Politico’s profile of conservative Wisconsin radio host Charlie Sykes captured the civil war that is raging within right-wing media over Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, with Sykes excoriating the “alternative reality bubble” pushed by pundits like Sean Hannity and fringe news sites like Breitbart.com.
Sykes, a conservative radio host who has been anti-Trump from the beginning, blames right-wing media for the rise of the reality TV star, saying conservative media figures such as himself have “fed this faux outrage machine." He explained that “talk radio’s attack on mainstream-media bias has backfired, because its listeners now dismiss legitimate media fact-checking as untrustworthy.” The August 21 Politico article noted that Sykes regrets his own role in sowing a “racist, anti-Constitutional, maybe even fascistic” “vein of thinking” that is parroted by his audience:
Since last year, the most influential political talk show host in Wisconsin has found out just how hard it is to be a #NeverTrump conservative on right-wing radio. Ever since Sykes began denouncing Donald Trump on the air—which he does just about every time he talks about the presidential election—he’s strained his relationships with the listeners of his daily radio show.
Sykes’ many arguments with listeners over Donald Trump’s serial outrages have exposed in much of his audience a vein of thinking—racist, anti-Constitutional, maybe even fascistic—that has shaken Sykes. It has left him questioning whether he and his colleagues in the conservative media played a role in paving the way for Trump’s surprising and unprecedented rise.
[O]n this Friday in August, Sykes is juggling his many conservative roles—radio host, thinker, translator of Wisconsin political mores for the outside world. Young reporters from Vice and Milwaukee Public Radio interview him about his book’s argument that spiking student debt isn’t worth it. New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and NBC political reporters ask him about the Ryan-Nehlen race and whether Trump will endorse Ryan. Meanwhile, he’s wrestling with his listeners, from whom he is feeling increasingly estranged.
“I am dealing with the daily flood of emails on how we’re never going to listen to you anymore,” Sykes says. Longtime listeners write him to say conservative talk radio should criticize Hillary Clinton and not Trump.
“If I lose listeners, that’s a price I’ve just got to pay,” he says. He’d rather say what he really thinks than fall in line with other broadcasters’ embrace of Trump. “I feel dumber every time I listen to Sean Hannity. I don’t want to be that guy.”
“Talk radio made itself relevant by beating up on other Republicans, vilifying other Republicans,” he says. “It fed this faux outrage machine that raised expectations unrealistically”—for instance, asking why Congress didn’t repeal Obamacare, though Obama’s veto pen made it mathematically impossible. Later, he would tell Business Insider’s Oliver Darcy that talk radio’s attack on mainstream-media bias has backfired, because its listeners now dismiss legitimate media fact-checking as untrustworthy.
Sykes warns his listeners to step outside the “alternative reality bubble” of Breitbart.com and other right-wing websites. Part of his audience thinks he’s sold out, he complains, because he won’t parrot dubious claims they’ve read on such sites. “A lot of the conservative talk shows around the country embrace almost whatever comes over the transom,” he says.