Others can discuss the student's behavior and Luntz's reaction. What's noteworthy here is the fact that a 51-year-old man who has authored at least two best-selling books wouldn't make a point about Rush Limbaugh and Mark Levin that he himself regarded as very important unless he thought it wouldn't spread beyond a small room of college students. If he regards the point as very important, shouldn't he be willing to put his name behind it and restate it for larger audiences? But no. He is unwilling to air relatively mild criticism of two prominent talk-radio hosts, even though the criticism in question is so banal that I've read it before at least a hundred times. It is sad that this would plausibly cost him work, and problematic that he would let that stop him.
I've written variations on the "conservative talk radio is problematic" theme more times than I can recall. Do you want to know a secret? Some prominent conservatives agree with me. I know because of the "not for attribution!" emails I've gotten -- which I will always, always honor. But I still think they're bizarre. They always come from people who'd definitely be fine financially if their remarks were made public. So what's the problem? We're not talking about the sort of courage it took to sign one's name to the Declaration of Independence. Or the kind it takes to be a whistleblower in the Obama Administration. These are just critiques of entertainers.
Many conservatives think Rush and friends are best ignored, or that criticizing them is counterproductive. That's fine. They should hold their tongues. But if you're someone who thinks criticizing them is important, for God's sake, just speak up. What's the worst that could happen? Does anyone think that Luntz will now be a pariah who is unable to make a living and winds up begging for change outside a Daily Grill in Bethesda? As someone who thinks that criticism is important in general, and that criticizing the wrongheaded statements and behavior of certain talk radio hosts is important too, the silence of so many people who agree vexes and confounds me.
Said the student who recorded Luntz:
Frank Luntz has made a very successful career out of advising
Republicans on the content of their message. He was asked one of the
most important questions of the day in terms of American politics ("what
is causing extreme polarization between the parties?"), and refused to
speak freely. Why? Because doing so may harm his commercial interest.
And this attitude is at the root of the problem. If influential GOP
figures like Frank Luntz truly believe that the party's media
kingmakers harm the national interest but refuse to say so for fear of
backlash, they knowingly work against the spirit of open and honest
The Penn environment should be one in which people are encouraged
and expected to speak unencumbered by self-interest. These discussions
are of vital importance, and students should be able to expect members
of the political community to speak freely. If those speakers cannot do
so, it should be only for the most pressing of reasons.
In a previous item, I noted that, while Jonah Goldberg believes the right has an unhealthy share of hucksters who pretend to care deeply about principles but are actually motivated by money, and while John Podhoretz thinks essentially the same thing, neither will tell us who the hucksters are. Their assessment would carry weight among conservatives, warning some of them away from men whose professional work Goldberg and Podhoretz themselves find pernicious.