Thoughts on Dennis Prager and his Radio Show


By Luke Ford

I prepared this web site on Dennis Prager because I believe that he is the greatest thinker of the late 20th Century. I view Dennis Prager's KABC radio program as the deepest of the genre. It is the only one I tune in to daily. That his show has not yet gone national is another argument against equating excellence with success.

It is also evidence that Prager, as he admits, does "not sell well." He may not package himself, his show and most importantly his values, as well as he could.

Increasingly surrounded by either sycophancy or derision, battling such forces as KABC management and his book publisher who try to dumb him down, Prager walks a lonely road. His ideas probably won't get their due until after his death.

Another part of the reason that his show has not gone national, I hear, is that KABC, as yet, won't allow it.

Also, for all its depth, the show is frequently ponderous, and not as entertaining as those of Rush Limbaugh and Laura Schlesinger.

Prager seems like a public speaker still adjusting to radio. Notice how many times he says "Ladies and gentleman."

Dennis frequently takes too long phrasing his questions and introducing his topics. He uses cliches like, "This is a fascinating topic... "The truth is..." If one feels possessed of the truth or of the fact, one should simply state it, not give it advanced billing. (E.B. White)

I sense that Prager's show has declined over the past few years, particularly the past year. I keep tuning in each day, and then frequently tune out because his topics tend to be either goofy (Monday's show about dolls) or cliche (how many times is he going to repeat himself on second hand smoke, divorce, the importance of gratitude).

I adore the man and his work. His values influence me more than anyone else alive today.

See the following chapters:

Luke Ford Chapter Four  UCLA and encounter with Jews, Dennis Prager and Judaism.

I think some of the problem with his show is the new format, one topic per hour. It too easily allows me tune out, when I find out the that hour's topic. If it is any one of 146 topics, I already know 90-99% of what he will say.

Perhaps I am spoilt from thousands of hours listening to Dennis, from feeding at the Prager trough. Dennis is not glib because he is deep. My expecting him to be both quick and deep may verge on the impossible. Though I do hear it when he's challenged face to face, either with in-studio guests on his current program, or in a public speaking debate. Many callers say that there favorite moment of Prager's show is when Larry Elder enters the studio and jokes with Dennis. Their ribbing of each other is a delight.

Prager may be the most ripped-off thinker in America today. I constantly hear others repeating his ideas (like Rush and Dr. Laura), and they frequently fail to credit the source. Dr. Laura and Rush exhibit personalities and approaches better suited to success in the electronic media than Dennis, but neither of them are original thinkers, nor even great synthesists like Prager. Dr. Laura and Rush entertain and inform, but beneath their roar is far less substance than Prager shows.

The proof is in their writing. As Dennis says, "writing is a mirror to the mind." Neither Rush nor Dr. Laura have penned anything that will last. One thousand years from now, however, people will still study Dennis Prager's thought. He has written the greatest book in three different areas: Introduction to Judaism (Nine Questions), antisemitism (Why the Jews?), and happiness (Happiness).

Prager has probably brought more people to Judaism than any other individual, including more to Orthodoxy than any Orthodox thinker. And Dennis is not even Orthodox.

Alan adds:

Dennis' program began its decline with the change in station management, a little over a year ago, I believe. First the classical bumpers went, then topics appeared. You will recall prior to that the program was caller driven, with Dennis giving a commentary and then taking calls on whatever. Recall how many times the program took off in an unplanned direction. Take a look at this month's Buzz magazine. There is an article on how Disney has screwed up its radio properties. Dennis is specifically mentioned. He was forbidden to discuss certain topics.

Format is the curse of radio. This goes back many years. I've seen more then one talented person damaged by being forced into a format that didn't fit his talents. Dennis went from three hours Sunday evening to fifteen hours in a prime slot by NOT doing topics, so what does some "genius" do? She [ex-KABC GM Maureen Leonard]forces him into a format he can't do well. In general, program directors are among the lowest forms of life.

True the show has picked up in the last few days. Recall my "Ding-Dong the Witch is Dead" post - the general manager and source of all evil was fired.

