You know what Stephen King’s problem is? He’s not scary enough. In regards to his liberal talk radio show, anyway.
Yes, believe it or not, there is currently a liberal-leaning talk radio program being broadcast in the United States, and it’s owned by, of all people, famed horror novelist Stephen King. Unfortunately, like so many of King’s protagonists, the program, Pulse Radio, seems doomed to an early demise.
I’m a huge Stephen King fan, but it is difficult to be optimistic about the show’s chances for survival when liberal talk radio shows have traditionally done so poorly compared to their conservative counterparts. In fact, according to the Center for American Progress, 91 percent of the total weekday talk radio programming is conservative. In other words, conservative talk radio outnumbers its liberal counterparts nine to one.
There are many theories about the cause of this disparity, but it is apparent that at least part of this success comes from the fact that conservative talk radio is much better at one vital element straight from Stephen King’s playbook: fear tactics.
There is a strong element of alarmism that is ingrained in the very DNA of conservative talk radio. Indeed, Rush Limbaugh was the first prominent conservative talk radio personality, so it is very likely that most if not all subsequent right-wing talk show hosts picked up on his particularly strong brand of fear-mongering.
Limbaugh’s fear-mongering has become so widely copied because, essentially, it made his show a product that people wanted to consume. Such tactics do not educate, but they do reinforce the viewer’s previously held notion not through rational argument but through an emotional gut-punch. No moderate listener is ever going to be convinced by Limbaugh’s claim that “Adolf Hitler, like Barack Obama, ruled by dictate” or that ”Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo,” but for those listeners who already can’t stand Obama, hearing such banalities is more reassuring than frightening, as they take it as vindication of their fear.
Such journalism of affirmation has become so successful because it requires little thinking on the part of both the listener and the news source. For example, when a video of two schoolchildren- one African-American and one white- fighting on a public school bus went viral, Limbaugh was quick to blame the confrontation on Obama: “It’s Obama’s America, is it not? Obama’s America, white kids getting beat up on school buses now.” Limbaugh does not bother to explain how exactly Obama is responsible for this tragedy, but then again a rational argument is not what his audience expects from him. They want to be told they are right to fear Obama, and so Limbaugh offers them whatever he needs to confirm to them that their fears are justified.
It doesn’t seem to matter how completely disconnected from reality the claims are as long as they make liberals into the ultimate boogeymen. Take his claim that Obama caused the recession as “payback” for racism or even his fear-mongering concerning the flu vaccination solely on the grounds that the Obama administration supported it.
Glenn Beck is even worse, of course. He claims that Christian churches that preach social justice are really just fronts for communism and Nazism, and that a solid 10 percent of all Muslims are terrorists (which would add up to approximately 157 million terrorists, but why let things like numbers and facts stand in the way of a good horror story?). Even Bill O’Reilly of all people has called out Beck for being prone to seeing conspiracies everywhere.
There is simply nothing comparable in progressive talk radio- what little progressive talk radio there is, anyway. While conservative talk radio is out comparing anyone they don’t like to Hitler and claiming that “you’ll be healthier” if you avoid the flu vaccine, what is Stephen King’s station doing? Organizing an event called “Faces of the Poor” in which seven impoverished people will tell their life stories and their struggles. Scary stuff, kids.
When the man who wrote Cujo and The Shining is the most rational and least frightening person on the airwaves, there might be a problem. And that is the real horror.