I have no idea how many people listen to Tom Sullivan on the radio. I assume a sizeable number since he is still on. I first started listening to him on KFBK out of Sacramento, Ca. That was, I don’t know, a decade and more ago. He did financial news/talk. Then he ventured into local and state politics and eventually national politics. He got so big for his breeches that he moved to New York City and the mouthpiece of the far right called Fox News, which I heard him claim the other day is really “fair and balanced” just like their tag line proclaims. I can’t say in reality whether it is. I don’t listen to Fox unless I am forced to. Part of the confusion, though, comes in from the fact that news and comment are so mixed these days — is anyone fair and balanced? And I say I don’t listen to Fox, but somehow I have heard some of it from time to time and that is enough.
Sullivan is no longer on the regular Fox network, as I understand it. He is in syndication, and I could not readily find the details of all of that.
I have commented on this before. At first I enjoyed the fact that although Sullivan seemed to take the predictable conservative line on issues he was good at setting up the more liberal argument. I thought that at least he was even handed. And I still somewhat respect his approach.
But through the years I have noticed, that is to say it is my perception, that he has for the most part dropped the even handedness. I think, and I can only suppose, I don’t propose to say that I know what is in his mind, that he found out where the demographics were for his listenership. And they were not for even handedness.
I detected that he was not (maybe is not) wild about Donald Trump. But like all Republicans (he identifies as Republican) he has apparently succumbed to Trumpism. Sure at times he questions Trump’s crazy actions, but he seems careful not to denounce Trump, not to suggest that the emperor has no clothes. In fact he thinks much good has come from Trump.
Yes, I am personally anti-Trump. Always have been. I was almost willing to give him the benefit of the doubt at one time I think (or was I?), but I soon discovered he is really no good. That is to say he is no good for democracy. He fashions himself as a strongman. He admires dictators. And his followers apparently admire dictators. They are not into critical thinking or nuance. It is one way or the other and no in between. To be in between is namby pamby; it is weak.
It has to be tough for Mr. Sullivan. If you listen to him you discover quickly that he is not just your ordinary right-wing blowhard. He is a thinker and can make the argument for both sides of an issue if need be, if for no other reason than to tear down the opposing side — but that is like a debate, a real debate where opposing arguments have to stand on their own or wilt under the competition.
But it must be hard for a man of his intellect and thinking and speaking skills to have to suffer some of the looneys and simpletons who call in to his show. And a couple of times lately they seem to have gotten on his nerves. On one recent show he got exasperated with one caller who suggested that he had gone anti-Trump, I guess because he had dared to indicate or simply just described a minute criticism of the tyrant. Sullivan went on a rant (uncharacteristic of his usual mild manner) accusing some of his listeners of being blind followers of Trump. And on a couple of occasions I have heard him effect a mocking tone of a simpleton when making a point about how some of the Trump base might react to some things.
As I noted, once before I wrote about the evolution of Sullivan from one who at least acknowledges that there are at least two sides to an issue and who is not afraid to at least outline the side he does not support, to the more standard and predictable conservative, or maybe neo conservative talking points. I think maybe a listener or someone forwarded my post to Sullivan, who, to my astonishment sent me a short note saying that I described him fairly well. That is, I was astonished that he bothered to send me a note (email).
I listen to Sullivan when I can for a variety of reasons, including: he is often the only one who comes in clear or is available on my truck radio when I am in the area of the only station that I can find him on, for entertainment, to get a handle on what those who don’t generally think like me are thinking, and even to hear things I would not have otherwise, and I am not talking about the obvious baloney spewed out by many. Sometimes, I have to admit, the wild and often conspiratorial notions asserted force me to shut the radio off or turn it down momentarily.
(This is not to say that all conspiracy theocracies are off base — note the revelation that at least one FBI agent emailed another vowing to prevent one candidate from becoming president. While I almost wished that he had been successful, that is pretty chilling for democracy.)
But the one thing that really gets under my skin is when Sullivan and others talk about “the media”, or I should say especially Sullivan. Does he not realize that he himself is part of “the media”? But for his ilk there are I guess two medias (or grammatically should it be media, since that is the plural of medium?). There is the so-called mainstream, or “lamestream” as the hard right likes to lampoon it as, and there is the word of God, or all that is right (wing) on the other side.
While I admit there is some truth to the notion of a “fourth estate”, in my lifetime that term “media” (it seemed to pop up in the 60s or 70s? taking over from the term “press” because the printing press seemed already so dated) has come to mean those who refuse to toe the preferred party line, usually the part to the right. It is used as a smear against all who refuse to follow along in blind obedience and not question.
The right talks about the tyranny of big government (which there certainly is at times) but the left talks about the tyranny of the mob and the ignorant, which there certainly is at this time.
Truth is what is and does not reside solely with the right any more than it lies with the left in politics or public policy.
But even handedness and nuance and middle of the road is namby pamby and we can’t have that, can we?
When I can I listen to public radio. I sometimes have to turn it down too when it goes off the deep end in trying to be fair to the leftward point of view or actually perhaps promoting it. But public radio gives more time and balance to the issues of the day and does not have to sell its soul to the ratings and advertisers — it just has to run constant and annoying pledge drives. Also it carries BBC from of course Britain, the state-run media there that interestingly really does carry news of the world, not news of just the United States and how events of the world affect it.
And like a footnote here, from Wikipedia: The Fourth Estate (or fourth power) is a segment of society that wields an indirect but significant influence on society even though it is not a formally recognized part of the political system. The most commonly recognized part of the fourth estate is the news media, or press.