Rush Limbaugh is Ailing. And so is the Conservative Talk-Radio IndustryHistorians in the News
tags: conservatism, media, Rush Limbaugh, Talk Radio
Rush Limbaugh, the most successful talk-radio host in history, is ailing. And so is the medium he helped revolutionize over the past 30 years.
Faced with aging and shrinking audiences, competition from newer technologies and financial problems for the biggest station owners, talk radio is in decline — both as a business and a political force. Once a leading platform for popularizing conservative candidates and policies, talk radio is on the verge of becoming background noise, drowned out by a cacophony of voices on podcasts, cable TV and social media.
From his earliest days on the air, Limbaugh trafficked in conspiracy theories, divisiveness, even viciousness (“feminazis” was one of his infamous coinages). He created what Columbia University historian Nicole Hemmer calls a kind of “political entertainment” that partially supplanted traditional conservatism and was crucial to Trump’s political ascendancy.
Early in the coronavirus pandemic, Limbaugh told listeners that the virus was no worse than “the common cold” and that the news media had “weaponized” the crisis to hurt Trump. He floated the fringe theory that the virus was created in a Chinese laboratory as a bioweapon. A few weeks before the November election, he devoted two hours of his program to a worshipful Trump interview. After Trump lost, Limbaugh amplified the president’s lies about voter fraud and at one point suggested that conservative states might secede from the union.
Trump, for his part, awarded Limbaugh the Presidential Medal of Freedom during the State of the Union speech last year.
“Limbaugh [wasn’t] just as an instrument of Trumpism but a precursor to it, part of the transformation of the Republican Party into a party captive to its base and reliant on right-wing media,” said Hemmer, the author of “Messengers of the Right: Conservative Media and the Transformation of American Politics.”
That raises the question of what will be left of that legacy after the conservative radio ecosystem he created disintegrates.
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