In terms of the spread of misinformation, talk radio’s impact is unappreciated, Angelo Carusone, president of Media Matters, a progressive media watchdog, said.
“It is clearly a driving force. A lot of people understandably focus on online, especially when it comes to anti-vax information. But the reality of it is, when the dust settles, I think what we’re going to find is that the real source of a lot of the most damaging anti-vax messaging was driven largely by traditional media: talk radio and traditional rightwing forces like Fox News,” he said.
“When we think about talk radio, the reason it has had such influence is the reach. It still is reaching the largest number of people. Fox [News] is going to reach a couple of million people a day. Talk radio is reaching 40 million, 60 million people depending on the day, maybe even more.
“The guys who are dying, you could treat them as [having] small radio shows, but they have really high concentration in their communities.”
“Talk radio has always bashed elites and the mainstream media, and I think it is an extension of that to be questioning the public health professionals who are the ones handing down, seemingly from on high, these ever changing public health edicts tied to masks and vaccines and other things,” said Brian Rosenwald, a scholar-in-residence at the University of Pennsylvania and author of Talk Radio’s America: How an Industry Took Over a Political Party That Took Over the United States.
While radio hosts might be the public voice of that skepticism, it is a common misconception that audiences are “puppets”, Rosenwald said. Instead, it’s radio hosts who might find themselves “entrapped by what the audience wants to hear”.
At the beginning of the pandemic, many rightwing talk radio hosts were publicly skeptical, and, not wishing to lose listeners, and with them advertisers, they had backed themselves into a corner.