Now if topics goes and the classical bumpers return all will be well. Come on, admit it, doing second hand smoke every other week was a bit much (yes, it was that frequent for a while).


I caused a mini scandal by criticizing Prager on that (now toned-down) internet post above.

My friends said that public criticism of the man who changed my life was the height of ingratitude. They also disagreed with most of my perceptions.

After pouring out my heart to another friend via email, he sent me this reply, entitled "Hey Jude." [Judas, get it.]

Oh my oh my!!! Nietzsche and Wagner ! Watch it or you'll be kicked out of Wahnfreid house and unable to attend Cosima's soirees. The Meister's avid disciples are sensitive and can detect a Judas.

This is not to imply that they are not nice people with much to offer. I mean disagreeing out of the bounds of the permitted field of doctrinaire nitpicking is bad enough. Disagreeing still tolerable as it is necessary for conversation and the "body life" of the "ecclasia" ("church").

But criticism? And in public! Why that might be misunderstood! You see how it works?

Inappropriate views cogently expressed in the private space of "The List" is soiling the sacred halls. But of course there are enough "clubmen" to beat you up, or, if matters get out of hand, tell you not to post.

So then inappropriate views expressed in public space? Well Nooooo! We are assured (usually second hand) that the Master is deeply hurt and you give countenance to the enemy. If you check with him yourself of course he agrees but often because his views and your actions have ALREADY been mediated and interpreted for him by close associates anxious to sooth the discomfort.

"Rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft. To obey is better than sacrifice and to hearken than the fat of rams."

Of course Samuel was using this agrement standing AGAINST the authority and ACTION of King Saul. Much better now to twist the scripture for use BY authority against the SPEECH of the dis-established.

Now it could be that you ARE just a rebel. (But probably not a serious deadly dangerous heretic one but more like an artist jester or Loki or coyote man the trickster or the gadfly) OR IT COULD BE that you ACTUALLY SEE something and felt constrained to announce those thoughts and observations.

But in what forum? Public and private expression are "inappropriate or hurtful". A paradox and impasse!

Hey I got it, a seasonal idea!

Mary at the Annunciation she paraphrased the Song of Deborah spontaneously spouting the Magnificat (a document with some political content about justice and expression for the weak). It is in private and only the angels hear. After the shepherds and wisemen visit, Mary "keeps and ponders all these things in her heart".

Of course sometimes meditating in silence is as likely to give birth to a new "religion" as it is to lead Luther to "adjust his views" and come into conformance...

Now I am not really much of a talk show listener. I think they have value but they aren't on par with serious books. Just as various pop culture, psychology and self help books are somewhat useful but of limited value.

As Paul said about exercise. "Bodily exercise profiteth a little."

There is a comfortable watering down and it happens faster in South California. At a certain point - to point this out is discomforting.

An interruption at the festivities and the feast.

As Nabal said to David's young men. "And who is this guy anyway. There are lately lots of unemployed fellows around these parts".

It could be that though you are not "ready" for life as an anchorite, hermit or monk. You ARE a bit dissatisfied with the repetitious blather and talk and social tempests in a teapot over an intrusive serious note.

I commend a bit more reading to you!

One day I will have to write "the Book of Remonstrance". This would contain accounts such as:

The 'suasions Nebuchadnezzers councilors explained to the highly valued three Hebrew children to persuade them to "act right" for the encore orchestral performance.

Texts based on employer and other company officials trying to persuade a valued employee to take a disciplinary demotion for his "errors" segueng to a firing but trying to get the employee to resign rather than collect severance.

The true account of a Rosecrutian, an accountant and "Seeker" who came to the headquarters to work directly for the wise and good people of the Brotherhood and Order. But found them imperfect and did he not quite fit in the pecking order. The poor guy lost his faith and the power to levitate large stone blocks!

..All the sorts of things IN FORM similar to your "I need to think more about the points you guys raised.." Hmmn, maybe a literary sequel to Job but dealing not with the "problem of suffering" but of the MORE DIFFICULT problem of "conversation, conformance and persuasion".

