I was driving through town with the radio on scan, playing every station it encountered for a few seconds each. One voice was so outrageous that it made me hold the station longer.
“Who is this guy?” I thought. His rant was hyperbolic, with cherry-picked data, delivered in a self-righteous arrogance.
This was my introduction to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. His passing last week has caused many to reflect on his life and contributions to society. Predictably, the reviews are as divided as the political environment he helped to create.
But there is no division in my view. Limbaugh and his disciples have weakened the country. He pioneered a dangerous segment of quasi-journalism whose true purpose is entertainment. He was hugely successful. Others across the political spectrum copied him, and the disintegration of our political consciousness accelerated.
Limbaugh blurred the lines between newscaster, political columnist and activist. His default mode was to mock and demonize those who disagreed with him. Unfortunately, Limbaugh’s approach appealed to many, and “ right-wing radio” became very popular and very profitable.
Others found him unacceptable, and clamored for their own version of “newsy entertainment” and conservative bashing. “Left-wing radio” was born, and our situation worsened. They too are disciples of Limbaugh.
With “infotainment” readily available on all sides, many of us moved away from real news and honest commentary, allowing ourselves to be anesthetized from reality, and becoming even more disdainful of those who see things differently than we do. Our ability to talk to and empathize with each other degraded greatly, as we retreated further into our own comfortable corners, to affirm our righteousness and attack the idiots on the other side. Meanwhile, the residue from Limbaugh’s style spread further, even into mainstream media. A new environment had taken shape, and we have yet to shake ourselves out of it.
Our political candidates are products of this new environment. They need to excel in it to survive. To do so, most have stopped valuing broad support, and instead have focused on gaining the loyal support of a more narrowly and intensely focused base; a base which is inevitably inspired by the polluted media they ingest. As a result, our elections have mostly become a contest between undeserving partisans whose goal is to win all arguments at all costs, rather than legislate in the best interest of the people as a whole.
This has been the tragic effect of infotainment news and Limbaugh, it’s founder. Our nation’s collective mind is a mess because of it. Look at us now. Our politicians are afraid to compromise. A sizable portion of the population believes things that are just factually unreal: a stolen election, QAnon…
This is Limbaugh’s legacy.
I’m not blaming it all on Limbaugh and those like him, but they do bear significant responsibility. As founding father of the medium, Limbaugh bears an even greater share of the blame. Those that mimic his format (both liberals and conservatives) are also at fault as are those of us who listen to them.
Shows like Limbaugh’s are junk food for the mind. They seem good and even comforting at first, but a diet full of them causes problems because they don’t give us the balanced nutrition we need.
Limbaugh, and those like him on both extremes of the political spectrum, make us weak-minded, immature and stupid as a people. They prevent us from solving problems because they prevent us from understanding or caring about each other.
We have to stop listening to them. Now. All of them. Both left and right.
Take stock of who you listen to and where you get your news. Evaluate the sources and notice whether they present as straight news with balanced commentary, or as tabloid style infotainment. Does the source intend to inform or inflame?
Look for quality news and analysis everywhere, not just on your preferred network or station. Cable news networks aren’t all bad, but neither are they all good. Each station airs both worthy content and junk. We must try to discern the difference.
Network news shows have the advantage of shorter broadcasts, which push them to report the most important news with minimal distraction and commentary.
Internet news sources must be evaluated constantly and honestly. Same goes for radio and print media.
We are all responsible for vetting our news sources and avoiding infotainment.
May the legacy of Limbaugh wither away as we evolve toward a more productive and mature political climate.
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