Has conservative talk radio helped to degrade brand?

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Matt Pommer • Wisconsin Newspaper Association

Conservative media has dramatically changed the political game and it has helped Donald Trump, according to Milwaukee talk-show host Charlie Sykes.

“We’ve basically eliminated any of the referees or gatekeepers. There’s nobody,” said Sykes, perhaps the most popular conservative talk show host in Wisconsin.

He said Trump can make a statement “and everybody knows it’s a falsehood. The big question of my audience, is it impossible for me to say that?” Sykes told journalist Oliver Darcy of Business Insider in a late summer interview.

Listeners will say they saw the falsehood on Facebook or heard it on a different show, he said. “Or they won’t believe a New York Times fact check. You can’t go to anybody and say, ‘Look, here are the facts.’”

“I have to say that’s one of the disorienting realities of this political year,” continued Sykes, who has challenged some of Trump’s statements. “You can be in this alternative-media reality and there’s no way to break through it.

“And I swim upstream because I can’t say these things from some of these websites, then suddenly I have sold out. Then they (the audience) will ask what’s wrong with me for not repeating these stories that I know not to be true.

“There’s got to be a reckoning on all this. We’ve created this monster. And look, I’m a conservative talk-show host. All conservative hosts have basically established their brand as being contrasted to the mainstream media,” he said.

“So we have spent 20 years demonizing the liberal mainstream media. And, by the way, a lot of it has been justifiable … but at a certain point you wake up and you realize you have destroyed the credibility of any credible outlet out there.

“And I am feeling, to a certain extent, that we are reaping the whirlwind out there,” Sykes said. “And I have to look in the mirror and ask myself to what extent did I contribute.”

As an example, a recent poll by the Marquette University Law School showed large numbers of people thinking that there could be significant illegal voting in next month’s presidential election.

There are no facts to prove wide-scale irregularities in American elections. But over the years Americans have shown they love conspiracy theories. Casting more than one vote can net a prison sentence of up to three years. And there seems no major financial gain from such a felony.

Recently leaked information from a John Doe investigation showed how conservatives discussed using talk radio in the 2011 State Supreme Court race. When the early results were close, conservative figures suggested floating talk or “messaging widespread reports of election fraud.”

In an e-mail former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen said, “Talk radio needs to scream the Dems are trying to steal the race.” Jensen, who resigned his office and pled guilty to an ethics charge related to a misconduct in office investigation, also said: “Anything fishy should be highlighted. Stories should be solicited by talk radio hosts.”

At one point in his career, Jensen was considered a prime GOP gubernatorial candidate.


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