Andy McCarthy reacts to a CNN directive to ban talk radio hosts from appearing as guests on its programs:
I wonder if the folks at CNN ever actually listen to the in-depth coverage complicated issues get for hours at a time on Rush’s show and Sean’s show. I wonder how Mr. Klein’s assessment of talk-radio dullards squares up with, say, Mark Levin — an authentic scholar of constitutional law and American history, a mega-bestselling author of books on those subjects, and a former chief of staff to an attorney-general of the United States. Or, say, Hugh Hewitt, a cum laude graduate of Harvard, Order of the Coif student at UMichigan Law School, veteran of two prestigious federal court clerkships, like Mark a former Reagan Justice Department official, and now a professor at Chapman Law School. I wonder if Mr. Klein has ever heard Laura Ingraham or Steve Malzberg or Dennis Praeger (and I could go on and on) mixing it up with advocates for every side of every important issue.
To disagree with them is fine — that’s what makes an interesting debate. But to ban them because you find yourself unable to refute them? That’s class-A cowardice.
There’s a reason talk-radio’s audience is growing while CNN’s is evaporating.
I wish Mr. Klein would just come out and say he’d like to keep to a bare minimum the insights of effective conservative voices. At least that would be honest.
The solid point that Mr. McCarthy doesn’t quite make is that talk radio includes an array of voices. Just as “newspaper” refers to The New York Times, USA Today and The National Enquirer, “talk radio host” encompasses hateful, ranting blowhards like Michael Savage and temperate, insightful guys like Dennis Praeger. Medium specific bans are a mistake.
What he gets wrong is that cable news networks should ban Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Mark Levin (I haven’t listened to the other hosts enough to make a judgment one way or another) — not because they are talk radio hosts, but because as radio personalities they consistently prove themselves to be intellectually dishonest, intemperate partisans whose very approach to public discourse is deeply destructive of it.
Mr. McCarthy wonders if “the folks at CNN ever actually listen to the in-depth coverage complicated issues get for hours at a time on Rush’s show.” What an informed person discovers upon listening to Mr. Limbaugh is that he frequently punctuates his analysis of complicated issues by employing audio clips that are edited in a misleading fashion, makes assertions of fact that are incorrect, and ascribes bad motives to his political opponents based on the behavior of the worst among them, rather than grappling with the strongest arguments on the other side. This is because Mr. Limbaugh isn’t motivated by a desire to inform, or an impulse to cultivate robust political discourse — his desire is merely to maximize the size of his audience, as he himself has asserted in the past. I realize that Mr. McCarthy and many others on the right regard Rush Limbaugh as a valuable tool for the advancement of conservatism — a position with which I disagree — but whatever their opinion of his effectiveness, I am constantly shocked than anyone who follows politics closely can fail to acknowledge his long catalog of shameless, factually inaccurate, intellectually dishonest spin. (Mr. Hannity is less intelligent than Mr. Limbaugh, rendering his intellectual dishonesty even more transparent. One imagines the interns at The Daily Show conceiving him as a kind of insurance policy. Slow news day? It’s okay, just watch a few episodes of Sean Hannity’s show! He’ll inevitably take a position when it benefits Republicans, and months later take precisely the opposite position when it benefits Republicans. We’ll juxtapose them!)
As for Mr. Levin, I’ll restrain myself from rehashing the many examples I’ve documented of intemperate and illogical content on a radio program that debases everyone who listens to it. This isn’t to dispute that the talk show host is “an authentic scholar of constitutional law and American history, a mega-bestselling author of books on those subjects, and a former chief of staff to an attorney-general of the United States.” Mr. Levin is without question an intelligent man whose range and depth of knowledge is impressive. Rather than conduct himself in a manner befitting those qualities, however, he has betrayed them — like a television news producer who gradually shifts from good journalism to thinly veiled soft core porn after discovering how one most easily draws a large audience, Mr. Levin saw that his ratings and influence would increase if he played a shameless, bombastic, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde character on the radio, and as if to wring every ounce of benefit from that devil’s bargain, his knee-jerk response in most arguments is to point out that his critics have a smaller audience than he does.
Mr. McCarthy regards these talk radio hosts as insightful, “effective conservative voices,” a common enough opinion, but one for which I’ve yet to see any evidence. As far as I can tell, the popularity and influence of these people correlate with conservative powerlessness, and at times of Republican ascendancy, they neuter their anti-government rhetoric so markedly that it is difficult to pardon them for enabling the worst excesses of a GOP machine that gorged itself on pork and increased the size of government.
If CNN marginally lessens their prominence conservatives should thank them, but whatever their impact on the right’s political chances, it is right that a cable channel that aspires to journalism should choose as guests people who are engaged in some sort of intellectually honest project.