Talk Radio and Pro Wrestling

Talk radio hosts are to political commentary and analysis what pro wrestlers are to sports. This admittedly unoriginal insight struck me hard this morning as I read a Boston Herald opinion column by Boston talk radio host Michael Graham (who loves me, by the way). The other thing that occurred to me while reading Graham’s “thoughts” about the political implications of the shutdown and the way Obamacare will play in 2014 was that talk radio guys really shouldn’t write newspaper columns.

Pro wrestling is fake. Talk radio political commentary is fake. Both are intended as entertainment, both draw audiences that include folks that are not in on the joke thanks to the fact that (Like in pro wrestling) there are many talk radio guys who insist that they are serious. But, there is one important difference here. Pro wrestlers are smart enough not to put their claims of seriousness in writing. However, thanks to the expansion of print commentary made possible by the internet, venues like now give platforms to talk radio guys who translate their drive time schticks into what they seem to think of as sage political commentary. This morning’ s offering by Michael Graham is a very fine example of why these fellas should stick to radio comedy. On the airwaves, irrational analysis and absurd predictions are at least funny. Some listeners laugh with the hosts while others laugh at them, but really everybody wins. The folks who think its serious stuff and the folks who made it through the sixth grade get a few laughs; it’s a win-win.

I don’t think the same can be said for the print translations. When you listen to a guy like Mr. Graham lying about and poking fun at the President or Obamacare or poor people, you realize how silly it is but like a body slam launched from the top rope, it was ugly and fake, but it was done and now it’s gone. Sure, it may bubble up on a highlight reel or two, but for the most part it’s not likely to show up as a prosecution exhibit in the credibility trial of Pro Wrestling. But print commentary goes on your permanent record, so to speak, and if you want to put one over on an audience daily for years at a time without drawing suspicion, shouldn’t you be careful not to leave a trail for the credibility cops?

Anyone willing to peruse the archives of “columnists” like Howie Carr and Michael Graham will quickly realize that these guys are almost always wrong and that their really stupid claims about the state of politics are proven wrong fairly quickly. Despite the print evidence, these fellas go on pretending that they were, are, and will always be right (in it and on it). Today’s Michael Graham column includes some incredibly foolish predictions about the way Obamacare will impact the 2014 elections, for example. None of them will prove out any more than Graham’s previous claims about Obamacare, elections, or anything else related to politics. If you don’t believe me, all you have to do is go to the page where his previous columns are archived and see for yourself.

But here’s the rub; neither Mr. Graham, nor any of his fellow political comedians turned fake public intellectuals are concerned in the least about being exposed anymore than Senator Ted Cruz is concerned about his recent plummet in the polls. Like Cruz, these guys have found the sweet spot in the politics business (and make no mistake, guys like Graham, Howie Carr, and Ted Cruz are in the politics BUSINESS). They have developed niche markets that are basically bullet proof. In fact, by discrediting them and their schticks in the broader marketplace (or in narrower markets with well informed consumers) serious critics are merely providing “product” to these merchants of ignorance wrapped in low brow mockery.

So, no matter how clear it is to most folks that talk radio and pro wrestling are crude theater, the WWF and outfits like Rush Limbaugh’s “Excellence in Broadcasting Network” and the recently launched “Boston Herald Radio” will go merrily on making money selling their product to those who enjoy non-reality based entertainment and those who think its real. The print evidence of this deception will not only fail to bring down these charlatans; it has and will continue to serve as great fodder for the hours of airtime these guys have to fill to sell gold, get rich quick manuals, Viagra, and sundry other products marketed to the intellectually challenged.

About Jerold Duquette

Jerold Duquette is an associate professor of political science at Central Connecticut State University. He is the author of Regulating the National Pastime: Baseball and Antitrust and has published articles and book chapters on campaign finance reform, political parties, Massachusetts politics and political culture, public opinion, and political socialization. Professor Duquette lives in Longmeadow, MA with his wife and four children.
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