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Democrats (Still) Don’t Understand Talk Radio

The New York Times recently published an article by Paul Matzko, who I gather has also written a book on right-wing talk radio. Matzko is typical of Democrats in that he has very little knowledge of this topic, yet he has many strong opinions on it. His NYT piece, titled, “Talk Radio Is Turning Millions of Americans Into Conservatives,” betrays a horrifying lack of comprehension of his subject. You might think someone who wrote an entire book on a topic would have taken the time to understand what he was writing about. You’d be wrong.

Calling right-wing talk radio “the heart of Trumpism,” Matzko puts the cart before the horse. He believes that people, in their natural state, are blank slates waiting to be written. All it takes is the right manipulative media — cue ominous pipe organ music — and these blank slates can be radicalized into fire-breathing conservative Republicans, ready to don their MAGA hats before going out to menace their ideological opponents. The problem with this “understanding” of how right-wing media works is that it isn’t just wrong now; it has never been correct, no matter how many times Democrats have asserted it.

Let me use myself as an example. I first heard of Rush Limbaugh 30 years ago. I was working a temporary summer job delivering mail for a local chemical company, driving a green Ford Aerostar minivan laden with parcels. For a week, I rode with the “regular guy,” who trained me on the route. He, like so many people who work during the day, listened to talk radio to make the hours more entertaining. Thus I, as a young man of 19 or 20, heard Limbaugh’s political commentary for the first time.

I was not a “blank slate.” I was already a firm believer in the Constitution and the Second Amendment. My father was relatively conservative, but I came to my political opinions based on what I believed and on what I preferred. I was already coming to understand that mainstream media, news, and entertainment were biased. The paper we had delivered to our house every day, The Democrat and Chronicle, was aptly named, its editorials and its reporting thoroughly slanted in favor of the Left. Even as a young man, I knew this.

Hearing Limbaugh state opinions with which I agreed was novelty enough. Many Democrats have claimed that right-wing talk radio succeeds because it affirms the beliefs of the mind-numbed robots waiting for marching orders from Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ben Shapiro.  Democrats are so much more intelligent, they assert, that they do not need to have their opinions affirmed in this way. This is a very flattering interpretation for those on the Left, but it, too, is wrong.

Conservatives, Republicans, libertarians come to talk radio not because they want to hear only opinions with which they agree, but because they want to hear insight and analysis that will help them wage the ideological war before them. They want information. They want facts. They want to be able to win arguments — and they want to hear the unfiltered version of news, current events, and other data that is distorted or outright censored by left-leaning, “mainstream” media. This is why those who consume right-wing media are so much better informed. This is why the information at their disposal is so much more rooted in reality. This is why it is nearly impossible to argue with an informed conservative — much to the dismay of many a Democrat.

Matzko’s misguided article, meanwhile, blames the success of right-wing talk radio on a variety of straw men. No, it couldn’t possibly be that right-wing media survives because it is one of the very few places Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians can go for unbiased (or at least less biased) information. No, it must be the sheer volume of programming, which he asserts overwhelms the poor, stupid listeners to brainwash them. It must be only blue-collar factory workers and truck drivers who listen, segregating these nefarious messages and allowing them to fly “under the media radar.”

Talk radio listeners are, in Matzko’s interpretation, “like” single-issue voters, but somehow inferior to them. Matzko at once despises and fears these audiences, whom he believes “exercise outsize influence on the political landscape.” Why, we can’t have people believing things and voting about them — not if their opinions are contrary to Mr. Matzko’s. That would somehow be “outsized influence.”

I have news for Mister Matzko. I have never once felt intimidated or overwhelmed by the “volume” of talk radio or podcast media available. Rather, I have a job and I work for a living. Talk radio helps make long 10- to 12-hour work days more bearable. I am not a truck driver or a manual laborer; I am a white-collar professional with a college degree who sits at a series of desks for a living. There are many people like me, from all walks of life, who rely on talk radio to make the days go by faster… all the while becoming more informed, “high-information” voters.

Democrats like Paul Matzko hate and seek to censor right-wing media because they cannot control it. They are accustomed to having a stranglehold on the dissemination of information within our culture. Right-wing media challenges that dominance and threatens to break their grip. For would-be tyrants, nothing is more unnerving — and that is what truly bothers Paul Matzko and the dishonest “journalists” at The New York Times.

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