Radio: Big Mouths

Populist and popular, radio's right-wing pundit and gross-out wild man have new mega-best sellers

  • Share
  • Read Later

If the millions of Americans fanatically devoted to Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern have one major common hypothesis about the way the world works, it is & that a rich and powerful elite, congregated in Manhattan, sits in posh salons sipping cocktails and smugly denigrating them and their unorthodox heroes.

And they're right. One evening last week at the grand Manhattan home of former Commerce Secretary Robert Mosbacher and his wife Georgette, chat among the guests, who included eminence grise Pete Peterson and Sally Jessy Raphael, variously covered Somalia and Bosnia -- and, eventually, Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern. Another guest, the woman who edits both Limbaugh and Stern (as well as Mrs. Mosbacher and Beavis and Butt-head) for Pocket Books, came under attack for publishing Stern's unseemliness. His book, Private Parts, in addition to autobiographical particulars and his not-exactly-progressive views on social issues, flaunts his low-down obsession with sexuality. "You should be ashamed," said a very powerful entertainment executive who has made millions of dollars producing smutty, antisocial television and movies. "Howard Stern is a pornographer!" another prominent diner screeched. Still another predicted Stern's book would be a flop, since nobody but semiliterate white trash listens to him.

If Limbaugh's fans had been in Hartford, Connecticut, just three days earlier, they could have had their own dark, resentful suspicions confirmed. It was a symposium on infotainment featuring a quorum of the national media elite -- Sam Donaldson, Bernard Kalb, Phil Donahue. When Donaldson, who says he often listens to Limbaugh, slammed him for calling certain feminists "feminazis" and for "his ad hominem attacks and ghoulish humor," the audience of 2,000 erupted in approving hoots and applause. Mary Matalin, who managed George Bush's campaign last year, was also on the panel, and she asked how many in the audience had ever watched or listened to Limbaugh. "Silence," Matalin says. "Absolute silence. Nothing. Nobody." Of course, after she herself dismisses Stern as a cretin, she admits she has never really listened to him.

America can pretty much be divided in two: on one side are Rush's people and Howard's people, and on the other the decorous and civilized who tend to be uncomfortable with strong broadcast opinion unless it comes from Bill Moyers, Bill Buckley or, if pressed, Andy Rooney. The Rush and Howard people -- who, like their avatars, have more in common than they know -- seem to be winning, or certainly proliferating.

The array of forces can be reckoned roughly. Limbaugh now claims 20 million listeners on radio, of whom, his TV producer Roger Ailes figures, two-thirds largely agree with his ideological conservatism -- the "dittoheads," as Limbaugh calls his fans. More than 3 million dittoheads bought his first book during the past year, and his new hard cover, See, I Told You So, which appears in bookstores next week, has a first printing of 2 million, the largest in American history. On his syndicated TV show, which is broadcast mainly late at night, he draws a bigger audience than Conan O'Brien or Arsenio Hall.

  1. Previous Page
  2. 1
  3. 2
  4. 3
  5. 4
  6. 5
  7. 6
  8. 7
  9. 8