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Conservative Talk Radio No Echo Chamber with Message or Style

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of
(The following is the first of three excerpts from The Right Frequency: The Story of the Talk Radio Giants Who Shook Up the Political and Media Establishment, by Fred Lucas; History Publishing Company. The adapted excerpts look at talk radio rivalries.)

“One party will tax and spend; one party won’t tax but will spend: It’s both of them,” Glenn Beck said at the 2010 Conservative Political Action Conference. “All they’re talking about is we need a big tent. We need a big tent. Can we get a bigger tent? How can we get a big tent? What is this, a circus?”

The following Monday after Beck’s Saturday speech was a clear demonstration why talk radio is not an echo chamber parroting Republican talking points, as many on the left would claim. Rush Limbaugh was not happy with the content and the volume of criticism leveled against Republicans.

“I would not have said that the only people who can stop Obama —Republicans—should be excoriated for being just as bad,” Limbaugh said on his radio show. “It would never occur to me to say that. I don’t know what the objective would be.”

Different hosts take a very different approach on the spectrum of conservatism. Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin take a more traditional Reagan conservative view. Beck leans close to libertarianism, while still holding social conservative views. Michael Savage speaks loudly for the anti-war right. Hosts Bill Bennett, Michael Medved and Dennis Prager offer a reserved and analytical style absent the yelling or name calling of other programs. The bigger picture from this is that conservative talk radio has become such a large universe that different definitions of conservatism and different styles of programming can co-exist on the airwaves.

What Limbaugh and Beck represent is two eras of talk radio. Beck became a cultural phenomenon during the Obama administration the same way that Limbaugh became a cultural phenomenon during the Clinton administration. Even in the universe of talk hosts, Beck is the only host that rivals Limbaugh in invoking something akin to hatred from the left.

“Glenn’s emergence reminds me of Rush’s emergence in the early ‘90s,” nationally syndicated conservative host Mike Gallagher told Politico in 2009. “People have asked me, ‘Who’s the next Rush,’ because Rush is the gold standard. … seems to be Glenn.”

The same Politico story quoted Levin saying, “Comparing Rush Limbaugh to Glenn Beck is like comparing George Washington to George Jefferson. Beck can be very entertaining and even informative, but he is neither the face nor the voice of the conservative movement. He is one of many.”

While Levin mainly targets liberals, he has been known to go after fellow conservative hosts, whom he refers to as “Weiner Nation,” using Savage’s real last name. “I’m not sure why anyone would want to hear someone have a nervous breakdown every night I’d think it would get tiring,” he said of Savage.

During the Obama administration, Savage never let up on the legacy of Bush. He also regularly lambasts other conservative talk radio hosts for defending Bush.

“He’s nothing but a checked pants, country club, Rockefeller Republican, a compromiser and a phony through and through,” an irate Savage said to one caller trying to defend Bush. “The man expanded the government more so than his previous four presidents. Are you aware of any of that or have you taken the Kool-Aid for so long from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about?”

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