Talk Radio

Saw pieces of the Palin interview on the web both yesterday and today, and I’m more than a little disgusted at how she was treated, and not just by the insufferable Charlie Gibson, who was smug and condescending throughout, but by the whole process. The whole thing was filmed with a single camera that allowed the viewer to see all of Gibson’s face but just the side of Palin’s head. I can’t remember any other interviewee subjected to such an unflattering camera angle. It would have been nice to see the expression on Palin’s face as she answered the unnecessarily confrontational questions.

Given how mercilessly ABC had stacked the deck against her, I think she acquitted herself admirably.

It’s moments like this that remind me why I don’t watch network news and never really have. I remember in high school being disgusted by reporters and anchors who loathed everything about Ronald Reagan and wishing there was someone out there who represented my side. Today, finally, there are such people, and most of them are found on the radio. It’s no wonder that Pelosi and the Dems want to resurrect the Constitutionally-contemptuous Fairness Doctrine to shut these people down. But it’s also childish for them to think their message isn’t being heard.

Tell you what, lefties – you give us ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the LA Times and every other major metropolitan newspaper, along with the tenured faculty of every major university in this country, and we’ll be happy to forfeit Limbaugh and his ilk. We’ll even throw in Fox News, which is far less conservative than its critics would have you believe. (It really is fairly balanced – it just refuses to treat conservatives like nimrods the way other networks do.)

Still, not all right-wing talk radio is created equal. For those who may not have the radio on as often as I do, I thought I’d give you the rundown from best to worst, leaving the worst for last because they’re more fun to write about.

1) Rush Limbaugh

There’s a reason he’s number one. He’s really quite good – funny, smart, and idea-based. And contrary to myth, lefties who call his show don’t get ridiculed or shouted down. They get defeated with clear, reasonable arguments. He’s also far less kooky than the kooks at DailyKos realize – he rips into fringe conspiracy theorists with glee and venom on a regular basis, be they righties of lefties. He’s probably the best representation of mainstream conservative thought in the country, and he deserves to be where he is.

2) Phil Hendrie

Sadly, no station in Utah carries this genius host anywhere, which is a real shame. He went off the air a few years ago, but apparently he’s back on in some markets. He ran a strictly comedy show for most of the time, but after 9/11 he became a hardcore conservative and even had a blog titled (It’s gone now, sadly.) His show is the funniest thing in any medium, as he pretends to be his own callers. So he spends an hour debating with himself over ludicrous issues.

He’s been, just to name a few:

Steve Bozell – a constant whiner who wants to sue the National Weather service for not warning him of strange El Nino gusts that blew his mother’s ashes up his nose.

Margaret Grey – a snooty, elitist journalist who thinks she has a constitutional right to free gasoline provided by the LAPD

Doug Danger – a “gay man and a gay journalist” who announces his homosexuality on every possible occasion, especially when using his Vons grocery card

Lloyd Bonafide – a very violent Korean War veteran who pounds on teenagers every chance he gets

And the list goes on.

He’s very funny, but for those of you with delicate sensibilities, he can be quite filthy, too. Be warned.

3) Dennis Prager

I haven’t heard enough of him lately, but he’s hands-down the smartest radio host out there. As a practicing orthodox Jew, he places every political issue inside a moral framework, providing a context that can’t be found anywhere else. He tends to wander away from the timely to focus on the timeless and the philosophical, which sometimes works and sometimes feels like eating sawdust without butter. But he’s almost always worth listening to.

4) Glenn Beck

Yes, he’s a Mormon, so that’s a plus, but he’s also the funniest guy doing a primarily political show. He’s lifted some of Phil Hendrie’s shtick, which you might not notice if you’ve never heard the real thing, but it still works. The only problem with him is that he tends to think the world is going to end every other Thursday. He warns of doomsday scenarios on such a regular basis that you sometimes have to take the guy in small doses – or at least hope that he moves beyond his rants to focus on his comedy bits like “Moron Trivia” and “Arguments Against Idiots,” which are unfailingly brilliant.

