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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7 Responses to Talk Radio and Pro Wrestling

  1. Meredith says:

    I always love to read your stuff, but this column has me imagining being in your class and having you write this all over my essay in red pen telling me my “thoughts” are “stupid” and “wrong.” And my college-age self being totally gutted and thinking I should keep my opinions to myself. Gah.

    What’s wrong with having lots of different voices as part of the commentary? Just like you can choose to listen to talk radio (or watch the liberal version of this on MSNBC), you can choose whether to read Howie Carr or Joan Vennochi.

  2. Meredith,

    I’m sorry I made you uncomfortable. I can assure you that I am not quite as frank with college kids whose thoughts are as stupid as those of the radio talkers in question. A key difference is that even the dumbest comments of students are never (as near as I can tell) accompanied my the malicious intent that pervades the “commentary” of radio talkers. I’m all for lots of different voices in political commentary, but does that mean I have to sit quietly while some of those voices espouse foolish, erroneous, and even malicious ideas? Unfortunately, I have had students in classes who are victims of these con men; I treat them very gently and try to move them slowly and carefully back to the world where facts, logic, and evidence have meaning.

    I can assure you that I’m not hurting the feelings of my targets in this post. They will, no doubt, enjoy my prose more than most, and as I explained in the post, they can use my words for their purposes with little effort. They could care less what I, or my readers, think of them and their works.

    So, I think you needn’t fear for my students delicate psyches, but you should worry about their susceptibility to the mindless demagoguery of the talk radio crowd. I’d prefer hurt feelings in a safe place and space like a college campus and classroom, to crippled opportunities and false choices out in the post-college “real world.”

  3. Meredith says:

    Thanks for replying. I have no doubt you are correct that the subjects of your post will thoroughly enjoy what you have to say about them!

  4. Ed Lyons says:

    Professor Duquette:

    First, and foremost, you are right about the sins of this part of right-wing media.

    Though, if I were you, I might have written about similar, but not as serious issues in left-wing media, in order to give your ideas a better reception as you don’t seem to be a Republican. My fellow Republicans would read this and discard your conclusions as you are not one of them. I am one of them and I think Carr and Graham are fools and I am willing to go on RMG and social media and say so. Oh – and for Meredith – balancing your views by consuming left and right wing political voices is like balancing your diet by eating at McDonald’s and Burger King. You are better off reading more about history, philosophy, and economics; while consuming as little political commentary as possible. I am sure Professor Duquette is an excellent source of material for potent political citizenship. :-)

    Where was I? Oh, yes, the fools on talk radio. I would go much further, and I often do with my fellow Republican friends and extended family members who consume a great deal of right-wing opinion on the radio and Fox News.

    1. Many believe they are actually learning something from these people. I remind them, as you do, that it is all business and not even news. I had fun pointing out a few years ago that Fox News actually isn’t a source of news at all. If you go to the annual report for News Corporation, Fox is listed not with the newspapers and news channels they own – but in the section for their entertainment properties. I like to say to my friends, “If the parent company doesn’t consider Fox a source of news, why do you?”

    2. For those who admit this stuff is entertainment, I say, “Oh… but this sure seems like it affects your political citizenship a great deal considering it is just entertainment, isn’t it?”

    (In line with your wrestling analogy, people who watch wrestling do not take the false things they see there into the public square and demand policy changes based on the last wrestling match – such as scrapping laws and regulations for safety gear because it is clear that the guys in the ring don’t need them.)

    Back to citizenship: I like to say to my older cousin, “But 25 years ago, someone like you watched maybe 3-4 hours of straight TV news a week and that’s how you understood the world. You consumed almost no commentary. Now, you watch Fox and listen to talk radio maybe 10 hours a week and get almost no straight news. Are you really telling me that trading a small amount of real news for a huge amount of not-so-real news hasn’t changed how you look at politics and the world?”

    To summarize: the biggest problem with talk radio is not that it is false and lots of people find it valuable. There are many other things like that, such as astrology, which harms no one. The difference here is that political entertainment is corrupting the individual citizenship of many people, it is ruining our national debates, it is affecting the thinking and voting of political activists who dominate primaries, and by compromising a foundation of shared knowledge about what is true about America and what is not, it is preventing our government from solving problems.

    Sorry to go on for so long, but this is a favorite topic of mine. 😉

  5. This strikes me as a fundamental problem of the free market in which people are “voting” with their ears in the case of radio, eyes in the case of teevee, and wallet with most other things. It’s a thing that Russel Kirk touched up in his book The Politics of Prudence (pg 215): “So America’s contribution to the universal ‘democratic capitalism’ of the future will be just this: cheapness, the cheapest comic books and the cheapest mortality that can be provided.” And the cheapest talk radio.

  6. Pingback: Pro-Wrestling » pro wrestling

  7. Gail Storm says:

    Speaking of which, isn’t Charlie Baker the same guy who wrote the pro wrestling column for the Herald in the mid80s? I know that guy was also spokesman for the state’s GOP then too.

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