October 21, 2009
Rush should make CNN an offer it can't refuseBy Denis Keohane
CNN just keeps embarrassing itself. Oddly enough, Rush Limbaugh could help them out, while doing himself a little good at the same time.
Following close on its much-derided ‘fact checking' of an SNL skit poking fun at President Obama, and the humiliating pat-on-the-head it got as an Obama administration-certified legitimate news organization, CNN has now queried a psychiatrist as to why folks listen to conservative talk radio, especially Rush Limbaugh. CNN's Carol Costello interviewed psychiatrist Gail Saltz. (Video courtesy of Breitbart. Watch it!)
The premise that one should ask a shrink, in seeking to find out why folks listen to Rush and others, is revealing of a certain mindset. Why ask a specialist in mental disorders to comment on something that is not a disorder? CNN is looking for validation of their existing prejudice that there is something at least mildly pathological about listening to Rush. The video is unintentionally funny as it offers a partial answer to why talk radio is dominated by conservatives, one that is missed by CNN's Costello.
The four minute segment features talk radio listener Ira Wagler, who tells the story of how he came to be interviewed on his own blog. The video points out that on the day of filming Ira had listened to about eight hours of right wing talk radio. They show him doing so while driving his vehicle and while in his office, where he works as general manager of a pole building company. Near the end of the report, Costello says that talk radio listeners are more affluent than average.
There's a significant key to understanding the talk radio audience in this narrative. The right can listen to talk radio, as Wagler does and as I have done at various periods over nearly twenty years, (and have seen many dozens of others -- and as millions do on a daily basis), while working at our jobs! We are multi-taskers, who are working, earning a living (and paying taxes) while we listen.
Multi-tasking has limits, and other media, like television, are not a viable competitor for your attention when you have to drive the truck, operate the lathe or interface with the CAD system. If you are not working, however, you have alternative forms of entertainment available, like Jerry Springer or Oprah on your television. You have your full attention available. Maybe that has something to do with left talk radio not being able to attract a large audience of its own followers.
In the video, psychiatrist Saltz reminds me of Pauline Kael, the New Yorker film critic. In 1972, when Nixon won 49 states, Kael reportedly demanded to know how that could be when "I don't know a single person who voted for Nixon." Saltz speaks of Limbaugh listeners as those who feel voiceless and seek to get power by proxy by getting under the wing of the bully (by which she means Limbaugh!).
At this point, Dr. Saltz was professionally obligated to say that those thoughts had nothing to do with her field of psychiatry but were only her opinion based on no actual study of any kind. After all, it is not likely she had dozens of Limbaugh listeners on her couch over months or years bemoaning their powerlessness and mentioning that they listen to Rush. Just as with Kael and Nixon, I doubt she is friends with anyone who regularly listens to Rush. She's probably describing Rush's audience solely from her preconceived notions.
Then too, I doubt she has ever tuned in and listened to Rush for enough time to form an informed opinion. Who, after all, does Rush Limbaugh bully? He has no guests and he is cordial if firm with callers who disagree. How does he bully anyone?
So here is the challenge that I suggest Rush Limbaugh make to CNN:
He would make available to CNN a list of frequent Rush listeners, who have volunteered to be surveyed on why they listen to Rush. To be sure the survey only targets actual Rush listeners and fans and not ringers, Rush asks listeners who are members at his Rush 24/7 web site prior to the challenge to volunteer for the survey.
I'm guessing they would get a very large number of volunteers, especially since the psychiatrist believes these people feel they are voiceless and here's their chance to speak.
Rush and CNN agree to the questions asked, and the survey is done by e-mail with controls on the exchange of e-mails and strict confidentiality. When the survey results are in, CNN and Rush make them public, and Rush is given time on CNN to discuss the results with Carol Costello or another host.
If Rush publicly challenges CNN on whether they want real answers to Costello's "Who is listening and why?" while the network dedicates, say, three episodes of their America's Morning to the topic, it would have be tempting for the cable network. If only a small portion of Rush listeners watched, it could be a ratings bonanza. The network might even break into the top ten cable news shows for a change.
If CNN turned down the opportunity to get detailed answers from hundreds or even thousands of actual Rush listeners, it would look a lot like willful ignorance.
As for Rush, as the victim of a smear campaign, he has every interest in combating the false images created of the show and its audience. Even if only on the third-rated cable news network.