Talk show hosts make their living off captivating an audience with a commentary on just about everything. They get paid to be compelling. It's a great gig if you can get it. And if you can get it, the next thing you hope to get is free publicity. You know, when you say something so riveting, people will advertise your name and your show absolutely free. People like me.
In saying that, let us consider this my gift to one of the most talented radio broadcasters to grace the scene.
If you missed it, Rush decided to voice his thoughts on the failure of Fox News to provide him with a translation of Hu Jintao's press conference with the President:
And there's more!
In case these statements shock you, let's be clear: Limbaugh isn't really known for his genius IQ. He's a great broadcaster, not because what he says really matters, but because of what his listeners believe matters. And listeners he has.
Quantcast Audience Measurement paints a picture of the Limbaugh listener as a white male, over fifty, making somewhere between $60 -$100 grand a year. They have some education and no children. And there are a lot of them. Limbaugh's show is carried on over 600 stations in the U.S. His audience size? Depends on who you ask. Arbitron hasn't extrapolated them and reports vary from 14 million to 30 million. Once you get into those numbers, I suppose it doesn't really matter. Kind of like the difference between 10 and 20 below: Who the hell cares? It's freezing cold.
I respect Limbaugh as a broadcaster based solely on his ability to know what works for his audience and cater to that end. You don't land a job making $50 million a year if you aren't good at what you do. You can dislike Rush for a lot of reasons, but you can't deny that by definition he is succeeding. He's selling a product that consumers are purchasing. Remember, people buy Big Macs too. And it isn't for their nutritional value. Billions sold and counting.
Normally, I wouldn't give Rush the forum. He clearly doesn't need it from me. But this time, his comments were just too golden to pass up the opportunity. It isn't because he is insulting his critics or ranting some right wing commentary. It isn't because his opinions aren't evidenced or that he's attacking democracy.
Nope, this time, Limbaugh gets my publicity because he defies some rules of broadcasting. Instead of stroking the listener and giving props to their wisdom for selecting him, Rush Limbaugh actually does the opposite. He insults them. Over and over and over again.
How he did it:
He suggests that translators could make things up and "we don't know". Translation: "You, my listeners are complete morons, so am I."
Because learning a foreign language is impossible. Forget that it is done regularly by three year olds. No, Rush and his listeners are at the complete mercy of a translator. Because Rush and his listeners don't know how to think. They don't know that their neighbors know Spanish and that their cousins study Mandarin. They have no idea that they can go to a library and learn. None. They don't even realize there is a product called Rosetta Stone.
He references Japan while discussing the dialect of the Chinese. Translation: "My listeners failed basic geography."
Because apparently China and Japan aren't two different nations. With two different governments. With two different cultures. With, believe it or not, two different languages. In fact, all of Asia is made up of carbon copies. And while Texans and New Yorkers might be able to have differences, all the people in the East are the same human being.
He wonders if people who don't speak English would hear something different than he. Translation: "You guys are arrogant assholes who think the world revolves around your own city."
I give him some kudos for appreciating that some people don't speak English. But he immediately loses those points when he neglects to realize that English is the third most common language spoken and understood worldwide. Is Rush suggesting that if you speak English you won't understand other languages or that you hear something different if you don't? I really don't know. The comment didn't seem to have any context except that the world is made up of two types of folks: Those who speak "The Great American Dialect" and those who don't.
This isn't even a comprehensive list of the offense. And I grant Limbaugh the attempt at accent. I'm not so PC that I'll ignore hyperbole. Had he been mocking the Queen, he'd have gone over the top with the posh. Well, wait, it's Rush, he might have actually tried the Cockney.
This is what he thinks of his listener. This is what he understands about his target audience. He does an entire bit, not making fun of the 1.5 billion people in China, but the person who religiously tunes in.
Maybe Rush was just trying to be funny. Maybe the schtick was just about entertaining. After all, capitalizing on the stereotypes and risking offense is part of what makes great comedy work. Laughing with and at ourselves as humans is a talent as old as time. Maybe it isn't everyone's sense of humor, but humor it is.
But that wasn't this.
I give Limbaugh lots of props for being a great radio talent, but this bit was at best just bad show prep. Because Rush stated clearly his motive in his set up. And comedic genius wasn't it. He was frustrated the network hadn't translated. His stated purpose wasn't to laugh at humans because we are sometimes ignorant. No. He was crying fowl because he and his audience weren't spoon fed their kibbles and bits.
That isn't comedy. That isn't even entertaining. I don't even know if it's broadcasting. What I do know is that it was intended to relate to somebody. And because of that, Rush pretty much told his audience he thought they all were idiot bigots.
And he is absolutely correct.
If they continue to listen.
.*Audio/Video courtesy Media Matters