By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
All this wanting finds fervent expression in talk radio, which never wavers in its hatred of what Eric Alterman calls the SCLM, “the so-called liberal media.” Strangely, for all their heady air of aggression, these attacks on the media are rife with a sense of victimization — the very quality that conservatives often accuse minorities of exploiting to win undue sympathy. Poor us, they moan, our viewpoint is not being represented. As Michael Kinsley laughingly observed, right-wing pundits apparently want some sort of affirmative action for conservatives in the media — the only social bias they care about.
Ever since Air America was announced, conservatives have been insisting that our airwaves are already awash with liberal radio. “I have three letters for you,” Andrew Sullivan cockily declared: “NPR.” Now, in one obvious sense he’s wrong. National Public Radio doesn’t jigger the facts like Fox News, nor does it broadcast leftish equivalents of Limbaugh, Ingraham or Sean Hannity (loutish gasbag, Irish division), who makes one respect the wit and sensitivity of Jimmy Kimmel. When Bill O’Reilly stomped off Fresh Air last year, NPR’s ombudsman announced that host Terry Gross had been too hard on the poor guy — a man who throws guests off his show when they rile him. I wonder what Fox News’ ombudsman (as if!) says about that.
Ironically, NPR’s constant attempts at even-handedness betray its true political colors. Like The New York Times, it clings to the liberal fantasy that it’s actually neutral, beyond ideology. Liberals want to believe that they are fair and balanced, which is one reason they’re so aghast at Fox News’ sloganeering use of that phrase for a network whose fans love it precisely because it’s not.
Far more than early-show amateurism, it’s this instinctive desire to appear evenhanded — Franken brought on his pal G. Gordon Liddy to prove he has friends on the right — that may prove the greatest threat to Air America. Talk radio thrives on electrified outrage, the passionate battle of blacks-and-whites, not the lulling gray of nuance and rational argumentation. Yet the latter is the habitual mode of today’s pragmatic liberalism that chooses Mr. Gray Nuance, John Kerry, over feisty Howard Dean (Yeaarrggh!) or a genuine (if goofy) progressive like Dennis Kucinich. Democrats may cheer Kerry’s hyperbolic “bring it on” rhetoric today, but their pleasure is slightly guilty. They know that he, like them, doesn’t really enjoy stridency.
Still, it’s been Bush’s peculiar triumph to wind liberals up and prove that it’s not only the right that can get turned on by its rage. God, the left has fun hating him. That’s one reason why Air America’s best show is hosted by little-known Randi Rhodes, who may have the moniker of a porn actress but has spent years in south Florida getting her liberal-Limbaugh shtick down pat: This is one cookie who’ll never lose an argument. Flinging anti-Bush quips to her audience like an empress tossing bread to the throng — she predicts the death of Osama as an October Surprise and asks why networks don’t broadcast footage of Dubya sitting cluelessly in that classroom on 9/11 — Rhodes does everything you’d expect an outraged liberal talk-radio host to do. She reams the right, blames Bush for the world’s ills and treats unfavored guests rudely — Ralph Nader hung up on her in a huff. Rhodes is exactly what most Democrats want in this election year of living angrily. She’s fair and balanced in their direction.