Green Room

Dreher, Levin and the Craft of Talk Radio

posted at 12:57 pm on May 26, 2009 by

Those watching the bar brawl between Rod Dreher and Mark Levin (with Conor Friedersdorf thrown in for good measure) might want to see my American Spectator column today:

That Levin employs hyperbole and sarcasm on his show is only shocking to people who don’t listen to talk radio. More importantly, Levin believes conservatives are in a fight they cannot afford to lose, against implacable adversaries determined to win at all costs. When a guy begins a fight by slamming a barstool into the back of your head, the Marquis of Queensberry rules do not apply. If you respond by ripping open his carotid artery with the jagged edge of a broken beer bottle, whose fault is that? (“He needed killing,” as Texans like to say.) . . .

Read the whole thing, but first, let’s ask to what extent this is about ideology and to what extent it’s about Dreher and others misunderstanding the nature of  talk radio as a medium. When this thing first broke out, I wrote:

People who’ve never done talk radio, or who’ve never been in a studio and seen how it’s done, have no idea how extraordinarily difficult it is to fill so much as a single hour, much less three hours a day five days a week. Now, consider how difficult it is to do it well, so as to attract a commercially viable nationwide audience. For Dreher (and his source) to disdain Levin is for them to sneer at someone who has succeeded exceptionally in a venue they’ve never even tried.
This is the arrogance of the intellectual elite, to imagine that their particular specialty — the expression of abstract ideals via the written word — is the only ability that matters, qualifying them as experts on anything and everything they choose to write about.

Most people never really think about the craft of talk radio, just like they never think about the craft of journalism, or the craft of blogging, for that matter.

People read Hot Air or Michelle Malkin or Instapundit or Ace, and think to themselves, “Ah, anybody could do that.” Perhaps, but not just anybody can do it well. There is something that Moe Lane calls blog fu, and until you get a million hits, I don’t want to hear you lecturing me about blogging, OK? Ditto anybody who wants to lecture Rush Limbaugh about talk radio.

Because Rush is the very best at what he does — nobody in the talk-radio industry even questions Rush’s absolute supremacy – he makes it seem easy. It’s just like you may not think much of a particular Bad Company song, but until you get up in front of a crowd at karaoke night and actually try to singCan’t Get Enough,” you don’t realize what an extraordinary vocalist Paul Rodgers really is.

This is what’s wrong with Rod Dreher and Conor Friedersdorf criticizing Mark Levin: They are not qualified to do so. Is Levin abrasive and over-the-top sometimes? Yeah. And do you know why? Because in most markets, he goes head-to-head with Michael Savage. If Rod and Conor think Levin is too much, they should give Savage a listen sometime. They don’t call it The Savage Nation for nothing.

Levin must compete in the radio market. It is that simple. Talk radio is a commercial enterprise. Given his background and accomplishments — Reagan administration official, president of the Landmark Legal Foundation, bestselling author — Levin cannot afford to fail. He must get on that microphone every evening and win over listeners. He has so far succeeded admirably and I will give him credit for his achievement, and for knowing just how far he wants to push the envelope in terms of attracting listeners.

If you don’t like talk radio, don’t listen. If you don’t like Mark Levin, change the station. But don’t sit there in front of your laptop and try to convince people you are qualified to pass judgment on someone like Levin who must earn his living every day in a very difficult, competitive business.

Until the Benedict of Nursia Radio Show is No. 1 in its time slot, Rod Dreher, I will once again refer you to the famous words of Rahm Emanuel.

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Very good. Just went over to beliefnet, where Dreher links somebody “eviscerating” you. Never heard of the guy he referenced.

Yep, Big Fish in a Small Pond for sure.

cs89 on May 26, 2009 at 1:33 PM

Mark understands a basic truth in modern politics and it really is sort of a ‘manly’ thing to ‘get it’ so that leaves Dreher and connor what his name out of the loop.
Politics is war by other means.

You may not like it and it may offend you but reality is reality. You deal with things the way they are and not as you want them to be.
The left has been savaging repub ruthlessly for years and covering up for other leftist.
Do you remember these character assaination attempts
Reagan started the aid virus to kill blacks
and was a secret klansman
Clarence Thomas was a rapist
To many to list really
Various and sundry conservstive pundits get there lifes threatened every time they speak in public.
David horowiz, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin. They even went after Michelle husband at one point.
On and on and on it goes and then you hear of some totally useless and limpwristed guy bellyache like this. It is disgusting and toally ignores reality.
Unilateral disarmament/appeasement doesn’t work(see WW2)
in war or in politics because they are the same.

kangjie on May 26, 2009 at 1:37 PM

Rod Dreher must grow faint every time Ralph Kramden winds back his fist and promises to send Alice to the moon. That’s not very crunchy!