Anyway, savor the delicious remonstrances and rebukes. They make fine texts.

Also, I have been looking diligently with concordance for the Proverbs:

"To criticize is to stab in the back"

or the

"Beware friends who criticize and remonstrate with them extensively in appalling kindness".

Do you suppose they are Apocryphal? Or maybe they are lost in the Gnostic library buried in Elephantine, Egypt.

Is a cautionary note warning of lack of substance that harmful? Is this to become a Rush Limbaugh cult?

And yes, wouldn't it be nice to keep inaccuracies to private communication. That will impress 'em.

Clear everything first!

The warning of "talk that is not speech at all" cannot come too soon!

They complain but maybe you did some good.

Your strategic mistake? Your attention getting grabber {Is Prager's Show in Decline?]. I'll bet that the header is taken as a literal topic sentence and it is so loud a zinger they can't hear the forest for the tree. Leave it to media people to take a phrase out of context!

You can be treated like this because you are NOT a peer. You were supposed to merely follow and repeat. You noticed that there was already enough repetition....

Be not a "men pleaser as the manner of some are" and take an antiacid O Timotheous and get a cast iron stomach!

Now then comes the psychologizing. (Talk about hurtful. Doesn't that count?) Any truth in it is happy accident at your weakest vulnerable points (and I don't mean the arguments!) and has no bearing on the truth. They are being "charitable" to you by not giving your ideas credit.

You know Luther had constipation and discovered that "the just shall live by faith" on the pot. So what of the accident of the idea? That's trivial.

Luke "we're concerned for you. Repent and have good only thoughts!"

Reading your actual text it seems about 90% non-malicious and the 10% can't be edited out. If you had intended worse in a fit of pique, you did not succeed.

>Perhaps you write things publicly to see if people care about what you have to say... a >validation of your worth (as in the case of your scathing piece on >your father printed in a mainstream Seventh Day Adventist journal).

>You like to shock people, in your actions and your words - verbal and written.

>I have always known that about you. You don't have to shock people to remind them you are alive.

>A good dose of kindness is unusual >enough these days, and it will make a more lasting and welcoming >impression.

Why do you say such naughty things? Be quiet and that makes a big impression? YOU, by your disposition.... ARE going to be uncomfortable with most any people's up-close disapproval as you by your disposition seek BOTH their attention and approval.

(See I can psychologize too!)

Let it suffice that what you say hasa good amount of truth in it.

Luke I'm sorry but this sounds too familiar. I think I have seen it far too often. Mostly observing the pattern as a third person.

In short, I think this is more a tempest in a teacup and a social brouhaha to pass the time than anything else.

Now I am sure you have your faults and for instance might well deliberately but thoughtlessly publicize private information that could disrupt the balance of private lives.(Considering especially people's inclination to make mountains out of molehills and cause themselves needless grief worrying about their neighbors' or friends' sins!)

Nor do I wish be Oedipus' father figure or to lead you astray.

Now I don't mean to be unkind or excessively caustic or acid. I respect and feel kindly toward these associates of yours. But gentile irony is NOT out of order.


Dennis Prager's show (noon to 3PM weekdays) on KABC AM 790 has improved since the firing a month ago of the station's general manager Maureen Leonard. Today Dennis spent the first half of his show taking suggestions on how to improve his show.

Callers argued for a return to classical music bumpers, open lines (rather than one topic per hour), and more guests.

I agree with every suggestion. Every caller who compared the current show to the program in years past, agreed that the show years ago was better.

Dennis argued that one topic per hour was more conducive to depth. Callers disagreed, pointing out:

* The repetitive nature of many calls, such as many of the ones on the show about California's banning smoking in bars. About dozen or more folks simply repeated the line about unwarranted government intrusion into our freedoms.

* Open line allows callers to think through an issue. In past years, the most cogent comment about an issue often came hours or days later.

* Topical shows force less thought-through responses, and shows tend to drag.

Dennis said that the problem with having more guests was not knowing whether they would make good guests.

