Media personalities are noted for their egos, and even local journalists are susceptible to an annoying lack of humility.
Talk radio has always been the most attractive outlet for egomaniacs. Rush Limbaugh, Vicki McKenna (a fellow Hononegah High School graduate!) and Glenn Beck are among the most infamous ultraconservatives who litter the airwaves with baseless accusations and hyperbole.
But in addition to those voices, Madison held, until last week, the distinction of being a robust market for liberal talk radio. This isn’t surprising; the city is full of liberals who are more aggressive than their counterparts in other parts of the state or the nation. But most of them bypass the shrillness of talk radio in favor of the intelligence of National Public Radio — unsurprising since we boast a highly-educated population because of the University of Wisconsin’s prominence.
John “Sly” Sylvester, the progressive talk show host in Madison who recently learned he had been laid off because of a format change at his home station, WTDY, was not the NPR variety of liberal. Instead, he was the Ed Schultz type — a blustery, incendiary figure whose ego led to a wide belief that he was the spokesperson of the average Madison liberal. But he never was.
Sly was, in short, a progressive response to McKenna. His tirades were sometimes warranted, and he often committed acts of journalism, most notably when his interviews with Rep. Brett Hulsey, D-Madison, sent Hulsey dizzily looking for the nearest exit from the studio. But at his core, Sly was always a little bit of an oddball in the media community here. Most Madison liberals I know are happy to listen to Wisconsin Public Radio and end their night with a glass of red wine and some Mozart on the classical station, giving them their solid dose of elite fulfillment.
Sly presented a threat to liberals because he had the potential to be just as alienating as his peers on the right, and the liberal elite loves to see itself as the most informed, intelligent constituency in America.
But he did represent an important constituency that the red wine, Mozart liberals sometimes ignore: the working Wisconsinite. Sly deserves criticism for the egocentric broadcasting habits that have plagued the right and are beginning to plague the left. But his commentary resonated with a certain swath of liberals whose voices need to be heard by the party’s leadership.
WTDY’s decision to change its format has been described by some as a tragedy in local news. Madison, however, was already oversaturated with local news providers in all forms of media. And while no layoff is a good layoff, Sly shouldn’t be canonized as a hero of the Wisconsin left.
He should provide Madison with a cautionary tale. Unless, of course, WIBA decides to hire him as a lead-in to Vicki McKenna’s program. Wouldn’t that be special?
Ryan Rainey ([email protected]) is a senior majoring in journalism and Latin American studies.