A reader writes:
You wrote, "[T]alk radio, even more than the blogosphere, can promote ugly and inflammatory discourse in ways that even its purveyors find hard to control."
The thing with right-wing radio is that these guys so easily get away with the low brow stuff when they discuss national issues. But the local talkers, on local issues, are often quite in depth in their analysis and provide real value for the community. For example, Mark Belling of Milwaukee has exposed vast government corruption, shady back room tax deals, and saved the city and state from quite a bit of garbage legislation that would otherwise have been rubber-stamped and never reported in the mainstream print & TV media. And even while the blogs do some good, the fact is that most people just don't have the time to read all that's necessary to catch the important topics and act on them.
The emotion of the voices of the callers and hosts cannot be duplicated on the screen, no matter how much bold-type and emoticons are used. With radio, people can multitask while it plays in the background and still learn quite a bit. Can't do that with a blog, as the act of reading requires 100% focus.
Unfortunately Belling, when he's filling in for Limbaugh, and the local talkers who aspire to be the next Limbaugh, turn into carbon copies of Dick Cheney on all things of national significance. (Belling is so pro-torture he would make Cheney blush; he advocates dismemberment - no joke.)