American Enterprise Institute fellow Tim Mak, who writes for conservative columnist David Frum’s NewMarjority.com, explains the increasing rage in rightwing radio this way: Follow the money. In a post earlier this month, Mak argued the shrinking ad market for talk radio is driving conservative yappers like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh into ever-deepening vitriol. He notes talk radio has lost 30-40 percent of its ad revenue over the past two years and quotes conservative host Michael Medved explaining:
“In this [economic] environment, you have something of a push to be outrageous, to be on the fringe, because what you’re desperately competing for is… P-1 listeners [those who tune in most frequently]. The percentage of people on the fringe who are P-1s is quite high,” he explained. As a result, talk radio hosts are feeling more pressure than usual to yell harder, scream louder, and insult further. Talk shows “are fighting for an ever- smaller pie, [which means that] you’ve got to be even louder about it because you’re trying to get the attention of an ever-smaller niche,” said Medved.
It adds to the point I made in this Root column about the long American tradition of white elites pimping poor whites’ anxiety. As the rest of the media world—and apparently talk radio—craters, Limbaugh boasted "through the roof" revenue in the first quarter of 2009. He’s cornered the white-rage market.
Kudos to Mak and Frum for welcoming a more honest debate. With even purportedly respectable politicos like Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) parroting the “death panel” fear tactic, it’s hard to find voices on the right who welcome a meaningful, informed public discussion these days. A few do exist (and props to Frank Rich for pointing to Frum's call for calm in today’s New York Times column). They just don’t get amplified by corporate media, because rage sells easier than reason.