John Lemon has posted an interesting challenge in the comments section of my talk radio post:

How about posting a ranked list of national conservative talk show hosts based upon how well they argue their points. And perhaps suggest a list of possible leftist commentators who would either be (a) entertaining hosts; and/or (b) good arguers.


Honestly, I haven’t listened to all that much talk radio lately, owing to intervening factors such as working during the middle of the day. I’ll throw a couple of thoughts out and maybe add to the lists later. The lists below are in no particular order–I just wrote down names as they came to me. Feel free to join in in the comments section.

Conservative hosts and their arguing skill:

Rush Limbaugh: He’s the gold standard in terms of audience and entertainment value. He often makes interesting points and finds interesting angles. An annoying habit of lame analogies and intellectual inconsistency when necessary to make partisan points–but is willing to criticize Republicans, too.

G. Gordon Liddy: Of the hosts with daily programs, I think the most lucid debater. Simply brilliant and well trained intellectually. Very consistent and intellectually honest. Spends too much time–especially for a man of his advanced years–talking about his “manhood.” Also, occasionally spouts some rather nutty ideas.

Ken Hamblin: The Black Avenger is an interesting host. Very down-to-earth but argues points well. Haven’t heard the show in a couple of years.

Laura Ingraham: I’ve only heard the show a handful of times while driving in the late evening. I like her better in short bursts as a TV talking head. At least as good looking as Ann Coulter and not nearly as nutty.

Michael Savage: I’ve only heard a few snippets of his radio show from time-to-time and read articles about his MSNBC show. What a slime ball.

Sean Hannity: I’ve heard him a few times guest-hosting for Rush, heard bits and pieces of his radio show, and watched Hannity and Colmes occasionally. He’s reasonable enough, but rather boring.

Tony Snow: Rush guest host and Fox News Channel commentator. Very smart and likeable. I wouldn’t want to listen to him for three hours a day, though.

Walter Williams: Rush guest host and George Mason economist. He’s bright and entertaining but, alas, a one-trick pony. Well, maybe three tricks. But if you listen to him for three hours, you never have to listen to him again.

Michael Medved: I’ve heard him as a Rush guest host and caught his own show a handful of times. He’s really good–entertaining, thoughtful, and fair.

More to come?

Update: A commentator notes I omitted Neal Boortz. I’ve caught his show two or three times over the years by accident when traveling. He seems fine. Another commentator observes that Sean Hannity is a “dolt.” I’m not sure I’d go that far but, to paraphrase P. G. Wodehouse, I’m pretty sure he won’t be winning the Nobel Prize this year.

Potential liberal hosts:

Bill Clinton: His presidency was an eight year audition, right? He might be the liberals’ answer to Rush. Brilliant. Shameless. Charming. Empathetic. Polarizing. And he was always terrific at those press club dinners when he had to do a standup routine. Like Rush, liberals would love to tune in to hear him and conservatives would listen so they could bitch about what he was saying.

Michael Kinsley: The only lefty host on Crossfire worth watching. Some of his Slate columns of late have led to some reconsideration, but he’s generally brilliant and intellectually honest.

Christopher Hitchens: Brilliant with a wicked sense of humour. After his stand on the war, a lot of liberals might not like him, though.

Jerry Brown: Bright and funny–sometimes intentionally.

Ralph Nader: He’s got the tools to host his own show. The fact that he almost single-handedly got George W. Bush elected president in 2000 may hurt his chances.

Chris Matthews: Bright, funny, and likeable. Except on Hardball.

Bob Kerrey: Smart, serious, and likeable.

KenTom Joyner: Probably the most popular black radio figure. I’ve only heard him a few times but he’s good. I think he could make it with a wider audience.

Tavis Smiley: He had a very watchable show on BET for years.

Tony Brown: Very cerebral host of PBS’ Tony Brown’s Journal.

Cornell West: He’s conquered the rap scene; can talk radio be far behind?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. frank says:

    Your comments about Clinton are right on. I’d also think Al Franken would get a shot. He’s got a face for radio, but his show would have to include 2.5 hours of talking about Rush for him to have any listeners.

  2. Tom Royce says:

    You have to add Neal Boortz, http://www.boortz.com , to the list. Radio personality of the year last year, recently syndicated nation wide out of Atlanta, where he has been a host for 30 years. A libertarian with a strong conservative streak, Neal is my favorite Talk Radio host. He also was an attorney, so he can argue with the best of them…


  3. John Lemon says:

    I think you give Kiinsley too much credit. I actually don’t find him all that sharp. His points sound good on the face of it, but when you think down a level, there is not much there. He is remarkably ignorant of basic economics and recently showed his argument of Fukuyama’s popular “end of history” argument.

    I think Hannity is a dolt. Even more shallow than Kinsley and insufferable to listen to.

    I love Medved as he is very funny, but I find that when he starts losing an argument he tends to change the topic rather than reasoning himself out of it. He also seems to pick on intellectual retards a bit too much, but that is what makes him funny — his guests are lunatics.

    More later in the Barrel of Fish.

  4. Marm says:

    Tavis Smiley already has a radio talk show (on NPR).