Jim Treacher on May 26, 2009 at 2:39 PM

Jim
I am not talented enough to think of anymore haiku so I am just to pilfer comments from the movie ’300′ and post them at random for no reason. To keep the morale up

Here is a doublr post. I send this to Rod
Well, that’s an easy choice for us, Arcadian! Spartans never retreat! Spartans never surrender! Go spread the word. Let every Greek assembled know the truth of this. Let each among them search his own soul. And while you’re at it, search your own.

kangjie on May 26, 2009 at 2:55 PM

He also goes head to head against the rather reasonable and level-headed Hugh Hewitt, doesn’t he? My earlier point stands: All-news WTOP and NPR are still beating the pants off of conservative talk radio in the DC markets. That’s bad.

joemarier on May 26, 2009 at 3:15 PM

Excellent Spectator column.

Is Levin abrasive and over-the-top sometimes? Yeah. And do you know why? Because in most markets, he goes head-to-head with Michael Savage. If Rod and Conor think Levin is too much, they should give Savage a listen sometime. They don’t call it The Savage Nation for nothing.

I don’t think Levin does what he does because he’s competing against Savage. Hasn’t he always had that “get off the phone you big dope” shtick? I remember him from the 1990s before he had his radio show. He doesn’t suffer fools gladly. I also don’t think one needs to be “qualified” to criticize talk radio or blogging – but one does need to be reasonably informed about the target of your criticism. Clearly voicing an outraged opinion based on a mere 15 minutes of listening fails that test.

When I hear tedious people like Crunchy Con and his sidekick I can’t help but wonder:

What would have happened to the careers of, say, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce, and George Carlin if these sanctimonious schmucks had been the arbiters of acceptable discourse?

Buy Danish on May 26, 2009 at 3:22 PM

This guy makes less sense the more of his stuff I read:

“Perhaps it’s a measure of the depths of my cultural pessimism, but when I take a sounding of the conservative predicament these days, I find myself not asking, “What would Reagan do?” but rather “What would Benedict do?” Benedict of Nursia, I mean, the 5th-century founder of Western monasticism, the man most responsible for preserving European Christian culture through the Dark Ages.”

Uh, what? Talk about not relevant to today’s problems!
Nevermind that obsolete Reagan, let’s go to 5th century European monks! The uncommitted moderate voters in suburban Pennsylvania will respond to this so positively in 2010 and ’12. Get Tom Ridge on the phone, we’ve got a winner folks!

/sarc

Brian1972 on May 26, 2009 at 5:22 PM

R.S. McCain:

You have been on a roll lately, real good stuff.

You had a quote awhile back that I’ve used a few times:

“By God we’ll see whose Republican Party this is.”

Well, we are beginning to see, are we not, oh wise one?
(SarahPAC fundraising disclosure will say it loud soon)

Brian1972 on May 26, 2009 at 5:26 PM

My earlier point stands: All-news WTOP and NPR are still beating the pants off of conservative talk radio in the DC markets. That’s bad.

joemarier on May 26, 2009 at 3:15 PM

For whom? It’s DC.

Jim Treacher on May 26, 2009 at 5:31 PM

People read Hot Air or Michelle Malkin or Instapundit or Ace, and think to themselves, “Ah, anybody could do that.”

They shouldn’t. I’ve been blogging off and on since Nov 2001 and have never even broke 100 hits. I even lost my liberal troll!

It’s like watching tightrope walkers and jugglers. When it looks easy it’s because they’re good.

schmuck281 on May 26, 2009 at 5:38 PM

For whom? It’s DC.

Jim Treacher on May 26, 2009 at 5:31 PM

Heh. DC vs. the rest of America.

Brian1972 on May 26, 2009 at 5:40 PM

The difference between Limbaugh, Levin, Ingraham, Coulter, et al., and Dreher, Frum, Brooks, Douthat, Freisendorf, Meghan McCain et al., is that the members of the former are talented enough to make a name for themselves by attacking liberals and liberalism, while the members of the latter group have to beg for attention by attacking conservatives and conservatism, despite styling themselves as conservatives.

thirteen28 on May 26, 2009 at 6:17 PM

Stacy McCain rules. Make sure you go to his site and click all those Google Adsense ads! :)

True_King on May 26, 2009 at 6:19 PM

It’s just like you may not think much of a particular Bad Company song, but until you get up in front of a crowd at karaoke night and actually try to sing “Can’t Get Enough,” you don’t realize what an extraordinary vocalist Paul Rodgers really is.

I’m pretty elitist about my musical tastes (Zappa, Grateful Dead, Little Feat, etc.) but Bad Company is a great freaking rock n’ roll band. Can’t Get Enough is a damn near perfect rock song. Are the lyrics sophisticated, no, but neither is Louie Louie or Kick Out The Jams.

rokemronnie on May 26, 2009 at 6:57 PM

Levin hasn’t just succeeded in the world of talk radio. He’s also succeeded in Dreher and Frum’s world of the written word. Before the massive success of Liberty & Tyranny, Levin’s book about his dying dog, Rescuing Sprite, was a best seller. My ex is politically left of center and she loved Rescuing Sprite.

rokemronnie on May 26, 2009 at 7:06 PM