Rush to judgment

Thursday, November 28, 2002

The Wall Street Journal

It's a wonder that Rush Limbaugh is walking the streets a free man, at least the way Tom Daschle tells it. With America on the verge of war with Saddam Hussein, the economy sputtering and Osama bin Laden looking alive if not well, what threat to the American way of life did the outgoing Senate majority leader deplore in his valedictory address?

Rush Limbaugh.

Daschle likened what listeners are getting on talk radio to Islamic fundamentalism.

This is not a new charge. The bodies had not even been buried when Bill Clinton blamed talk radio for the Oklahoma City bombing. Though he didn't name names, he was clearly aiming at Mr. Limbaugh and Co. when he complained that "They spread hate."

Now there's no doubt that conservative hosts dominate the medium. But the accusation that talk radio is pushing emotional buttons is rich coming from Mr. Daschle. After all, during his tenure as leader the Democratic Party's idea of debate has been to run an ad of a child asking "May I please have some more arsenic in my water, Mommy?" or to put up a cartoon on its Web site depicting George W. Bush pushing a wheelchair-bound granny off a cliff.

"There is a view out there that the talk radio audience is composed of angry white males in militias who beat their wives and shoot at abortion clinics," says Craig Shirley of Shirley & Banister, a public-relations firm. "But the demographics show consistently that people who listen to talk radio are better educated, earn more money and are more active in their communities than the average American." ...

Years ago the prevailing orthodoxy was that the popularity of conservative media was simply a reaction to President Clinton, which would disappear when he did. The truth is that there exists a large audience hungry for political news, and it listens to radio. If conservatives dominate the talk medium, maybe it's because they're the only ones willing to debate.

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