In Defense of Conservative Talk Radio

Michelle Malkin

2/13/2008 12:01:00 AM - Michelle Malkin

The most anti-conservative rhetoric against conservative talk radio these days is coming from supposedly free-market conservatives. It's disgusting.

Author Mark Helprin's grenade in The Wall Street Journal stands out. Yesterday, he launched an attack on conservative radio hosts who oppose presumptive GOP presidential nominee John McCain. Helprin sneered that their "major talent is that, like hairdressers, they can talk all day long to one client after another as they snip."

It's one thing to hear such petty snark coming from the left. Outraged that conservative talk radio has succeeded in the marketplace while liberals have bombed, and unnerved that new media outlets have upended mainstream journalism's monopoly apple cart, liberals have long crusaded against the medium. Bill Clinton blamed the Oklahoma City bombing on the "many loud and angry voices" in conservative talk radio that "spread hate." Democrats continue to deride "Republican noise machines" and are working in Congress to marginalize, regulate and stifle influential talkers -- most recently by threatening to reinstitute the Orwellian Fairness Doctrine.

But now, we have establishment Republicans parroting liberal ad hominem rhetoric: Talk-radio hosts are talentless blabbermouths. Their listeners are mind-numbed robots. Or, as supposed free-market conservative and McCain supporter Phil Gramm put it in his broadside against talk radio in the Washington Post last week: "They say they have principles, but some of it is their ego and power, too. They're well-known, and they're used to having power."

Funny. These trash-talking GOP politicians and pundits had no problem when conservative talk-radio hosts used their "ego and power" to help kill Hillary Clinton's massive government health care takeover in 1994. They had no problem when conservative talk-radio hosts used their "ego and power" to galvanize support for the Republican revolution, two Bush presidential campaigns and the war in Iraq.

In major metropolitan U.S. cities, conservative talk radio offers rare relief from liberal orthodoxy -- and local talk show hosts have spearheaded effective activism. KSFO in San Francisco led the Gray Davis recall brigade. KVI in Seattle was instrumental in launching the successful fight against Hillarycare and in support of an initiative abolishing government racial preferences.

Were they nothing more than empty-talking hairdressers then?

The Republican talk-radio bashers did start having problems when many national hosts harnessed popular grassroots opposition to help kill last year's Bush/McCain/Kennedy illegal alien amnesty bill. GOP Rep. Lindsey Graham dismissed them as "loud folks." In other words: They were making a difference. Then-Sen. Trent Lott lamented that right-wing talk-radio hosts were a "problem." In other words: They were effective. McCain's defenders have made common cause with the likes of ethnocentric, open-borders groups like La Raza in redefining all conservative talk-radio opposition as unacceptable "hate" beyond the bounds of reasonable discourse.

In other words: They must be shut up. Bill Clinton approves.

Those who most stridently criticize talk radio know the least about it. It is not one monolithic bloc. Disagreements among top conservative hosts are legendary. They have different interests, varying styles, and divergent strengths and weaknesses. Do they do what they do primarily for money, ego and power? It's an embarrassingly class-warfare-tinged cheap shot.

In any case, if you're a true free-market conservative, it's not supposed to be a crime to make a profit. There's no shame in making a living by sharing information and opinions -- or in meeting unmet demands in the marketplace of ideas.

I've done it for 16 years in the newspaper, TV and blogging businesses. And I can tell you this: Talk radio has been instrumental and invaluable in the dissemination of conservative principles. Ask any author who hasn't been able to get a fair hearing in the national press, but who has watched his Amazon.com ratings soar after a mention by a talk-radio host. Ask any local columnist grateful for a chance to see his or her reporting receive wider attention.

Helprin accuses conservative talkers who oppose McCain of rooting for a liberal presidency because their "influence and coffers swell on discontent" and they are "nostalgic" for the Clinton years. Translation: They're all just greedy self-promoters who care more about themselves than the good of the country. Gramm leveled the same attack: "They're people who put their dogma in front of the interests of the country."

Cocooned conservative establishment snobs denigrate talk-radio hosts for preaching to the choir. But these same critics have no problem using the medium to market their own work. Ask their publicists. The message of the anti-conservative conservatives dissing talk radio: Self-interest for me, but not for thee.

No need to wait for a Clinton to take the White House. Clintonism is alive and well among conservative talk-radio haters on both sides of the aisle.