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Talk Radio Is Still in Attack Mode After the Election

Conservative hosts savage new targets in what an expert calls 'a venting medium.'

October 09, 2003|Bob Baker and Steve Carney | Special to The Times

One talk show host declared her program a "no-gloat zone," and she was largely right: There was minimal celebrating on conservative talk radio Wednesday. The medium credited with energizing the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis remained on attack, searching for new targets.

On KFI-AM (640), Bill Handel attacked the "liars" who sabotaged Proposition 54, the defeated initiative that would have banned some racial data-collection by the state.

On KABC-AM (790), the nationally syndicated Bill O'Reilly attacked National Public Radio and Terry Gross, host of NPR's interview program "Fresh Air," saying he had he walked out of an interview with her the previous day because it was "just a hatchet job on me." Later on the same station, Al Rantel attacked "wacko," "socialist" legislators in Sacramento, who he warned would try to undermine Gov.-elect Arnold Schwarzenegger.

And a bit after that on KABC, syndicated commentator Sean Hannity attacked the mainstream media for understating the political importance of Schwarzenegger's victory.

Industry experts found this approach predictable in what one called "a venting medium" that depends on finding fresh subjects of anger.

"If I'm a host right now, congratulations are great, but we have to come up with something as compelling," said Perry Michael Simon, an editor of, an online trade journal. Hosts must find something else "to discuss, to rail against."

Just like a shark, "you have to keep moving," said Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine, the industry trade journal. "And there's plenty of prey."

Seconds after the polls closed Tuesday night, KFI repeated television's projection that Davis had been recalled and Schwarzenegger elected. John Kobylt, of the "The John & Ken Show," enthused: "I want a bottle of champagne in here right now." Later, during Davis' concession speech, Kobylt and his partner, Ken Chiampou, offered running commentary like the wisecracking hosts of cable TV's "Mystery Science Theater 3000," which mocks bad, old movies.

By Wednesday, talk radio was more magnanimous, without losing its edge:

"No experience?" Handel asked rhetorically about Schwarzenegger. "Hey, that's what we wanted! We had it up to here with experience!

Said O'Reilly: "I'm so proud of the people of California because they understood it, they got it. They said, 'Maybe he [Schwarzenegger] is a serial groper, but the bigger danger to our democracy is not Arnold Schwarzenegger grabbing [buttocks]; it's the Los Angeles Times trying to destroy a politician with whom they disagree."

Rush Limbaugh on KFI reached back to one of his oldest foes, calling the recall "a huge defeat" for ex-President Clinton, who campaigned against it. "Once again the supposed Clinton coattails simply do not exist ... how can the Democratic Party expect to win elections if it remains the plaything of Bill and Hillary Clinton?"

KFI's Handel argued with a succession of callers who voted against Proposition 54, including a white parent named Karen who said she valued the state's record-keeping because it allowed her to evaluate schools by the level of white academic achievement -- "kids whose parents really care."

"Karen," Handel said sharply, "I'm sorry but that is the most racist thing I've ever heard in my life. You're using racism to your advantage.... That's racism! That's what Proposition 54 tried to abolish."

On KRLA-AM (870), Dennis Prager told listeners to "remember my first lesson: In every election the happier candidate wins.... That's the way it is in America."

Hannity, irritated by media analyses, complained that "nobody's getting this right. There's no fundamental understanding of what has gone on there.... Do you understand what a major setback this is for the entire liberal establishment out there? .... You just have to wonder how stupid these propagandists and media elites think we are."

Though her advice to listeners on KRLA was "Don't gloat," the syndicated Laura Ingraham couldn't resist a job-hunting idea for the ousted governor: "I still think 'Siegfried and Davis' is very catchy."


Baker is Times staff writer; Carney is a special correspondent.

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