"You don't cede territory to the opposition," adds Braude. "You can't eliminate [the criticism]. But you can mute the crap you have to take."
But is it really plausible that someone like Braude's conservative colleague Michael Graham — who authored the forthcoming Tea Party ode That's No Angry Mob, That's My Mom: It's Time for a Conservative Revolt (Regnery) — would give even a semblance of a fair shake to a Democrat running against a Scott Brown imitator this fall?
"I have to do compelling talk radio — that's my job," answers Graham, who says he repeatedly invited Coakley on during the campaign's home stretch and received no response. "I can't get left-of-center people to come on my show, because they know they can go somewhere else and get softball questions. If Coakley had come on, I wouldn't have asked her, 'When did you get that swastika tattooed on your forehead?' I would have asked, 'Tell me how this Obamacare thing is supposed to work?' "
Braude and Graham have a vested interest here, since more guests means more listeners. But they're not the only ones urging Democrats to take a page out of Brown's phone-happy playbook.
"The Coakley campaign and the Democratic party allowed [talk radio] to get out of hand," says Democratic media consultant Michael Goldman, who made a late-game appearance on Dennis & Callahan to defend Coakley's positions. "They basically said, 'That audience is for Brown anyway — why waste our time?' That was a mistake. They should have been on there every day, pounding back.
"The lesson the Democrats have to have learned here," adds Goldman, "is never again to allow the reinforcement of a whole series of untruths or partial truths, without someone representing the other side."
Monitoring the medium
Chastened hindsight is 20-20, of course, and it's comforting — if you're a frustrated liberal — to think that the solution might be as simple as more talk-radio assertiveness. But if Democrats are going to venture into innately unfriendly broadcast territory in hopes of blunting the GOP's advantage, they need to be sure that the candidates — or their on-air surrogates — are taking a prudent risk.
"It depends on the relationship they've developed with the host, and it depends on their ability to wing it in hostile situations," says Michael Harrison, publisher of Talkers magazine. "If a [politician] is charismatic, diplomatic, and smart — if they're good at debating and can do it without creating hostility — by every means, they should go out there. But if you don't have what it takes to stand up under that type of pressure, they should stay away."
There is, of course, another option for liberals worried about talk radio's power this fall. They can try to battle against the medium rather than working with it — by monitoring on-air rhetoric, publicizing it when it gets especially nasty, even applying commercial pressure on the outlet in question. "Locker-room humor doesn't sound quite so funny outside the locker room," says Democratic media consultant Dan Payne. "Put that slightly off-color one-liner in print, maybe, and send it off to a show's sponsor."