Rod Thomson

When working in newsrooms in the 1990s, my journalism colleagues often asked me why Rush Limbaugh was so popular. They could not fathom it.  I explained it was basic supply meeting pent-up demand; that is, conservatives had felt under attack in every area of media and here came a guy with a microphone giving voice to their worldview, and providing analysis and twists that were done no where else.

Limbaugh ushered in a revolution of talk radio hosts, creating an entire industry known as conservative talk radio and probably saving the AM dial. Before Fox News, conservative talk radio stood alone in the flood of liberal media. And spawned Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Hugh Hewitt, Dennis Prager, Laura Ingraham and more. Most of these hosts are Baby Boomers and have a fairly set way of thinking and doing. (Notably, Beck the least in that regard, via both worldview and business model, and Prager with Prager U.) A lot of conservatism has reflected that old set way — at least in the Republican base.

But now we have something new in Ben Shapiro, who is arguably the most popular conservative in the country, although Rush and Sean fans may dispute that. Shapiro’s been on the scene for awhile, starting with a nationally syndicated column at 17 years old. But he’s exploded in recent years with the largest conservative podcast, a newly minted national radio show and best-selling books, while still writing for the Daily Wire and acting as Editor.

He’s simply sprinted past all of the much older and more established radio commentators.

Why? What makes Shapiro different?

Yes, he is smart, fast-talking, aggressive yet reasonable and has a quantum hard-drive for a memory. His worldview as a Christian-friendly, Orthodox Jew millennial conservative is almost hilariously unique. He’s fearless taking on the Left and usually acquits himself with a good pummelling. People eat up his “Ben Shapiro destroys…” Youtube videos usually answering questions at college campuses. He’s just a fresh voice in so many ways.

But there’s something else going on, and why people like me also gravitate to Shapiro. He simply puts more meat on the bone than the talk radio predecessors, throws far fewer bombs, rants less and more frequently explains what the other side is thinking or strategizing — fairly or not dependent on your worldview.

For too long, many of our talk radio hosts have spit out the same name-calling invectives and one-sided rants that have felt good but have not prepped any listener for dealing with an informed liberal. I can always tell my conservative friends who spend a lot of time listening to conservative talk radio. The vernacular is well-repeated. It too often boils down to: liberals are evil, they’re idiots, they hate America, and they think we’re all “racist, sexist, bigot, homophobes.” OK. Fair enough. Got it. But now what?

This is not a shot at these guys. I remember hearing Rush for the first time around 1989 or 1990 driving on U.S. 67 north of the Quad-Cities along the Mississippi River on the way home from my newspaper job in Davenport, flipping through stations when I came across this guy saying what I believe. I listened for a few minutes and was drop-jawed. This was no where else! I pulled into a dirt driveway, put it in park and just listened.

Supply was just beginning to meet demand and Rush was the pioneer.

But the supply of good red-meat conservative insights and rants (which I like as much as the next guy) is exceeding demand and has for awhile as everyone seeks to get in on the schtick. The typical pendulum of supply and demand seeking equilibrium and rarely finding it.

I’ve long wanted more, and sought it out in books and podcasts. Particularly podcasts in recent years where I can get long-form interviews and more in-depth information than what feels like the same old, same old on radio.

Shapiro goes at least part way toward meeting that demand. He provides reams more data and context on issues. While standard talk radio tells you X is a terrible idea. Shapiro frequently tells you why X is a terrible idea. That is a big step forward and one that obviously conservative millennials are attracted to — and there are growing numbers of those — but also that older conservatives are drawn to.

If Shapiro is roughly Rush 2.0 30 years later — William F. Buckley without the pretensions — then what we’re likely to see is a lot of people following his footsteps, just as we saw an entire industry follow Rush’s. We’re already seeing that with young conservative personalities. But young ranters a la old ranters is not the future. Depth, context, data and fearlessness with opponents (Rush never debates a liberal) may well be — and that does not have an age requirement attached.

Further, Shapiro’s radio program is utilizing his podcast format on radio, which has the potential to revolutionize a somewhat ossified radio industry facing stiffening competition from podcasts and new media.

Shapiro’s style and altered format — if it works — could be one of the healthier trends long-term for conservatism by creating a new breed of conservative-thought influencers, building on the first generation with a new and updated model that leaves conservatives more informed and armed than the 1.0 version.

Rod Thomson is an author, past Salem radio host, ABC TV commentator, former journalist and is Founder of The Revolutionary Act. 


