Talk Radio's America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States
The cocreator of the Washington Post's "Made by History" blog reveals how the rise of conservative talk radio gave us a Republican Party incapable of governing and paved the way for Donald Trump.
America's long road to the Trump presidency began on August 1, 1988, when, desperate for content to save AM radio, top media executives stumbled on a new format that would turn the political world upside down. They little imagined that in the coming years their brainchild would polarize the country and make it nearly impossible to govern. Rush Limbaugh, an enormously talented former disc jockey--opinionated, brash, and unapologetically conservative--pioneered a pathbreaking infotainment program that captured the hearts of an audience no media executive knew existed. Limbaugh's listeners yearned for a champion to punch back against those maligning their values. Within a decade, this format would grow from fifty-nine stations to over one thousand, keeping millions of Americans company as they commuted, worked, and shouted back at their radios. The concept pioneered by Limbaugh was quickly copied by cable news and digital media.
Radio hosts form a deep bond with their audience, which gives them enormous political power. Unlike elected representatives, however, they must entertain their audience or watch their ratings fall. Talk radio boosted the Republican agenda in the 1990s, but two decades later, escalation in the battle for the airwaves pushed hosts toward ever more conservative, outrageous, and hyperbolic content.
Donald Trump borrowed conservative radio hosts' playbook and gave Republican base voters the kind of pugnacious candidate they had been demanding for decades. By 2016, a political force no one intended to create had completely transformed American politics.
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Rejecting claims that the medium acted as a Republican puppet, [Rosenwald] describes a curious relationship between the Grand Old Party and talk radio hosts, one that has had seriously deleterious consequences for American political life.--Financial Times (10/07/2019)
[Rosenwald] argues that the profit motive radicalized talk radio and with it the Republican Party...Because conflict and scaremongering drove ratings and ratings drove profits, the more extreme the hosts became, the more listeners they gained, and the more money they made. As they amassed power and influence, the hosts could demand fealty from the politicians they were discussing every day.-- (09/26/2019)
Moving the discussion of contemporary conservative media out of the realm of shadowy conspiracy theory and into the sunlight of deeply researched historical investigation, Brian Rosenwald shows how right-wing talk radio moved from the margins to the mainstream and warped American politics in the process. This book will be of vital interest to anyone concerned about restoring the quality of American democratic debate.--Joseph Crespino, author of Atticus Finch: The Biography--Harper Lee, Her Father, and the Making of an American Icon
Before there were social media echo chambers, before there was Fox News, there was Rush Limbaugh and his kin. Brian Rosenwald has told the definitive story of how a squad of outrageous, rule-breaking right-wing radio hosts set the Republican Party agenda and then overtook the party itself. Scholarly and yet eminently readable, this book is indispensable for understanding the world conservative media wrought.--David Greenberg, Rutgers University
Upending conventional wisdom, Brian Rosenwald's deeply researched book offers an incisive account of how conservative talk radio transformed American politics, altering the relationships between Congressional leaders and rank-and-file members, between activists and the party establishment, and between the demands of entertainment and the process of policymaking.--Bruce J. Schulman, Boston University
The rise of conservative talk radio has changed American politics and American life, and Brian Rosenwald tells a careful and comprehensive story of its rise and its mushrooming influence. From Rush Limbaugh's humble beginnings to the election of Donald Trump, Talk Radio's America shows through careful research and subtle argument how talk radio moved well beyond entertainment and grievance to change the role and makeup of mainstream media, the kinds of stories Americans consume, and the pliable nature of truth. A superb guide to one of the most potent forces in modern political history.--John Dickerson, 60 Minutes correspondent
An informative account of talk radio and its impact on politics and policymaking.--Glenn C. Altshuler"Pittsburgh Post-Gazette" (09/13/2019)
A brisk, well-researched history of the rise and transformation of talk radio...A vigorous analysis of contemporary politics.--Kirkus Reviews (07/01/2019)
Important and groundbreaking...Expertly shows how disparate strands in the American political landscape converged in the late 1980s to help make talk radio the potent political force it would become...A must-read for anybody hoping to understand how Trump captured the Republican presidential nomination.--Washington Examiner (08/19/2019)