee jerk reaction of many, if not all, right wing hosts was to vilify and minimize a rather ill defined but decisively moral movement. While making fun of stuff we fear (or don’t understand) never loses its charm, this is a loose movement that many in our audience relate to positively. I think Limbaugh and Hannity were far too quick to tease and stereotype the protesters as vagabond hippies. In actuality, it’s teachers, fire fighters and cops upset by layoffs and the loss of collective bargaining rights, families distraught over upside down mortgages after their tax dollars bailed out the very banks who won’t loan to them and are trying to foreclose on their houses, and college graduates with big student loan liabilities and no job prospects.
As Charles M. Blow noted in the New York Times, “[OWS] has energized two groups who are notoriously apathetic and lacking in civic engagement—the young and the poor—and has done so outside the existing architectures of power and politics.” The Oct. 9-10 Time Magazine/Abt SRBI poll of 1001 Americans is decisive: 86% think “Wall Street and lobbyists have too much influence in Washington,” and 79% think, “The gap between rich and poor is too large.” Seventy one percent of respondents agreed with the statement, “Executives of financial institutions responsible for the financial meltdown in 2008 should be prosecuted.”
I know everybody thinks they’re one lotto ticket away from needing tax protection, but last year the median wage in America was $26,000 while the average S&P 500 CEO made $11 million. You have many more accountants, cops and teachers in your audience than S&P 500 CEOs. At least Dave Ramsey made an effort to find the truth by interviewing participants rather than judging them prior to investigation. I remain uncertain how he treated the matter as time progressed. I have only heard second hand reports that he also ultimately ridiculed the protestors, but the source was unreliable, in my estimation, because it was a conservative host who clearly had an agenda.
And that raises the most fundamental question of all: why does talk radio exist? Is it to inform? Is it to entertain? Is it to forward a political agenda? In the beginning it was just to generate ratings and therefore, revenue. Some really old school folks might say it is to serve the public interest by informing and enlightening, or maybe by supplying the platform for meaningful social and civil discourse.
At some point, the outrageous opining that offered more heat than light caught on and fueled a ratings bonanza. Old school talk was cast aside as unexciting, and a full-blown political propaganda machine was ignited. Ultimately–inevitably–we arrived at this moment, where the core audience is significantly older and less diverse than the population at large, and expects Talk Radio to defend its sensibilities, even as those sensibilities become obviously out of step with mainstream American thought.
Is it lucrative, wise or entertaining to be perceived en masse as the voice of the privileged one percent? Is it worth Talk Radio’s future to obstinately defend a position that will pretty clearly put talkers on the wrong side of history? When the primary season is over, Republicans will creep back toward the middle, hoping average voters didn’t notice their yearlong romance with hate, exclusion and derision. Can Talk Radio afford to take the same chance?
There’s a pretty good chance that the obstructive “get Obama and the Democrats at any cost” mentality will backfire on the Republicans, and that is their problem. I suggest that mentality no longer serves the ratings, revenue or public interest missions of our medium.
Can Talk Radio escape from the corner it has painted itself into?
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