Skip to main content

Ears Wide Shut: Epistemological Populism, Argutainment and Canadian Conservative Talk Radio

  • Paul Saurette (a1) and Shane Gunster (a2)

Abstract. Although scholars have identified political talk radio (PTR) as an important site of political socialization, the current literature has largely failed to examine the political relevance of PTR's rhetorical strategies and has virtually ignored Canadian PTR altogether. This article addresses these gaps by analyzing Adler On Line, Canada's only nationally syndicated commercial PTR program, to show that how Canadian PTR talks, particularly its use of populist rhetoric, plays a central role in establishing what type of political deliberation and debate is possible within it. Divided into two main sections, the article first explores how Adler On Line renders a particular epistemological framework authoritative. The second section then analyzes the rules and norms of political expression and debate encouraged by the show's style of argutainment debate. The article concludes with a more speculative evaluation of the practical consequences as well as the theoretical and normative implications of these discursive practices.

Résumé. Bien que les auteurs de recherches reconnaissent que la radio interactive politique (RIP) représente un lieu important de socialisation politique, la littérature courante dans ce domaine omet, en grande partie, d'analyser la signification politique des stratégies rhétoriques de la RIP, tout en laissant entièrement dans l'ombre les activités de RIP canadiennes. Visant à combler ces lacunes, le présent article offre, dans un premier temps, une analyse de l'émission Adler On Line, qui est la seule émission de RIP commerciale souscrite nationalement au Canada, puis démontre que le mode d'expression typique adopté dans cette émission, et surtout son usage de la rhétorique populiste, ont une incidence déterminante sur le genre de délibération et de débat politiques que permet la radio parlée au Canada. L'article se divise en deux grandes parties. La première explore le cadre épistémologique particulier de l'émission Adler On Line et la manière dont ce cadre se voit empreint d'autorité. La seconde partie analyse les règles ou normes de débat et d'expression des opinions politiques qu'encourage le style divertissant de cette émission-débat. Pour conclure, les auteurs évaluent de façon plus spéculative les conséquences pratiques de ces formes d'expression discursive, tout comme leur incidence théorique et normative.

