Saturday, June 07, 2008

Laura Ingraham: Right-Wing Radio's High Priestess of Hate

By Rory O'Connor, AlterNet Books
Posted on June 7, 2008, Printed on June 7, 2008

The following is an excerpt from Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio by Rory O'Connor with Aaron Cutler (AlterNet Books, 2008).

Laura Ingraham is ... different. Not only is Ingraham younger than many other conservative radio personalities (at 45, she's more than a decade from Limbaugh's cohort), and the only female among them, but she also brings to the airwaves a snarky brand of aggressive humor fused with an attack-dog sensibility that she expresses with a chalk-on-gravel voice. Her goal is not to assert her own glory, but to rip apart her enemies, which include everyone from liberals and "elites" to, from time to time, even President George W. Bush and presidential hopeful John McCain. Her style of argumentation is bare-bones simple; in a 1997 piece for, Eric Alterman wrote that Ingraham just laughed in response to a position he took on television during the 1996 election. How could he counter that?

Ingraham often uses laughter as a weapon. One of her show's most popular parodies, "But ... Monkey," interposes the sound of a screeching monkey over a sound bite from a political figure. Victims have included Democratic senators Harry Reid and Barbara Boxer as well as conservative gurus like columnist Charles Krauthammer. Other regular segments include "Deep Thought of the Day" and "Lie of the Day." Ingraham also makes great use of pop culture clips (she plays the theme song from the television show "Flipper" when discussing John Kerry), and her production values are generally superb. Like many other successful hosts, she is often very funny, and her rapid-fire pacing and easy banter with her younger male producers (all three are in their early 20s) has more in common with the liberal "Stephanie Miller Show" than the hard-line commentary sometimes heard on conservative talk shows. At a deeper level, however, despite the comedy, Ingraham takes what she does quite seriously.

The rabid nature of her assault against immigration reform is a good example. Ingraham has perhaps been more strongly anti-immigration than any other talk personality except Michael Savage. Her show even features a regular segment called "The Illegal Immigration Sob Story" alert, in which she reads news pieces she feels are biased toward illegal immigrants. When she had White House spokesman Tony Snow on her program, she began by asking him why the Bush administration was dragging its heels on immigration reform. After sarcastically apologizing for interrupting his talking points, she said, "69 percent of Americans, 85 percent of the GOP, 55 percent of the Democrats want the border enforced. Does that affect you guys, or do you guys just blow it off?"

In the two-for-one combination that all too often serves conservative radio well, Ingraham once claimed that the immigration bill was an attempt by the mainstream media to make more people liberals. Anyone who still wonders whether talk radio had an influence on the bill's defeat should look at Ingraham's numbers; with more than 5 million weekly listeners, she is tied with Glenn Beck as the fourth most listened to radio talk show host in America. Alterman wrote that Ingraham's popularity is due to her having "something more important than knowledge or experience. ... She has star quality." She is also fearless: She once confronted CNN host John Roberts for calling her "outspoken," saying, "Do you guys introduce liberal commentators that way?"

She's more aggressive than Limbaugh, more blatant than Hannity, and more rational than Beck or Savage, and although she often supports many of them (erroneously stating, for example, that Limbaugh never claimed the Clintons murdered Vince Foster), she is equally willing to call them out. She walked out of a "Hannity & Colmes" installment after the Don Imus "nappy-headed ho's" controversy was twisted into a discussion of Democratic vices, and once asked on her radio program after an appearance on "The O'Reilly Factor," "Why is Bill O'Reilly afraid of George Soros?" (In the same broadcast, Ingraham accused columnist Helen Thomas of working for Hezbollah, which has been identified by the U.S. government as a terrorist group.)...[Open in new window]


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