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Ben Shapiro Is Reshaping Media As Rush Did 30 Years Ago
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33 thoughts on “Ben Shapiro Is Reshaping Media As Rush Did 30 Years Ago

  • July 3, 2019 at 4:55 pm
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    I have been a faithful listener of Ben for the past 5 years and am certain that I have not missed an episode of his podcast or speech. The reason why he is so popular among us millennials is due to his willingness to speak to anyone regardless of position without resorting to the usual ad hominem rhetoric we are accustomed to. Although anecdotal, many of the millennials I know that follow him vehemently disagree with him but find him refreshing.

    That being said, he is a shining example but not alone in reshaping alternative media. Many content creators all along the spectrum on many social media platforms are performing yeoman’s work by creating a multi-directional dialog and defeating the idealogical eco-chambers in the mainstream outlets.

    Around the time I discovered Ben, I was introduced to a long form interviewer named Dave Rubin. He is a gay ethnic Jew and self-proclaimed “Classical Liberal” who has become quite prominent by providing excellent interviews of people with orthodox or heterodox opinion. Most notably his conversation with the radio show host Larry Elder forced him to reassess his understanding of the positions he stood by to that point in his life. He has since allied himself with famous or infamous Canadian Psychologist Jordan Peterson. Similarly, creators with varying political views like Steven Crowder, Tim Poole, Candice Owens, Lauren Chin to name a few are reaching millennials and gen z. These creators are a small example of the conversation generated among today’s adolescents but are leading the way along with Ben.

    To quote Nikki Haley, we don’t need to own the libs. We need free speech warriors to fight for a free market of ideas. The bad ideas, like crappy products, will be discontinued as the good ideas will flourish. Until the next bad idea…

    Reply
    • July 4, 2019 at 12:38 pm
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      Thanks, Jacob.

      I’m just astounded fellow conservatives who support Trump refuse to accept those who did not vote for him in 2016 but will in 2020. How self-defeating. (See below.)

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      • July 4, 2019 at 8:46 pm
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        Rod, there is not one legitimate argument against Ben in this thread. Not wanting to vote for someone based on their unpalatable characteristics is not an indictment on their credibility as a commentator. I would understand if they were calling out individuals like Bret Stephens or even Jonah Goldberg who are ridged never Trumpers who refuse to give praise when it is warranted. It is sad that conservatives are praying at the alter of the executive branch because we like the guy in office. I thought we were for decentralization…

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        • July 4, 2019 at 9:51 pm
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          Good points. There are still a few die-hard never-Trumpers out there. Shapiro is not one of them.

          And we have for decades been vesting far too much power in the executive branch. It bit is with Obama and it will bite us harder with the next Democrat president.

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      • July 5, 2019 at 8:08 am
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        In 2016, I voted against Hillary. In 2020 I will vote for Trump.

        Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 11:07 am
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    ~ BS is a perennial anti-Trumper / in fact an avid Trump hater.. He wrote a horrible op-ed on why he would never vote for DJT for the Daily Wire, full of hate and vitriol for POTUS.
    IMO he is a walking talking contradiction… I believe DJT is our last hope for the American values BS (supposedly) espouses…

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    • July 4, 2019 at 12:22 pm
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      Concur absolutely.
      My basic question for anyone who thinks BS is credible is: “Why”?
      What has he ever done in his life except go to college, then start spouting his opinion? No military service. No service to others of any kind. Has he ever hired an employee and paid wages? (I really don’t know.)
      He is about as qualified to pontificate about my America as another BS (Barbra Streisand) or Cher, her ownself.
      Of course, he does have a high school diploma which other two neglected to get on the way through their teens.
      My millennial son raves about this guy, but can’t answer any of the questions I’ve posed above.

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      • July 4, 2019 at 12:41 pm
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        Couple of thoughts. Lots of people did not serve in the military, including President Trump. Holding that against Shapiro makes no sense.

        Second, he is co-founder of the Daily Wire, ,a very successful conservative media web site. He hires and fires there all the time. So he has and does run a business.

        He actually does a ton of service to others because he is an Orthodox Jew. He’s required by his religion. That includes giving and helping others in need.

        I think your opinion is too firmly formed with too little information. Please reconsider. Your son is right.

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        • July 4, 2019 at 8:25 pm
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          Thank you for clarifying this Rod. Saying Ben Shapiro is not a credible figure based on his lack of military service is no different from the identity politics of leftists. It’s not different from a leftist saying men cannot have an opinion on abortion. Ronald Reagan would be in this category as well considering his military service compromised of acting in training films.

