Laura Ingraham: A Rising Talk Radio Phenomenon Compares Radio to TV, Dissects Culture and Politics, Contrasts Elites vs. Middle America, and Explains Why Hillary Clinton Is a Throwback. ("Live" with TAE)

The American Enterprise, July-August 2003 | Go to article overview

Laura Ingraham: A Rising Talk Radio Phenomenon Compares Radio to TV, Dissects Culture and Politics, Contrasts Elites vs. Middle America, and Explains Why Hillary Clinton Is a Throwback. ("Live" with TAE)


It was a little more than eight years ago that radio talk show host Laura Ingraham burst onto the national scene in a cover story for the New York Times Magazine. The article--"Look Who's the 'Opinion Elite' Now"--appeared in the wake of the 1994 landslide elections that gave Republicans control of Congress. Accompanying profiles of Ingraham and other young activists on the right was the tag line: "They're young, brainy, and ambitious--an adversarial brand of conservatives winning the war against liberalism and having a grand old time."

In the mid '90s, Ingraham became a regular commentator on a wide variety of political and cultural issues. She brought more credentials to the fray, however, than the average talking head. As a college student during the early 1980s at Dartmouth (where, the daughter of a waitress, she attended on scholarship), Ingraham was editor of the iconoclastic conservative campus newspaper, The Dartmouth Review. "My years there taught me that real education wasn't just about hard work and good study habits," she says. "It was about critical thinking--challenging received ideas and conventional wisdom." The paper's guerilla journalism generated national publicity. After college, Ingraham went to the University of Virginia's law school. Following that, she clerked for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas.

After working for CBS News and MSNBC, Ingraham launched "The Laura Ingraham Show" in 2001, a three-hour daily radio broadcast syndicated coast to coast by Westwood One. She was interviewed for TAE by associate editor John Meroney and writer Patricia Beauchamp.

TAE: For years, you were highly visible as a television commentator. What made you want to go into radio?

INGRAHAM: I'd always enjoyed my experiences on radio, which allowed me to mix humor and substance in a way that's difficult to do on television. On television, I was concentrating on political issues, and if I wanted to do something funny, it was always a challenge. I wanted to create my own product, and radio fits my personality much better.

TAE: Do you consider Rush Limbaugh a mentor?

INGRAHAM: He's the one who created the modern talk radio phenomenon, so everyone in this business owes him. There are other conservative hosts such as Sean Hannity who are gathering steam, but Rush is still the standard bearer. When he came along, there was no one else like him. Rush Limbaugh was the outlet for so many listeners who were fed up with media bias and political spin, so it was very refreshing to hear a different angle and have it presented entertainingly.

TAE: How do you explain the success of "The Laura Ingraham Show"?

INGRAHAM: Westwood One took a chance on me, and I'm extremely fortunate. Maybe the fact that I don't limit myself to politics three hours a day, five days a week has helped define the show. Humor, music, culture, and politics all collide together. Anyone who sets out to be "the next Rush Limbaugh" is kidding himself. They broke the mold with Rush.

TAE: What's your sense of the typical talk radio caller?

INGRAHAM: Well, studies of the talk radio audience show that it's a group that votes in greater percentages than the general public. The people who listen read more magazines and newspapers than non-listeners, and they get involved in their communities. They're not just passive listeners. They're passionate about issue's. In other words, they don't fit the stereotype that people such as Tom Daschle would like the country to believe exists.

TAE: You've worked at CBS and MSNBC, so you're very familiar with television news. Do you believe the Fox News Channel puts a conservative spin on the news?

INGRAHAM: Fox skews to the right only compared to everything else on television. On any national political spectrum it's pretty moderate and fair.

TAE: In recent months there's been talk of creating a national radio talk show featuring a liberal personality, such as comedian Al Franken. …

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