Friday, November 21, 2008


Nate Silver talks about right-wing talk radio in a post titled "Did Talk Radio Kill Conservatism?" I think he's on to something, but I'm not sure I agree that stimulation is the key concept here -- not exactly:

...There are a certain segment of conservatives who literally cannot believe that anybody would see the world differently than the way they do. They have not just forgotten how to persuade; they have forgotten about the necessity of persuasion.

... the distinguishing feature of radio is that it exists in a sort of perpetual amnesiac state. In a book, you can go back and read the previous page; on the internet, you can press the 'back' button on the browser. In radio, there is no rewind: everything exists in that moment and that moment only. This is, theoretically, a problem with teleivsion too, but in teleivison you at least have context clues -- graphics and what not....

Moreover, almost uniquely to radio, most of the audience is not even paying attention to you, because most people listen to radio when they're in the process of doing something else. (If they weren't doing something else, they'd be watching TV). They are driving, mowing the lawn, washing the dishes -- and you have to work
really hard to sustain their attention. Hence ... the importance of "stimulating" the listener....

Stimulation, however, is somewhat the opposite of persuasion....

I'd say, in response to Nate, that talk radio and cable news-talk and political blogs all try to stimulate, across the political spectrum. The real difference is something Nate mentions almost in passing -- "graphics and what not."

Liberals haven't done well in talk radio but have succeeded in the blogosphere, and now, finally, on cable (though they've done well there for a while if you count The Daily Show and The Colbert Report), because those media favor the clever and persuasive marshaling of evidence -- "gotcha!" quotes, video clips, old documents. Yes, plenty of what liberals put out is in the form of monologues (a lot of blog posts, Olbermann's commentaries) -- but in so much of the liberal opinionsphere, the smoking guns are well-placed YouTube clips and unearthed five-year-old newspaper columns.

Right-wingers deploy these too -- but on radio they're less a part of the mix. Radio is mostly about monologists holding forth.

And so is the channel that's the TV equivalent of talk radio, as Nate points out:

FOX News is unusual television, really, in that almost all the stimulation is verbal, and almost all of it occurs at the same staccato pacing as radio. You could take tonight's broadcast of Hannity & Colmes or the [O'Reilly] Factor and put it directly on radio and you'd lose almost nothing (not coincidentally, Hannity and O'Reilly also have highly-rated radio programs). That wouldn't really work for Countdown, which has higher production values, and where the pacing is more irregular. It certainly wouldn't work for the Situation Room -- or moving in a different direction, the Daily Show....

The difference isn't about "pacing" or "production values" -- it's about documentation. Link the source. Embed the video clip. It isn't important to do these things in radio -- and radio hasn't worked out for liberals. It is important on TV and in the blogosphere -- and those, for liberals, have worked out just fine.

No comments: