January 5, 2009

Who You Calling Angry!!!

Justin Katz

I was disappointed to come across this musing from Providence Journal Opinion Page Editor Bob Whitcomb (via RI Future):

Why do right-wing radio talk-show hosts like Rush Limbaugh do so well and liberal ones not so well? Consider that Colin McEnroe, a rude liberal, has just been fired by WTIC in Hartford and that national liberal talk-show hosts have had a tough time hanging on to their jobs.

And why do letters to the editor even in liberal states like Rhode Island and Connecticut feature so many right-wingers complaining about high taxes, overspending and allegedly corrupt legislators and so on even as the general electorate elects liberal Democrats by wide margins?

Simple. It's because the conservatives tend to be angrier than liberals and anger is a powerful energizer and seller. Radio stations, all too many of which are owned by a few few national companies, know that they need intensity of listenership above all to sell advertising time. Hiring a right-wing host is a good strategy for selling advertising time.

It's similar to why newspapers devote so much space to sports: Followers of teams are committed readers.

That is not to say that many liberals aren't infuriated, too. Consider the sometimes almost psychotic hatred of G.W. Bush. But, all in all, right wingers tend to be angrier, longer.

There are, no doubt, talk radio hosts who are strikingly angry, but I still have trouble counting Rush Limbaugh among them. The proverbial heavy breathing on Limbaugh is more guffaw than growl; the most strenuous tone is typically stunned amusement at liberals' insanity. The same is true on most talk radio shows. The missing factor in the usual liberal assessment of their heat is the length of the programs, generally with unscripted conversation throughout. Show me the person who can discuss current events with strangers for three hours per day — often reaching down to core ideology — without occasionally raising his voice, and I'll show you a man without beliefs.

If anger plays a role in the disparity in talk radio success between conservatives and liberals, the key isn't the depth or longevity of emotion, but the different modes of expressing it — experiencing it. It's the distinction between a heated rollick that sometimes approaches the push too hard and a passive-aggressive seething. There's a viciousness to liberal anger — made painfully prominent in that "almost psychotic hatred of G.W. Bush" — a wipe-them-out-make-them-irrelevant belittling. Right wing anger is, in its way, more masculine; it pounds on the front door, bloodies the lip, and leaves as if the point's been made. That sort of anger, because visible in advance, can be talked down, soothed, whereas the other sort of anger slides the knife in and out with mute certainty.

But I wonder if even that much explanation is necessary. It might be more productive to chart ideological leanings demographically and align media by occupation. NPR's major non-music shows align with commutes. The king of conservative talk radio covers the after-lunch span of the work day. Perhaps the critical factor is the political norm among those who can talk — and listen to talk — while they work.

The thread is continuous across these various points, weaving a picture of masculine sparring, most often of a good-natured tone, among men whose hands are occupied more than their minds at work. Of course there are broad exceptions (pun intended or not), but it is the vast average of a group that will spell success for a daily show.

As for Whitcomb's association of talk radio with letters to the editor, well, I imagine Bob designates the political inclinations of writers based on the topics that they raise. Letters don't come, like mine, marked with a "conservative" stamp. Therefore, I'd expect letters complaining about "high taxes, overspending and allegedly corrupt legislators" to be especially common in liberal states, in which at least the first two qualities are a matter of principle.

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My favorite part of this and what other liberals like to claim is that conservatives only whine and complain, never offer solutions. I guess that reasoning works if you don't like the solutions being offered. Can't we say the same about them and their "progressive" ideas? They all whine and complain about the Governor, but I don't see them offering up a new budget or anything other than "raise taxes" or "fund a new program".

Posted by: pitcher at January 5, 2009 11:03 AM

I'm so angry ... arrgh! LOL

Do you think he's being serious, or perhaps is it a veiled attempt at sarcasm? If he's being serious, then it's obvious that he doesn't listen to a lot of talk radio. It's just regurgitated liberal MSM talking points, because they can't reconcile themselves to the fact that print media is dying a slow and painful death, and that it's their fault, because they refuse to change.

As for Rush Limbaugh, he's probably the least angry person out there. Great sense of humor and lots of substance. I can't say I listen as much anymore, as he has been on for 20 years, but he's still head and shoulders above his competition.

I've never heard a happy liberal (except Alan Colmes) anywhere near a microphone. Al Franken, Rachel Maddow, and other Air America types, don't strike me as happy go lucky types. They tank because they aren't entertaining. It's all about the ratings.

Posted by: Will at January 5, 2009 12:13 PM

It is surprising that he misses the main economic argument completely. He points out that sports are well covered because the newspapers cater to their paying readers interests. Why is it a stretch to consider that talk radio serves a market that is otherwise unserved - conservatives?

