Stimulus & Inflation

If Donald J. Trump had signed on for a second Covid stimulus package in the summer of 2020, he would have been re-elected. Joe Biden signed on to massive Covid stimulus, won the 2020 election, and set off massive inflation.

Sometimes doing the right thing results in a massive personal loss and sometimes doing the wrong thing results in a massive personal gain.

Successful pundits feed an audience what it wants to hear, even if it is bad for them.

In 2008, Dan Shelley, former news director and assistant program director at Milwaukee’s WTM radio, wrote for Milwaukee Magazine:

…talk show hosts…are popular and powerful because they appeal to a segment of the population that feels disenfranchised and even victimized by the media. These people believe the media are predominantly staffed by and consistently reflect the views of social liberals. This view is by now so long-held and deep-rooted, it has evolved into part of virtually every conservative’s DNA.

To succeed, a talk show host must perpetuate the notion that his or her listeners are victims, and the host is the vehicle by which they can become empowered. The host frames virtually every issue in us-versus-them terms. There has to be a bad guy against whom the host will emphatically defend those loyal listeners.

The enemy can be a politician — either a Democratic officeholder or, in rare cases where no Democrat is convenient to blame, it can be a “RINO” (a “Republican In Name Only,” who is deemed not conservative enough. It can be the cold cruel government bureaucracy. More often than not, however, the enemy is the “mainstream media…”

In the talk radio business, this concept, which must be mastered to be successful, is called “differentiating” yourself from the rest of the media. It is a brilliant marketing tactic that has also helped Fox News Channel thrive. “We report, you decide” and “Fair and Balanced” are more than just savvy slogans. They are code words signaling that only Fox will report the news in a way conservatives see as objective and truthful.
Forget any notion, however, that radio talk shows are supposed to be fair, evenhanded discussions featuring a diversity of opinions. The Fairness Doctrine, which required this, was repealed 20 years ago. So talk shows can be, and are, all about the host’s opinions, analyses and general worldview. Programmers learned long ago that benign conversations led by hosts who present all sides of an issue don’t attract large audiences.

One entire group that rarely gets on the air are the elderly callers – unless they have something extraordinary to say. Sadly, that doesn’t happen often. The theory is that old-sounding callers help produce old-skewing audiences. The target demo is 25 to 54, not 65 and older…
Talk show fans are not stupid. They will detect an obvious phony. The best hosts sincerely believe everything they say. Their passion is real. Their arguments have been carefully crafted in a manner they know will be meaningful to the audience, and that validates the views these folks were already thinking.

A smart talk show host will, from time to time, disagree publicly with a Republican president, the Republican Party, or some conservative doctrine. (President Bush’s disastrous choice of Harriet Miers for the Supreme Court was one such example.) But these disagreements are strategically chosen to prove the host is an independent thinker, without appreciably harming the president or party. This is not to suggest that hosts don’t genuinely disagree with the conservative line at times. They do, more often than you might think. But they usually keep it to themselves.

If you lack compelling arguments in favor of your candidate or point of view, attack the other side. These attacks often rely on two key rhetorical devices, which I call You Know What Would Happen If and The Preemptive Strike.

Using the first strategy, a host will describe something a liberal has said or done that conservatives disagree with, but for which the liberal has not been widely criticized, and then say, “You know what would happen if a conservative had said (or done) that? He (or she) would have been filleted by the ‘liberal media.’ ” This is particularly effective because it’s a two-fer, simultaneously reinforcing the notion that conservatives are victims and that “liberals” are the enemy.

The second strategy, The Preemptive Strike, is used when a host knows that news reflecting poorly on conservative dogma is about to break or become more widespread. When news of the alleged massacre at Haditha first trickled out in the summer of 2006, not even Iraq War chest-thumper Charlie Sykes would defend the U.S. Marines accused of killing innocent civilians in the Iraqi village. So he spent lots of air time criticizing how the “mainstream media” was sure to sensationalize the story in the coming weeks. Charlie would kill the messengers before any message had even been delivered.

Good talk show hosts can get their listeners so lathered up that they truly can change public policy. They can inspire like-minded folks to flood the phone lines and e-mail inboxes of aldermen, county supervisors, legislators and federal lawmakers. They can inspire their followers to vote for candidates the hosts prefer. How? By pounding away on an issue or candidate, hour after hour, day after day. Hosts will extol the virtues of the favored candidate or, more likely, exploit whatever Achilles heel the other candidate might have. Influencing elections is more likely to occur at the local rather than national level, but that still gives talk radio power.

By the way, here’s a way to prognosticate elections just by listening to talk shows: Except in presidential elections, when they will always carry water for the Republican nominee, conservative hosts won’t hurt their credibility by backing candidates they think can’t win. So if they’re uncharacteristically tepid, or even silent, about a particular race, that means the Democrat has a good chance of winning. Nor will hosts spend their credibility on an issue where they know they disagree with listeners.

…This brings us to perhaps the most ironic thing about most talk show hosts. Though they may savage politicians and others they oppose, they fear criticism or critiques of any kind. They can dish it out, but they can’t take it.

…But the key reason talk radio succeeds is because its hosts can exploit the fears and perceived victimization of a large swath of conservative-leaning listeners. And they feel victimized because many liberals and moderates have ignored or trivialized their concerns and have stereotyped these Americans as uncaring curmudgeons.

Because of that, there will always be listeners who believe that [they]are the only members of the media who truly care about them.

Political scientist James Joyner wrote Feb. 21, 2021 about talk radio:

“[Rush] Limbaugh’s schtick ultimately transformed the conservative movement in destructive ways because it showed how lucrative playing to the predudices of an aggrieved base can be… …[A] business model that depends on keeping people riled up and feeding their belief system will inevitably become mean-spirited and dishonest. Discussions of nuanced differences of emphasis—which is where politics in a democracy should naturally gravitate—aren’t enough to get millions to tune in for three hours a day, every day. No, the opposition must be monsters out to destroy all that the Good People hold dear.”

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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