Notion About Pragmatism Columnists –

When you hear the name Howard Stern, what do you think first about it?

Shock jock? Disgusting? Obnoxious Self Promoter? Junior high locker room humor?

Becher-Thornton, Mark

Mark Thornton

If you only encounter it through mainstream media coverage, it would be understandable if your answer was "all of the above".

Those of us who listen to us have a very different impression. Yes, it can be gross, but that doesn't sum it up. He's actually very intelligent and an amazing communicator. Via satellite radio, it delivers what is probably the greatest consistent and loyal audience in any media. He and his wife are tremendous at animal rescue, sheltering over two dozen homeless cats at a time as they raise millions of dollars for the cause. He has an old fashioned work ethic and no tolerance for those who don't. He's the best interviewer in the business. He is devoted to his older mother and father, despite mercilessly (and hilariously) mocking them. And he's a fitness and nutrition nut that has stayed lean and in shape since gaining a few pounds more than 25 years ago. Remember that last point …

Ask people what they think of Oprah Winfrey and they will likely provide answers such as: Generous, relatable, brave, versatile, powerful. Some say that she was directly responsible for Barack Obama rising to the fore and into the presidency. So add “Kingmaker” to your résumé. We also watched her struggle with her weight for years, going from fat to thin, too fat, too thin, before landing comfortably plump. Remember that last point …

Stern got his first radio concert in 1986. That same year, Oprah began her nationally syndicated talk show. Both media moguls are 66 years old. It's worth $ 2.6 billion, it's worth $ 650 million, according to gazillionaire Google.

When you ask most people who they'd rather babysit with their children, they'll say "Oprah" without hesitation. It doesn't matter that Howard raised three beautiful, accomplished daughters and that Oprah has no children. You've never heard of the Star Girls before, so their dad must have done something right, despite his reputation for disrespecting women.

If you asked most people who they would like advice from on how to be successful, Oprah would be the answer of the overwhelming majority. But she speaks in platitudes that are received as the gospel, as if someone were standing there with tablets of stone etching every word for all of humanity and history. Being connected to her and benefiting from her blessings has made numerous people successful – Obama, Dr. Phil, Gayle King, Dr. Oz, Suze Orman, Rachael Ray, countless writers – but did their advice make anyone successful?

Howard speaks practically. He would never stand on a pedestal. On the other hand. It usually holds up. If he were a kid now, experts would say he suffered from low self-esteem. However, he has a strong drive and work ethic. And some of the impromptu responses he's given to callers would be good advice for teenagers. Seriously. (Relax, parents, your teens are talking about the same filth star does on his show, or worse … yes, even your little angel.)

But while listening and laughing, you may come across something that is actually helpful. I've heard him talk several times about his first job as a dishwasher and how proud he was of it and tried to do well. Then he got his first radio job for $ 96 a week and came to the station an hour early, always prepared and taken risks, always working to get better and getting attention to his show, which was the name of the game, with ratings to generate income.

If all of this is hard to believe because of your preconceived notions about Howard Stern, I understand. I was like that too. Shortly after moving to Laurel, I learned that Jim was a huge Howard fan and had even written a book about him. I was surprised. I was saying some stereotype about the DJ who may have funded the FCC entirely for years, and Jim said, "He's a genius." I scoffed but didn't argue.

As I got to know Jim better, I found that we had similar tastes in entertainment. But the star thing … I just didn't get it. I'm not a prude, but the soundbites I've heard, the things I've read, and the infamous appearance of "Fartman" on the MTV Awards Show … just not my kind of humor.

And then I got Sirius / XM radio a few years ago. I started to listen. I still don't understand. Too many inside jokes. Too much about the staff. Chances are I'll be the only person in America that Dr. Laura and Howard Stern are programmed into my radio. I listened to her more, but when her show started I would switch to him to stay awake while delivering papers to the stores three nights a week. It all soon started to make sense. I became a fan and came to the conclusion that he was one of the most misunderstood men in the world.

His interviews with actors, musicians and all kinds of celebrities – including many with Donald Trump before he even thought of running for president – are amazing. There were no real-time or content restrictions and he is fearless when it comes to asking questions. He asks things we want to know, whether we admit it or not. He makes A-list celebrities human. Hell, he actually made Hillary Clinton sound almost human, albeit a few months late for her campaign. His politics have gotten out of hand these days, but he is still a master at his trade and a better person than most people know.

That brings me to a question that is not hypothetical. Stern once sent his coworkers to ask people on the streets of New York City where he is best known: Would you rather get nutritional advice from Howard Stern or Oprah Winfrey?

Almost all of them said Oprah. Seriously? Someone who has proven unable to reduce obesity is preferable to someone who has stayed slim and healthy for a quarter of a century? Howard was puzzled by this and the fact that Oprah is the spokesperson for Weight Watchers and diet food brands …

That shows how superficial people are – and why Trump is in trouble in this election. Too many people are more interested in how someone behaves than in results. Feelings about pragmatism. It's the same concept that made New York Governor Andrew Cuomo a hero in the eyes of Democrats and the prevailing media culture – even though his state had the highest infection rates and his decision to move patients to nursing homes directly resulted in the deaths of thousands. But hey, he talks nicely.

It's time to think seriously about Jim's plan (see A5) no matter what happens in this election.

Mark Thornton is the editor-in-chief of the Leader Call. Email him at

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