Who was the most spineless American president?
Political amplifier on the radio
The timing was right. About two weeks ago, just after half past one in the afternoon, Rush Limbaugh had the President of the United States on the phone in his New York studio. George W. Bush called from Des Moines, Iowa, in a casual conversation with Limbaugh to straighten out a misunderstanding statement from the previous day and to do some publicity for his upcoming appearance at the Republican Nomination Party.
The host's few questions were what is called "softball" in the US - soft and journalistically harmless invitations to the president to reel off his campaign material. That’s what President Bush did, with the support of Rush Limbaugh. He told listeners on the Rush Limbaugh show, which it claims has an estimated 20 million listeners per week and is broadcast by around 600 radio stations in the US, that the war on terror could still be won and that he was confident that it would end to emerge victorious in the November election. Towards the end of the conversation, the President referred to the talk radio host as a "good friend", whereupon he said goodbye to President Bush with the sentence "The people outside love you, Mr. President, and they only wish you the very best".
The self-proclaimed guardian of conservatism in the USA is less careful with political opponents of the Republicans on his show. In one of his recent tirades against the Democrats, the moderator described liberalism - the worst possible swear word for Limbaughian Republicans - as a kind of disease. Limbaugh likes to refer to the Democratic presidential candidate as spineless John F-ing Kerry, while his runner-up John Edwards was named "Breck Girl" by Limbaugh in reference to a shampoo advertisement.
Good wire to the White House
The format of political and partisan talk radio may seem bizarre to non-Americans, but it is a phenomenon in the American media landscape that should not be underestimated. The opportunities offered by the medium, which is broadcast in the USA via AM stations that are much more widespread than in Europe, were first discovered by the American conservatives in the early 1990s. The talk-radio boom was triggered by Rush Limbaugh. The former radio disc jockey and baseball promoter began to rise in the early 1980s with the launch of his nationally broadcast show.
The Rush Limbaugh Show has now been the clear number one among talk radio formats for more than ten years and is considered an important political factor in the USA. The difficulty of politics against Rush Limbaugh became apparent during Bill Clinton's presidency. Due to its loyal following, its good relationships with leading Republican politicians and its attractiveness to a wide audience, Limbaugh manages to mobilize the conservative masses like hardly any other media star or politician.
Flock of conservative moderators
From military to radio maker: Oliver North
In addition to Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly, who are also close to the Republicans, reach an audience of millions across the country. Both also benefit from their cross-media appeal, as both Hannity and O'Reilly can also be seen regularly on TV channel Fox. Around this core of conservative, but still mainstream talk radio personalities, there is a much more difficult to understand group of right-wing and sometimes dubious talkers and commentators. For example G. Gordon Liddy, who was sentenced to several years in prison for breaking into the offices of the Democratic Party during the Watergate affair. Or Oliver North, who hit the headlines because of the Iran-Contra affair.
After years of conservative dominance in the airwaves, the Democrats have now discovered talk radio as a political instrument. Air America has been on the air since spring - just in time for the hot election campaign phase - with the liberal commentator and author Al Franken as the figurehead. Although the mouthpiece of the Democrats, with only 27 stations who have taken over the program so far, cannot compete with the established networks of the conservatives, a start has been made.
Shock jock against Bush
Instead of Air America, the Democrats can count on the unexpected campaign help from Howard Stern. Known as a "shock jock" because of his sexually offensive statements, the radio maker openly campaigns for President Bush to be voted out of office. Not because he is convinced of Kerry, but because he blames the Bush administration for the US administration's tougher stance on sexual expression. Stern's broadcast was then banned from several stations by the largest broadcasting chain Clear Channel. In contrast to the talk radio personalities clearly assigned to a party, Trash-König Stern is considered politically neutral. With his election statement in favor of Kerry, Stern could, in the opinion of election experts, influence the important group of undecided voters in his audience. However, it is extremely unlikely that Kerry himself will call Bush on the show due to Stern's unpredictability.
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