Just Above Sunset
August 28, 2005 - A Change in the Weather

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Over the last ten days Just Above Sunset, has seen a dramatic drop in readership, perhaps by fifty percent.  This may be the time of year - more and more folks on vacation - but may represent a general weariness with all things political.  Perhaps nothing much is changing, or will ever change, and everything that needs be said has been said, and said too many times.  Or perhaps it's the heat.  Los Angeles is in the hottest days of the year and we had scattered blackouts on Thursday the 25th - a major transmission line went down in the middle of peak demand (all that air-conditioning running full tilt as most every place inland from the coast was well over one hundred degrees in the shade).

But if the problem is weariness with all things political - and a collective shrug at current events – this issue, to some extent, is going with the flow.  It is heavy on photography, from Paris, from New York, and from a photo shoot at the Getty Museum far above Sunset.


But what is happening?  Something fundamental is shifting?


Saturday, August 27, Tim Rutten in the Los Angeles Times notes the bottom has fallen out of talk radio:


some people think the talk bubble has, if not burst, begun to lose its wind.

Since these days the medium is overwhelmingly and partisanly Republican, those on the blue side of the aisle fervently want this to be true. Those in the red pews argue that talk is, in some ways, a victim of its own success and of an audience whose attention waxes and wanes with the election cycle.

As more than one person interviewed for this column pointed out, Rush Limbaugh can't really be expected to go on adding stations, because he's already everywhere.

Still, however you measure these things, broadcasting professionals agree that audiences for political talk shows have declined significantly throughout this year. That's certainly been true in Los Angeles. This week, the Star Tribune in Minneapolis-St. Paul reported that Limbaugh has lost 43% of his audience there, while Sean Hannity's has declined by 63%. An executive at the station that airs both programs in the Twin Cities told the paper, "We have really become concerned with what I could call their tight play list of topics revolving around politics." A Clear Channel programming executive in Northern California, where declines also have occurred, admitted, "We're not sure yet what's really going on."

Michael Harrison, who as editor and publisher of Talkers magazine is one of the medium's leading analysts, acknowledges that "ratings across the country have dropped," but cautions that measurements of radio audiences are notoriously imprecise, a problem complicated by the fact that the industry is in transition from one rating system to another.

But he also suspects that something fundamental is shifting. Harrison argues that "the partisan, left-right approach, where hosts identity themselves as Republicans or Democrats, is an anomaly in the history of talk radio. The standard for the medium is more populist than partisan - where the host is suspicious of big business, big media and big government. The host is on the little guy's side and skeptical of all politicians, whether they're Republicans or Democrats."

Harrison thinks talk radio populism "is waiting in the wings for its comeback and will be there in a second, if the left-right approach falters."


If online magazine and web logs are the internet equivalent of talk radio, folks are tired of it all – it’s too one-sided.


Another view?


Hugh Hewitt, who is the subject of an interesting profile in this week's New Yorker, is the very model of a contemporary political talk-show host, who also writes a column for the Weekly Standard as well as a lively and well-read political blog. His Republican politics and unwavering certainty on every question large and small are standard issue, but, unlike most radio hosts, he actually talks rather than shouts and is witty and civil. He describes his show, which continues to add stations, as "primarily for political junkies who are center-right" and argues that "nothing is anomalous in a medium that is only 80 years old."

The ratings decline is simply a matter of the election cycle. We're at the "low ebb of a political news cycle. The August after a presidential election is the worst time to do political talk radio," he said.

We're also in the middle of a war of which fewer and fewer people approve. Moreover, as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Republican Party, most of talk radio has to explain a president whose poll numbers are in freefall and, in California, a governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, whose popularity is tanking as badly as some of his films. It's a political axiom that, when you grab a guy's coattails, his direction becomes yours.

Is it any wonder that, in places like Minneapolis, talk audiences are switching to sports programming? "Don't like Bush, tired of hearing about Fallouja and Baghdad? … well, what about those Twins?"

People follow the Minneapolis Twins?  Really?


But is there something deeper at work – as Rutten puts it, "a relentlessly political and deeply reductionist view of human affairs?"


Political talk-show hosts see everything through the prism of their partisan politics and insist, as an article of faith, that everyone else is always doing the same. In this sense, their approach to current affairs is less a conservative one and more a creature of that most powerful of American vices: narcissism.

The controlling assumption is: I look at the world in this fashion and, therefore, everyone else does too.

Anyone who's ever been trapped sitting next to that greatest of dinner party bores, an unrestrained narcissist in full cry, knows that the only coherent thing that comes to mind is escape.

Maybe that's what's happening to political talk radio's audience. As the physicists say, the simplest explanation is always the most elegant.


No matter how well put, or forcefully argued, it's all boring in the end?  Perhaps so.


Rutten does quote William Butler Yeats:


If Folly link with Elegance
No man knows which is which


Maybe so.


And maybe folks are tired of the news in general – not just the political stuff.


