Tommy B: King of All Ratings

So this time it’s the Native Americans going after Tom Barnard. I’ll watch with amusement to see if Clyde Bellecourt can extract even an ounce of pain from the Twin Cities’ most dominant entertainer (and, in my opinion, most potent "new media" political pundit). But based on historical precedent, I’m be betting heavily that Barnard will dismiss any protest Bellecourt can muster with the sangfroid of a grazing water buffalo flicking a buzzing gnat away from his big, muddy rump.

(Here is Terry Collins’ story from this morning’s Strib. The 19 year-old file photo gives you some idea how much contact Barnard has bothered to have with the Strib in all those years. He doesn’t need them in the least.)

Why won’t Barnard suffer? Because his key audience loves this stuff. It is exactly what they want to hear. It is the anti-MPR. You can’t feed them enough knuckle-headed riffs on drunken/in-breeding/selfish/rich/dirt-poor Indians, ungrateful/unassimilating Hmong (his 1998 run-in with SE Asians), or, well hell, pick any group that isn’t blue collar and white and take all the shots you want.

The experience elsewhere with the excesses of Opie & Anthony (they encourage a couple to have sex in St. Patrick’s Cathedral, get canned and soon hired back WITH a fat satellite deal to boot) and Don Imus tells you everything you need to know about the public appetite for the Barnard/morning "zoo" style shtick. It is too immense for any programming executive to resist. In this not at all unique universe your cred for "being real" is enhanced by warehouse john toilet jokes, anything involving the word "tits" and verbally mugging minorities.

How popular is Barnard? According to the most recent Arbitron ratings, released last week, (the VERY BUSY Ms. Rybak and I will break them down later today or early tomorrow), Barnard, put simply, IS morning drive radio in the Twin Cities. Everyone else could save the electricity. Among men 25-54 his show gobbles up a 31.7% share of the audience. 93X, (KQ’s sister station), is second with 8.2%.

Among all men 12 and older, Barnard has a 24.5% to 9.1% lead over second place WCCO-AM.

Among WOMEN 25-54 Barnard is FIRST, with 11.8% of the audience, with KS95 second a couple points back.

Point being, Barnard not only has nothing to fear from Clyde Bellecourt, but if the past is prologue, he’ll emerge from this incident stronger in the eyes of his core audience for having taken shots from precisely the kinds of people they tolerate least.

Five years ago I got tipped to the intriguing correlation of Barnard’s area of highest listener-ship and Jesse Ventura’s heaviest voter turn-out, namely, the northwest exurbs around Ramsey and Coon Rapids. One thing led to another. For a little atmosphere I went out to a huge bowling alley up in Ramsey to talk to people at random, and sure enough almost everyone, men and women, not only listened to Barnard’s show but were in complete synche with him on cultural-political issues. Paul Wellstone was a wimp. Norm Coleman, (who courted Barnard assiduously for years and now is best of buddies), was a shining light of reason.

Digging a little deeper, the racial tenor got pretty nasty. A few too many of Barnard’s most avid fans held unabashed grudges against "niggers" and "gooks" who they thought were cutting in line ahead of them for jobs and privileges. In the story I included the dark and pathetic ramblings of one postal service employee for anecdotal effect.

More significantly though, in terms of the undeniable influence of "new media", i.e. people employing Imus and Barnard’s infotainment pop demagoguery, shrewd political operatives like Brian McClung, now working for Tim Pawlenty, freely conceded the importance of Barnard’s endorsement, tacit or explicit. You had to try getting on his good side. Barnard’s stamp of approval, several offered, was more important to them than an endorsement by the Star Tribune. (No one mentioned the Pioneer Press).

If you missed that story, there’s a reason. After seven torturous re-writes the PiPress killed it, allegedly on the basis that I did not ID the postal worker I quoted, in violation of the paper’s strict "no anonymous sources" policy. I pointed out that he had good reason to fear disciplinary action from his employer were he to appear in print sounding like a racist turnip.

But by that time KQ’s manager at the time had gotten wind of the piece and called upper level editors to complain that I had filled in one day on KFAN, a clear display of conflict of interest KQ claimed, so I should not be allowed to write negatively on Tom Barnard. (I had received permission from the paper to do the radio bit, and said repeatedly on-air that I wasn’t being paid.) In truth, the story was a very difficult sell because the managing editor in charge at the time had never heard of Tom Barnard, and none of the brass was too pleased at me suggesting they were no longer on the short list of "must get" endorsements in our rapidly evolving media universe.

The point(s) of that little drama were these:

(1.) Barnard is remarkably influential with a certain, large demographic that mainstream newspaper managers believe they must appeal to, (usually with outdoors and sports coverage, etc.), but in fact generally ignore, therefore don’t understand particularly well and rarely interact with in their personal lives.

(2.) Barnard is a powerful indicator of the gulf between the "news" audience that is open to whatever the facts may show, and another substantial group, marked by palpable resentments, that is primarily interested in personalities that fortify their unexamined prejudices.

Tommy’ll survive this one just fine.