Posted by: chuckR at January 5, 2009 12:43 PM

I don't think I've heard many angrier people than Mike Malloy and Randi Rhodes who were on Air America.Or anyone more snide and revolting than Al Franken.
Okay,maybe Bob Grant,who used to be on in the NY/NJ area.He was right wing.I'd say Michael Savage,but he's hard to take seriously.His real name is Michael Weiner(it just doesn't have the right sound for a talkshow host)and he's almost unlistenable to.Occasionally he's on when I turn on the car radio at night-always the same old spiel,and then he starts his huckstering act to sell his books.If he hates San Francisco so much,why doesn't he move?He isn't poor.
I listen to Helen Glover and she doesn't sound angry or hateful,just coomitted to her point of view.
I quit listening to Limbaugh about 15 years ago when when his show became a one note song about Bill Clinton.Prior to that Limbaugh was truly funny,and some off the best stuff was apolitical satire like the "fast food drive through nightmare"or "spatula city" ads.
Once Clinton got elected,Rush couldn't leave it alone for even one day,and quickly got tiresome.
Has Whitcomb ever read some of the nastier stuff on RIF?No one's angry there,are they?
Dan Yorke often sounds angry,but not necessarily having to do with right/left issues.I think a lot of Yorke's anger is just "radio" to keep listeners' interest involved with the topic.
My .02 on the subject.

Posted by: joe bernstein at January 5, 2009 1:25 PM

Anger is anger. It's neither masculine nor feminine. If you're pissed, you're pissed.
I think the Limbaughs and Olbermanns of the world inspire angrier reactions from the other side because they mix in some humor with their anger. If you really want to anger somebody, calling them some four-letter word is much less effective than tossing in some humor (or sarcasm, depending on the beholder).
Any moron can toss an F-bomb (or cheap sexual reference). If you want to make your point and stick it to somebody, you can do a lot worse than checking out The Rock or Ric Flair's old WWE promos (and they're both conservative guys) on YouTube for examples.

Posted by: rhody at January 5, 2009 6:40 PM

I don't listen to Rush Limbaugh a whole lot, but I'd have to agree with what others have said: the only "anger" he seems to express is feigned and most of what he does is poking fun at liberals. Contrast that with Keith Olbermann, who strikes me as genuinely angry (and is apparently is difficult to work alongside based on comments from his co-workers).

On the contrary, a study was published recently that found conservatives to be far happier than liberals overall.

But I do think that it may be possible to localize one aspect of Whitcomb piece. I'd suggest that one of the reasons for the "angry" letters from conservatives in liberal states is that conservatives are upset with the status quo.

After all, if you're a conservative in RI, you've probably talked to people for years about how RI's high taxes chase away job providing businesses and how the state's overspending would eventually haunt the state.

I think there is a reason to be angry when you're asked to provide more tax dollars to bail the state out of a situation which could have easily been avoided if proper steps had been taken years ago.

Posted by: Anthony at January 5, 2009 6:59 PM

Bob Whitcomb is entitled to his opinion, but research doesn't agree with him:


My opinion is that actual research by the Pew Research Center and published in Psychological Science is a bit more meaningful.

-Bri in NC

Posted by: Bri in NC at January 5, 2009 7:34 PM

That's right Bri in NC,
We are definitely happier because we vent our anger on the stupid liberals who then go into deep depression because their just so sensitive.

Posted by: bobc at January 5, 2009 9:22 PM

"And why do letters to the editor even in liberal states like Rhode Island and Connecticut feature so many right-wingers complaining about high taxes, overspending and allegedly corrupt legislators"

... um, as Anthony said, because liberals are in charge and they raise taxes, overspend and too often get in trouble with their power monopoly? Just a crazy thought ...

Posted by: Monique at January 5, 2009 9:47 PM

Susan from Providence and all other talk show callers and listeners

Maybe more listeners of angry talk radio are angry and frustrated not only by their difficult commutes to workplaces that haves for years increased the time that workers work with little or no raises in salary,and cuts in benefit packages but are people seeking a place to vent that anger and frustration. At other drivers...yes. At liberals...yes. At school teachers....yes. At those that actually have a more direct detrimental effect on their salaries and benefits...perish the thought. That's where the talk masters come in to direct anger away from the corporate entities and onto professors and liberals and homeless and community organizers and unions and gays and any other convenient targets. And why should'nt the Rush Limbaughs be funny instead of angry as they earn way too much money. Their job is to keep the audience angry and focused on hating their neighbors and co workers and fellow commuters.

Posted by: Phil at January 6, 2009 9:05 AM

Phil- Bravo!

Posted by: David at January 6, 2009 7:54 PM
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