Note that a week ago Bob Costas refused to anchor the Larry King Show on CNN, because it was primarily about the missing girl in Aruba.  Just like Keith Olbermann left MSNBC in the nineties because he was asked to repeatedly cover the Monica Lewinsky story and thought it was stupid, so he refused.  Greta Van Susteren over at Fox is still in Aruba and getting record ratings – it's her only topic.


Note this:


Costas Refuses to Host Show on Holloway -

David Bauder, Associated Press, Friday, August 19, 2005


While some cable TV hosts are making their living off the Natalee Holloway case this summer, Bob Costas is having none of it.


Costas, hired by CNN as an occasional fill-in on "Larry King Live," refused to anchor Thursday's show because it was primarily about the Alabama teenager who went missing in Aruba. Chris Pixley filled in at the last minute.


"I didn't think the subject matter of Thursday's show was the kind of broadcast I should be doing," Costas said in a statement. "I suggested some alternatives but the producers preferred the topics they had chosen. I was fine with that, and respectfully declined to participate."


Costas' manager declined to elaborate on what Costas didn't like about the topic.


Thursday's guests included Beth Holloway Twitty, the girl's mother; a television reporter; and an investigator in the case. Seven of the show's 10 guests talked about the missing girl, the other segments were about the BTK killer.


The Holloway case has been a big attraction on cable news networks during a slow news period, with Fox News Channel's Greta Van Susteren getting record ratings as she's paid almost nonstop attention to it. Reports of Costas' decision first surfaced on the mediabistro.com Web site on Friday.


"There were no hard feelings at all," Costas said. "It's not a big deal. I'm sure there are countless topics that will be mutually acceptable in the future."


… His decision is reminiscent of Keith Olbermann, the former sportscaster who left his MSNBC news show in the late 1990s in part because he was asked to repeatedly cover the Monica Lewinsky story. Olbermann is back now for his second run at MSNBC.


Maybe most of the news really is worthless bullshit.  The Fox-CNN feud about who should cover what got real hot this week, Jonathan Klein against Roger Ailes.  Read all about it here. 


And things like this, below, could sour you on the news entirely:


When Blame Knocks on the Wrong Door

Since Fox News wrongly identified a La Habra home as that of a terrorist, its five-member family has faced an angry backlash.

H.G. Reza, Los Angeles Times, August 25, 2005


In what Fox News officials concede was a mistake, John Loftus, a former U.S. prosecutor, gave out the address Aug. 7, saying it was the home of a Middle Eastern man, Iyad K. Hilal, who was the leader of a terrorist group with ties to those responsible for the July 7 bombings in London.


Hilal, whom Loftus identified by name during the broadcast, moved out of the house about three years ago. But the consequences were immediate for the Voricks.


Cute.  The consequences, graffiti and threats, folks driving by in the middle of the night throwing things, and they're worried about their kids' safety.  The word "Terrist" was spray-painted on their house.  Spelling doesn't count on the right?


Loftus gave out the address on national television, to about twenty million viewers, and the local thugs took care of the rest.  Fox has not retracted this report, but Loftus did say, "I thought it might help police in that area now that we have positively identified a terrorist living in Orange County."  Yeah, but this family in La Habra isn't too pleased.  Loftus said that he gave out the information based on "the best information we had at the time."




The Rude Pundit here


You know, "the best information we had at the time" said that blacks were mentally inferior to whites who could be best served by being slaves. "The best information we had at the time" said that Native Americans were subhuman savages who needed to be slaughtered. "The best information we had at the time" told Colin Powell that Iraq had WMDs. … In other words, "the best information we had at the time" is the catch-all bullshit for every time you operate out of willful ignorance, outright lies, and stupidity. It's a cop-out. It's a way of saying that you're wrong now, but, shit, you weren't wrong then, when, really, and, c'mon, if you're wrong, you're fuckin' wrong, no matter when.

Sure, Loftus said he was sorry and that "mistakes happen." But mistakes don't just happen. People make mistakes. Slavering publicity whores make mistakes when they're dry humping the press machine for bigger speaking fees and book contracts. Perhaps they forget that to win a case as a prosecutor, you have to prove something "beyond a reasonable doubt." Ahh, but that's such pre-9/11 thinkin', no?

Oh, and the swarthy Middle-Easterner who used to live there, Iyad Hilal? He's a
Garden Grove, CA grocery store owner who has gone into hiding with his family. Hilal says he broke off ties to the Muslim group accused of being a terrorist organization in 1997 when he "didn't agree with certain ideologies that were being put forth" at a London conference. Bakri Mohammed, the cleric who said Hilal was head of the U.S. branch of the group, called the U.S. branch a small group of "reformers."

But Gitmo America has no place for such shadings. It's just rights and wrongs, blacks and whites, might and right.


A bit over the top?  Of course.


All this news, all this commentary, all this madness, all these angry people… 


Go to the photography pages.




Copyright 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 - Alan M. Pavlik
The inclusion of any text from others is quotation
for the purpose of illustration and commentary,
as permitted by the fair use doctrine of U.S. copyright law. 
See the Details page for the relevant citation.

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