A few weeks ago, Glen Beck was on the cover of Time magazine. The conservative talk show host’s program has been on the rise for several weeks, drawing attention all across the media. These sorts of meta media stories about Keith Olberman, Rachel Maddow, Glen Beck, Rush Limbaugh, or any political pundit’s influence are often convoluted and delivered without context.
It made me consider how much influence media creatures like Beck really have. It also made me think of one of Memphis’ own media hype-men.
A few weeks ago, I attended a “Law School for Journalists” workshop at the University of Memphis. During which, a panel discussion about the effects of blog comments caught my attention. Smart City Blogger (a great read)Tom Jones mentioned a blogger he claimed everyone read but no one admitted to reading. That blogger is Thaddeus Matthews.
Thaddeus Matthews is a local talk radio host. In conjunction with his show he posts regularly on his blog. I had only heard of Thaddeus because of his notorious postings of corpse pictures after the Lester street murders here in Memphis. He openly supports candidates for public office and attacks others. His site is the lowest rung of media advocacy masquerading as commentary. He isn’t a journalist and he doesn’t pretend to be.
In our most recent bizarre mayoral election, Thaddeus essentially drove the coverage of dark hoarse candidate Charles Carpenter. He railed against front-runner AC Wharton, even bringing him on his show to ask if he thought he was popular because he made “white people comfortable.” His coverage of mayor pro-temp Myron Lowry was so openly antagonistic that the very idea of balance was silly. It was a daily bloodbath.
With all of that sound and fury, Charles Carpenter finished with a little more than 5 thousand votes. Though this wasn’t a surprise, it does call into question the depth of Mr. Matthews influence. I don’t think there were any Can Thaddeus swing the election stories per say (though I may have missed them) there certainly was an implication that he was important. Why else would leading mayoral candidates go on his show? That import now seems seriously overblown.
And another congratulations to that Kingmaker of Memphis Thaddeus Matthews. His support for Charles Carpenter brought Carpenter 5000 votes. @watchdogon3 mike matthews
The same strain of “influence” flows through the national punditry. According to Talker magazine, Rush Limbaugh draws 14 million listeners a week, an average of 2.8 million listeners per day. Certainly, that is an impressive number. He is the most dominant voice in talk radio. Even with all that listener-ship and despite his attempts to prevent it, he was unable to keep John McCain from winning the republican nomination in 2008.
Some argue that the reason media cares so much about pundits is that they “drive the debate” within political circles and should be covered for that reason alone. Sadly, this suggests that the debate itself is enough to be worthy of coverage. Debates have winners and losers. It is why we have elections and legislation. The debate itself is not the event.
So why do media outlets so obsessively pimp these sorts of “influencer” stories? Because they’re easy, they validate the media’s own feeling of self importance, and they allow reporters to put a finger on what they think is “really” going on out there. It’s a self-sustaining cycle, and we probably ought to break it because we’re puffing up some pretty ridiculous egos out there.