In the Washington Post, Professor Heather Hendershot writes following Rush Limbaugh’s death that he:
[once] boasted he had single-handedly “brought AM radio back from the dead.” It was simultaneously one of the most accurate and least offensive comments he ever made. How did he do it? First, his fortunes rose directly in response to the Reagan administration’s suspension of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987. Second, he made politics into entertainment in a new way. Both factors help us understand Limbaugh’s role in not only the right-wing radicalization of the Republican Party but also in the rise of right-wing news.
She adds that these in these factors lie Limbaugh’s legacy:
If he succeeded where [1960s right-wing diatribist Dan] Smoot and others failed, it was not just because of the demise of the Fairness Doctrine but also because of the rise of a “fun” right-wing media style that could be handily monetized. “The Dan Smoot Report” was funded by a millionaire dog food manufacturer. When he died, Smoot’s right-wing media business nose-dived and did not recover. Cornering the market in hyper-confident humor, Limbaugh found a way to make a fortune by merging right-wing politics and entertainment.
The story helps to explain how Limbaugh paved the path for a reality-television star to win the presidency. It also reminds us that the repeal of the Fairness Doctrine alone did not create Limbaugh or the presidency of Donald Trump. Catering to market demands for shock and awe programming did, and that is why neither Limbaugh’s death nor a return to this network-era regulation will solve the problems of misinformation, partisanship and polarization today.