Rush Limbaugh As Low As Father Charles Coughlin

I would be remiss if not mentioning thoughts about the death of Rush Limbaugh at the age of 70. If you are looking for some great tribute to the man or lauding his time as a broadcaster, this will not be the post you were hoping for. After all, Limbaugh did more to undermine radio than to lift it, sully it more than to enrich its long history in our nation. The medium that I love, and once worked in was stained by his actions.

Over the years the bombast, crude remarks, and low-balls that were a daily aspect of Limbaugh’s on-air time brought his ratings down and his advertisers far fewer in number. (I have commented on these matters relating to Rush 34 times over the years.) While the ratings and ad revenues are the milk and bread to the industry, I would argue there is something more fundamental that should be considered about his abusing radio.

The stories are countless of those who have looked to radio over the many, many decades for friendship and companionship.  Radio has been there late nights when the baby will not sleep, during morning drive time, at work for music and sports scores, and then catching up on news and weather in the evenings.

Even though television allows us an image, radio remains the most intimate medium.  It is the place where we get to know the announcer and hear the banter about the morning drive into the station, or insights into their life.  The effective radio broadcaster gives us glimpses of who he/she really is and that creates a bond between those on both sides of the radio dial.

But Limbaugh worked feverishly to erode civility on the airwaves. That is how his life can be best summed up.

I am well aware that the low-bar in broadcasting now takes place on both right-wing and left-wing programming as the announcers and hosts seem more interested in red meat tactics for political purposes than striving for high marks in broadcasting. But let us not forget it was Rush who created the basement from which the others could also reside. While there are still many stations that will not stoop to the level we heard about in the news repeatedly with Limbaugh, it remains unsettling to know that national broadcasting standards slipped in large measure because of him.

This morning, after the news was reported Limbaugh had died, a broadcasting friend reached out and asked who else might be viewed as a broadcaster who influenced radio in the past 50 years? He had already placed Larry King on the list, and I readily added Paul Harvey. All my life I have never forgotten the professional standards of Harvey, one of my radio heroes based on his ability to enunciate words, and who wore a tie for his radio broadcasts.  He knew the way he looked and acted in a radio studio would come across over the airwaves.  And it did.

Then while picking up dishes in the kitchen another broadcaster who made history, and like Limbaugh brought hate and bile to the airwaves, came to my mind. Though he was ‘famous’ for his rants about 85 years ago, his linkage to Rush is very clear.

Father Charles Coughlin.

Coughlin is one of those truly interesting, though sad stories, from history. He used his radio program to all but incite violence on Jewish Americans, and over time ramped up his peddling of anti-semitic bigotry to the bizarre. By the time fascism was better known, Coughlin had become a supporter of some of the ideas advanced by Hitler and Mussolini. The broadcasts have been described as “a variation of the Fascist agenda applied to American culture.”

Limbaugh had a different era to play with but used the same base motives and instincts to stir hate. He used white supremacy, xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and misogyny as his weapons. He even mocked the deaths of people from AIDS on his national broadcasts.

Somewhere along the way, those who harvest radio licenses have created a mean-spirited and pitiful listening landscape where now the most base commentary can be heard, and the most pathetic hosts can reap huge profits. Today the one who fostered so much that is currently wrong with radio has died.

There is no reason to feel anything about that news other than a sense of the loss of radio as we once knew it.

Local Media, Reporters Matter: Chicago Tribune Is Proof

Not for the first time do I stress the importance of supporting local media. From subscribing to a local newspaper and supporting businesses that advertise on a local radio station. Local media and the newsrooms they populate with reporters and journalists are one of the foundations that keeps our democracy strong. News and information is a vital component for an engaged citizenry.

With that being said it was not shocking news, as the reports on the negotiations have been known for weeks, that Tribune Publishing, publisher of the Chicago Tribune and other major newspapers, has agreed to be acquired by Alden Global Capital in a deal valued at $630 million. But it was still very unsettling and troubling to learn of the outcome as the consequences are enormous. This is far more than just a news headline to be treated in a fast cavalier manner.

As a result of the deal, there is soon to be one of the largest newspaper operations in the United States. But that does not make it a boon for news consumers, or a win for the newspaper profession, or hard-working journalists who ferret out the news for each edition. Far from it! The reason is due to Alden being a hedge fund with a history of deep cost-cutting at its other newspaper properties.

But there is also a more fundamental issue to consider with the amassing of properties in large media companies. When papers are owned in such a fashion opposing views are marginalized and Op-Ed pages are watered down. Or with some local papers due to budget cuts, there is not even an editorial staff to ponder the issues of the day. For the sake of our democracy, I again make the case as to why there must be regulations to stop and undo the consolidation of our news, in any medium, into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

When it comes to the iconic Chicago Tribune I shudder to think of the future. The newsroom has already shrunk roughly 30 percent since November 2018, from about 165 journalists in the union to 118 presently. Those are not just jobs. No, far more important those numbers are news reporters who head around the city to meetings and neighborhoods to gather the stories which inform readers. And with the knowledge of what happens in the city comes the sense of community and connections which is also a vital component to democracy.

I have been posting for years about the woes of the newspaper industry in the digital media age. I have written about the revenue from the industry being cut in half between 2008 and 2018 because of a ruinous decline in print advertising. And to the gut of the matter that means during that same time frame newsroom employment declined 25%. (Pew Research)

When it comes to hedge funds it comes as no surprise I rank them alongside those who sold cure-all elixirs door-to-door at one time in our nation. They are best termed as “vulture capitalists”. Soulless, too. It also should come as no shock Alden has done great harm to other papers they have bought and chopped up in their all-consuming zeal to make money. The reason so many people are exercised over the recent deal is that local news suffers when newsrooms are pared down and the voices and events of those nearest to the reader are not reported.

When a hedge fund looks to break apart a newspaper and treat it as only a cash cow there is a deep price paid for by the local community. When newsroom owners view profits as the only goal, quality, reliability, and accountability suffer in the editions of the paper that hit the streets and land in the mailboxes.

Jon Schleuss, president of the NewsGuild-Communication Workers of America, whose local chapters represent newsroom employees in Chicago, Baltimore, Hartford, Orlando, and other cities, expressed his views on the Alden deal concisely and to the point.

“Alden has a history of running newspapers into the ground, This isn’t good for workers, the company, shareholders, or the communities.”

I have no problem with money being made by a business, but I do have deep concerns when the goal is money over ‘anything else’. In this case, ‘anything else’ is the local news that will be short-changed from being reported. I do not wish to be viewed as having only sentimental or nostalgic “back in the day” perspectives that are brought to this issue. While I was raised with a daily newspaper in our Hancock home, and have subscribed to at least one daily paper during all my adult years my purpose of writing this post is due to a long-lasting truism. Journalists do work continuously to get the facts sorted, copy written, and edits made under deadlines and tremendous pressures so that we can learn the news we need to know as citizens.

Short-term profits for hedge funds at the expense of iconic news operations or the needs of news consumers are appalling. We need regulations to stop and undo the consolidation of our news, (be it radio, newspapers, or broadcast television), into the hands of fewer and fewer people.

I end this post where I started. I urge readers to subscribe to their local newspaper. Paying for quality journalism should be viewed as just as important as paying for other needed services in our lives.