          The rejection of millennial thought leaders by our predecessors will only gut the conservative movement.

          So as a combat wounded veteran, I wholeheartedly support Ben Shapiro and his contributions to the spread of conservatism and anyone else who is willing to discuss the importance of adherence our founding principles.

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    • July 4, 2019 at 12:33 pm
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      He’s said he is planning to vote for Trump in 2020. He’s represents exactly the conservatives we need who did not vote for Trump but have seen his effective presidency and are now willing to. That is a lot of votes.

      Why people insist on slamming him and others that have now seen the light is beyond me. They’ve changed their mind to our side and you continue to criticize him as if nothing changed.

      Deeply counterproductive if you actually want to win in 2020.

      Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 12:12 pm
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    Can’t stand to listen to the little twit. He sounds like some high-school Sophomore yammering on about his favorite rap-crap video.

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  • July 4, 2019 at 12:14 pm
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    Stop pushing BS on us!

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  • July 4, 2019 at 12:33 pm
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    Sorry, Rod, but you stepped in it with this one. Ben is a prissy little anti-Trumper, who does appeal to lace-curtain conservatives.

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    • July 4, 2019 at 12:37 pm
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      I’ve got this on copy-paste, because I’m just astounded fellow conservatives who support Trump refuse to accept those who did not vote for him in 2016 but will in 2020. How self-defeating.

      Pasted:

      He’s said he is planning to vote for Trump in 2020. He’s represents exactly the conservatives we need who did not vote for Trump but have seen his effective presidency and are now willing to. That is a lot of votes.

      Why people insist on slamming him and others that have now seen the light is beyond me. They’ve changed their mind to our side and you continue to criticize him as if nothing changed.

      Deeply counterproductive if you actually want to win in 2020.

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      • July 4, 2019 at 12:43 pm
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        Ben Shapiro isn’t important his voice no longer matters. We won 2016 without him we will win 2020. Ben must be bleeding money and trying to save his career, oh well….it’s over.

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      • July 4, 2019 at 4:53 pm
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        Oh dear. He is now supposedly pro-Trump to save his brand. People hate him for the same reasons that they hated the smarty-pants kid in elementary school who would never play outside with the others, but always cowered in front of the teacher’s desk during recess, looking for extra credit projects, even though they already had an A+ in the class.

        His bloodless “intellectual” approach to debate is off-putting. Way too much memorization of canned facts and no passion. The fast talking is an obnoxious affectation, and all of this seems to fool you. Sad.

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  • July 4, 2019 at 12:41 pm
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    Ben Shapiro is hated by the left and the right. I honestly don’t know a single person that listens to him anymore. You can add Ann Coulter to that list their careers are over you might have a few that hang on but not enough support to keep a career going. Ben knows this did he pay you to write this story? Going to be a hard sale he’s created a lot of enemies…..

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    • July 4, 2019 at 12:49 pm
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      Anecdotally not knowing people who listen to Shapiro means nothing. Most everyone I know does. Means nothing. It’s like all the loons in New York that were interviewed saying they thought the election was rigged because “I don’t know anyone who voted for Trump!” Don’t be like them.

      Further, his podcast is #6 ranked podcast in the nation in news and politics — that’s not just conservative, but all news and politics. He’s on 150 radio stations to launch and runs one of the largest conservative media sites.

      Kinda don’t think his career is over.

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      • July 4, 2019 at 6:52 pm
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        You can tell yourself whatever you want. You have 28 responses mostly from you responded to people that are trying to tell you Ben is not a voice anymore. He’s trying to save his career I’d be careful being a cheerleader for the swamp, real leaders don’t need cheerleaders. This article should be title “Ben is a friend of mine please help me save his failing career. “

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        • July 4, 2019 at 7:04 pm
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          Ben is not a friend. Never met him and he doesn’t know me from Adam. And while I will always listen to you all, it doesn’t mean I change my opinion because people disagree with me. I must be persuaded by logical, rational, factual cases. Because I’m a conservative.

          This column is my opinion and so far I’m not dissuaded by the arguments I’ve heard, because they’ve mostly been — he didn’t vote for Trump in 2016. That he says he will in 2020 doesn’t mean he’s open-minded to the Shapiro-haters, but means that he is trying to save his brand. Funny thing is that his brand has exploded SINCE 2016. So again, not accurate.

          It almost feels like a bunch of emotions driving the responses, not facts. And that’s the liberals playing field.

          But I will keep listening to see a cogent case against my thesis.

          Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 1:36 pm
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    Wow! I am both shocked and dismayed to see this article. The real “Revolutionary Act” here, though, is lying with such great aplomb! Or we could call it naivete on a colossal scale! Today is Independence day and I shall celebrate by being permanently independent of reading such ridiculous tripe. How can one ignore the overwhelmingly liberal and anti-conservative vomit that spews forth from Ben Shapiro and call him the next “Rush Limbaugh”??? You did mean to say the next “Jim Acosta”, right??? The only thing I can think of that could have generated this obsequious puff piece is that you were actually paid a ton of money by Ben Shapiro himself to do so. You are so obviously disconnected from reality that you don’t even know that Ben Shapiro is profoundly despised by real conservatives. You may as well have presented Colin Kaepernick today as America’s greatest patriot! Please take a lot of time today and this week to wrap your arms around the fact that you have had a very serious lapse in reason and logical thinking! My “Law-Abiding Act” is to abandon this delusional content permanently and relegate it to the Justin Amash junk heap of deceived drivel! And the flushing toilet goes—kah-wooosh!!!

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    • July 4, 2019 at 3:07 pm
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      Simply impossible to respond to someone who says Shapiro is “overwhelming liberal and anti-conservative.” So counterfactual as to

      I do find it humorous that several people think that if I write something like this they disagree with, I was paid. This is the classic progressive move to impugn the motives of the person. Liberals in newsrooms did this to me, the lone conservative, for decades, telling me why I really opposed affirmative action, or why I really wanted to cut taxes, or why I really thought America was and is exceptional.

      Pretty disappointing to see conservatives falling into the same weak arguing technique.

      Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 1:45 pm
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    I’m certainly thankful that Jesus did not have the same attitude toward Saul (later Apostle Paul) that some here have for Ben! Totally agree with Rod T about welcoming those who did not vote for Trump in 2016 yet plan to vote for him in 2020. The MSM and demoncrats managed to pull off a lot of voters to gain the House in 2018. We NEED them back, as well as any never-Trumpers who have changed their minds, not only for the Presidency, but for the House and Senate as well.

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    • July 4, 2019 at 3:08 pm
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      So true, Dan!

      Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 1:47 pm
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    Ben Shapiro is not really a conservative. He is a conservative Jew, and where his Jewish beliefs align with what were conservative principles, he does a good job of articulating those principles. But obviously, he places Jewishness and Zionism above Americanism and Conservatism. That is why there are many people who are conservative, but don’t see him the way this writer defines him.

    Further, the article completely misses the key point about Rush Limbaugh. In the hey day of his show, he was the funniest satirist and humorist of his era. The skits, the irony, the clever bits, always the speaking truth to power made him the most outspoken and outrageous force in American media.

    That is why the left could never understand him and truly hated him.

    I remember a year or two ago, shaking my head when hearing that Ellen Degeneres had actually been giving a ‘Mark Twain Award for Humor’ realizing that nobody deserved that award in the last 30 years like Limbaugh did, and nobody was truly less funny than Ellen Degeneres was. But the vehement hatred of the leftists who control our institutions could not recognize the brilliant comedy he had given us. They even tried to impose a network of liberal talk (Air America) and gave us Al Gore and Ed Schulz, who they perceived to be like a Limbaugh because he ranted and bullied, completely missing that Limbaugh was always funny and clever, unable to get the joke because it was on them. Their Limbaughs were just mean bullying scolds.

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    • July 4, 2019 at 3:10 pm
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      I agree with much of your Rush analysis.

      But you need to explain where Shapiro being a Jew makes him not a real conservative. And I will need specific examples of him choosing Zionism over America and conservatism.

      Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 4:46 pm
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    Ben Shapiro talks too fast, so fast that I have trouble processing what he says.

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    • July 4, 2019 at 8:01 pm
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      To date… THAT is my only criticism of Ben. I also have a hearing problem, which just exacerbates the speech I hear. We Conservatives need as many ‘Ben(s)’ as we can find.

      Reply
  • July 4, 2019 at 10:12 pm
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    My main problem with Ben Shapiro is the same one I have with Glenn Beck, both were Never Trumpers. Yes they both have said their spots are changed. The problem being they were able to prefer Hillary over Trump in the first place. It strains my credibilty that they are that brilliant of conservatives but could back such a corrupt politician. Shapiro’s site is owned by the Wilks brothers, also Never trumpers. It will be a long time before I can take Ben’s, (or Glenn’s ) opinions at face value.

    Reply
    • July 5, 2019 at 8:43 am
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      Credulity, not credibility.

      Reply

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