Corresponding author
Paul Saurette, School of Political Studies, University of Ottawa, Rm 9101 Desmarais Bldg, 55 Laurier Ave, Ottawa, ON, K1S 0T2,
Shane Gunster, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University, K9671-8888 University Drive, Burnaby, BC, V5A 1S6,
Hide All
Barker David. 2002. Rushed to Judgment. New York: Columbia University Press.
BBM Canada. “Top Line Radio Statistics S4—2005 (September 5–October 30)” and “Top Line Radio Statistics S1—2006 (January 9–March 5).” (October 28, 2009).
Bennett Stephen Earl. 1998. “Political Talk Radio's Relationships with Democratic Citizenship.” American Review of Politics 19 (spring):1730.
Bennett Stephen Earl. 2002. “Americans' Exposure to Political Talk Radio and Their Knowledge of Public Affairs.” Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media 46 (1): 7186.
Bickford Susan. 1996. The Dissonance of Democracy: Listening Conflict and Citizenship. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Boggs Carl and Dirmann Tina. 1999. “The Myth of Electronic Populism: Talk Radio and the Decline of the Public Sphere.” Democracy & Nature 5 (1): 6594.
Botes Johannes and Langdon Jennifer. 2006. “Public Radio Talk Show Hosts and Social Conflict: An Analysis of Self-Reported Roles during Debates and Discussion.” Journal of Radio Studies 13 (2): 266–86.
Canovan Margaret. 1981. Populism. New York: Harcourt Brace.
Connolly William. 1995. Ethos of Pluralization. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Connolly William. 2008. Capitalism and Christianity, American Style. Raleigh NC: Duke University Press.
Dale Ann and Naylor Ted. 2005. “Dialogue and Public Space: An Exploration of Radio and Information Communications Technologies.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 38 (1): 203–25.
Davis Richard and Owen Diana. 1998. New Media and American Politics. New York: Oxford University Press.
Fairclough Norman. 2001. Language and Power. New York: Longman, 2001.
Foucault Michel. 1977. Language, Counter-Memory, Practice, ed. Bouchard Donald F.. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
Foucault Michel. 1980. Power/Knowledge, ed. Gordon Colin. New York: Pantheon Books.
Frank Thomas. 2000. One Market under God: Extreme Capitalism, Market Populism and the End of Economic Democracy. New York: Doubleday.
Fraser Nancy. 1992. “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy.” In Habermas and the Public Sphere, ed. Calhoun Craig. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Gingras Anne-Marie. 2007. “La question de la liberté d'expression dans les démêlés judiciaires et les revers administratifs de CHOI-FM.” Canadian Journal of Political Science 40 (1): 79100
Gramsci Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks, ed. Hoare and trans. Quintin and Smith Geoffrey Nowell. New York: International Publishers.
Griffin Harold. 1999. Radical Roots: The Shaping of British Columbia. Vancouver: Commonwealth Fund.
Gunster Shane. 2008. “Listening to Labour: Mainstream Media, Talk Radio and the 2005 B.C. Teacher's Strike.” Canadian Journal of Communication 33 (4): 661–83.
Habermas Jurgen. 1989. The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry into a Category of Bourgeois Society, trans. Burger Thomas. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
Hall Alice and Cappella Joseph. 2002. “The Impact of Political Talk Radio Exposure on Attributions about the Outcome of the 1996 US Presidential Election.” Journal of Communication 52 (2): 232–50.
Hall Stuart. 1988. The Hard Road to Renewal: Thatcherism and the Crisis of the Left. New York: Verso.
Hall Jamieson Kathleen and Capella Joseph. 2008. Echo Chamber: Rush Limbaugh and the Conservative Media Establishment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Holbert R. Lance. 2004. “Political Talk Radio, Perceived Fairness and the Establishment of George W. Bush's Political Legitimacy.” Harvard International Journal of Press and Politics 9 (3): 1227.
Hollander B.A. 1997. “Fuel to the Fire: Talk Radio and the Gamson Hypothesis.” Political Communication 14 (3): 355–69.
Hutchby Ian. 1992. “The Pursuit of Controversy: Routine Scepticism in Talk on ‘Talk Radio.’Sociology 26 (4): 673–94.
Hutchby Ian. 1996. Confrontation Talk: Arguments, Asymmetries and Power on Talk Radio. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
Hutchby Ian. 2001. “Witnessing: The use of first-hand knowledge in legitimating lay opinions on talk radio.” Discourse Studies 3 (4): 481–98.
Jones David A. 2002. “The Polarizing Effect of New Media Messages.” International Journal of Public Opinion Research 14 (2): 158–74.
Krebs Andreas. 2008. “Colonial Subjectivity and Canadian Media: Exploring Talk Radio.” Paper presented at the Canadian Political Science Association Annual Conference, Vancouver.
Lakoff George. 2002. Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Laycock David. 2002. The New Right and Democracy in Canada: Understanding Reform and the Canadian Alliance. Toronto: Oxford University Press.
Luntz Frank. 2007. Words that Work: It's Not What You Say, It's What People Hear. New York: Hyperion.
Lyons Jeffrey. 2008. “Political Talk Radio and Values: Finding Support for the Two-Value Political Ideology Model.” Journal of Radio and Audio Media 15 (2): 150–66.
Marland Alex and Kerby Matthew. 2008. “Are Politicians Listening? Talk Radio Call-in Shows and Public Policy in Newfoundland and Labrador.” Paper presented at the Canadian Political Science Association annual meeting, Vancouver.
Meyer Dick. 2007. Why We Hate Us: American Discontent in the New Millennium. New York: Crown Publishers.
Negt Oskar and Kluge Alexander. 1993. Public Sphere and Experience: Toward an Analysis of the Bourgeois and Proletarian Public Sphere, trans. Peter Labanyi, Jamie Daniel and Assenka Oskiloff. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Perse Elizabeth and Butler Jessica. 2005. “Call-In Talk Radio: Compensation or Enrichment.” Journal of Radio Studies 12 (2): 204–22.
Pfau Michael, Cho Jaeho and Chong Kriston. 2001. “Communication Forms in US Presidential Elections.” Harvard International Journal of Press Politics 6 (4): 88105.
Postman Neil. 1985. Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business. New York: Viking.
Sampert Shannon. 2009. “Jock Radio/Talk Radio/Shock Radio.” In Mediating Canadian Politics, ed. Sampert Shannon and Trimble Linda. Don Mills: Pearson Canada.
Strauss Leo. 1988. Persecution and the Art of Writing. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Thussu Daya Kishan. 2007. News as Entertainment: The Rise of Global Infotainment. London: Sage.
Wattie Chris. 2005. “Gomery not a big issue: poll finds: Health care of most concern to voters, even in Quebec.” National Post (Toronto): December 7, A1.
Westen Drew. 2007. The Political Brain. New York: Public Affairs.
Wodak Ruth and Meyer Michael. 2009. Methods of Critical Discourse Analysis. 2nd ed.London: Sage.
Young Walter D. 1969. The Anatomy of a Party: The National CCF, 1932–1961. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.
Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Canadian Journal of Political Science/Revue canadienne de science politique
  • ISSN: 0008-4239
  • EISSN: 1744-9324
  • URL: /core/journals/canadian-journal-of-political-science-revue-canadienne-de-science-politique
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Altmetric attention score

Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 4
Total number of PDF views: 55 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 304 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 17th December 2017. This data will be updated every 24 hours.