5) Dennis Miller

The guy’s funny and conservative, so what’s not to like? I’m not sure. I think it’s that his in-jokey, relentlessly hip pop culture references grow tiresome after about five minutes. But as a convert to the conservative cause, he often has insights that the Limbaughs of the world might miss, and it’s fun to hear him eviscerate opponents even if his argument isn’t sufficiently strong enough to keep up with the raw power of his unbridled wit.

5) Laura Ingraham

Her voice takes some getting used to – it’s far too nasalized – and she has a tendency to shout down those she disagrees with. I don’t know how she gets so many prominent liberals to debate her on her show, because they never get a word in edgewise. But her commentary is solid, mainstream conservatism, except for when she goes off an immigration, in the which case she gets very tedious very quickly.

6) Michael Medved

Sort of a bloodless Dennis Prager, Medved’s cerebral approach to the issues of the day is usually in line with my thinking, but the delivery is so unfailingly passionless that it’s hard to sit through much of his show at any length. He also has an annoying tendency to only take calls from people who loathe him, which makes him look magnanimous, I suppose, but it also creates an argumentative atmosphere that is more off-putting than open-minded.

7) Sean Hannity

We’ve now crossed the line, over into talk show hosts I really, really don’t like. Hannity gets great guests, but as a host, he’s just awful. Like the worst on the left, he thinks ridicule is an effective substitute for argument. He’ll shout down opponents with various assaults on their patriotism and variants of “Aw, come on! How can you possibly believe that?” Sean, they just told you what they believe – how about refuting it with facts instead of burying it with high volume contempt?

8) Michael Reagan

It’s too bad I have him so far down the list, because my problems with the good Mr. Reagan are less political and more dictional, if that’s a word. What do I mean by that? Simply this – the man is incapable of successfully using the English language. To cite the most glaring example, according to Reagan, George W. Bush is the “Prezzint of the Unahed Stayss.” He always sounds like he’s eating a cheeseburger at the same time he’s doing his show. Words are all you have on the radio, Mike! How about learning to pronounce them correctly?

9) Bill O’Reilly

What do you get when you mix arrogance and ignorance and top it off with a cloying “regular guy” shtick? Bill O’Reilly, who manages to combine the worst of Hannity with a poor man’s Limbaugh impression. His thinking on the issues is skin deep at best, and his contempt for everyone not as brilliant as he is is the polar opposite of Limbaugh’s vaunted conceit. Limbaugh boasts of his “talent on loan from God” and such as part of his shtick, but he manages to remain far more humble than his critics recognize. Whereas O’Reilly feigns a working-class-Joe facade while remaining thin-skinned and self-absorbed. Can’t stand him.

10) Michael Savage

No, I take it back. THIS is the guy I really can’t stand. I literally can’t listen to him for more than thirty seconds without yelling at the radio and changing the dial. He’s incapable of humor. He’s all bile, all the time. He’s incapable of reason. People who accuse Limbaugh of hate speech are really thinking of Michael Savage. He hates everyone who doesn’t agree with him and probably a good majority of those who do. I cringe that anyone would think this man a representative of everything or anything I believe. There’d be more truth in advertising if he dropped his stage name – Savage – and used his given name – Weiner. (Seriously. His real name is Michael Weiner. How poetically just is that?)

There are some I’ve neglected to mention here – Hugh Hewitt, for instance, who’s pretty good, Bill Bennett, who’s fairly dry, and G. Gordon Liddy, who’s a sexually perverted wacko felon who has no business being on the radio. But either these guys are no longer on the air here – thank you, Liddy, for leaving town! – or I don’t hear enough of them to be able to cast judgment. Actually, I don’t listen to enough Savage crap to say much about it, but the guy is ubiquitous in this market, and I always accidentally hear a second or two of his trademark acidic sneer on my drive home from work.

The Twin Towers
Jacqui Landrum: 1943-2008

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