SOLUTION: Do homework. That's why Dennis has assistants and producers. Find out which authors are articulate on the radio. Have an assistant call an author up, say that they are considering doing a program on subject X, and get into a dialogue. Does the person have what it takes to cut it on talk radio?

Callers also pointed out how good Dennis and Larry Elder are together. Dennis deserves reverential treatment, but that does not make for good talk radio. Elder is an excellent foil for Dennis, and vice versa. Larry knows much more about economics and law and Prager about religion and morality. More airtime with those two would be great.

Dennis is so precious that it is worth considering how his resources are used.

In a typical hour there are about 20-24 minutes of ads. Nothing can be done about this.

Then, there is the 2-3 minute ABC news at the top of the hour. Also fixed. But the local news is usually drivel and could be dispensed with in this non-drive time. Also, much of the traffic reports are useless... There are so many freeways, etc, and so many stations doing this stuff, that these traffic reports could be tightened up or eliminated. Weather could also be eliminated unless there is something special going on. Also, the first two minutes of Prager's show is usually wasted time, where he says things like: "Have I said my name yet?" or "I am debating about whether to discuss this topic or that topic," or "How are you doing today Manya?" I wish he would get to the point. As in: "Good afternoon, I'm Dennis Prager on KABC. There's a woman in Texas on death row......"

Gentle introductions are great for public speaking but not for talk radio.

Also, the screening of Prager's calls is mediocre. Good callers should be nurtured and pushed through first. Callers should be asked more questions by the screener to make sure that they are articulate. And stop giving car phone calls priority. That is their business if they want to pay their tolls. Not our business. In fact, their calls should be given lower priority because many of them are of bad technical quality.

The above suggestions would free up Dennis to give us five to ten minutes of more insights per hour.

At 1:30 PM, Prager went to open line.

He took a call on economics, where he presented a different perspective than mine. Dennis often says that economics is not a science. Well, it is as scientific as engineering, and it is the most scientific of the liberal arts.

When Prager says "that if we had five Nobel Laureates in economics here answering this question, they would give many different answers..." he may not be correct.

In some questions they would give different answers and others similar. For instance, almost all economists would point out that free trade is beneficial to an economy, and that minimum wages are bad.

Economists tend to agree on most micro-economic questions. What would happen if we added a $1 tax per gallon of gas or to carton of cigarettes? Economists would generally agree. What about an increase in the minimum wage? Economists would generally agree on the results. Macro-economic questions are more tricky because there are more variables.


Is Prager Pompous?

I can hear most of my friends screaming at that headline. They would say:

1. How dare I even write that considering that Dennis changed my life for the good, etc...

2. How dare I critique someone so personally? It is lashon hara (gossip and slander).

Noting those objections, I will push ahead. IMHO, because Dennis speaks publicly and frequently about himself and his life, it is not unfair to ask this question. Many of the illustrations he offers for his observations on life, come straight from his own life. For instance, he often says that he has never encountered antisemitism, that he has never heard anyone around him use the word 'nigger,' and other provocative personal claims. Because Prager personalizes many of the values he discusses, it is not unfair therefore, to turn this technique around on him.

The most frequent description of Prager by those who are not fans of his, is that he is pompous. The December issue of BUZZ magazine described Prager's show as "professorial and pompous." Friends of mine who are fans of his, were furious.

This "pompous" accusation is the type of personal argument that Dennis finds difficult to rebutt. He says that it verges on the impossible to argue for good against evil and to discuss ultimate issues without coming off as pompous.


Many people find Rush Limbaugh pompous, though to me he so often makes fun of himself, that I rarely regard him as such. Prager's show is more serious than Limbaugh's, and while Dennis's goofy personality often comes through, he does not make fun of himself and the values that he discusses as often and as cuttingly as Rush does.

So what does 'pompous' mean? The Oxford American dictionary defines it as "full of ostentatious dignity and self-importance." Ostentatious means showy, to impress people. If we leave 'ostentatious' aside, we can agree that Prager is full of dignity. He gives the value enormous value. Both in the way he treats others and in the way he expects to be treated. For example, Prager often says on his show that he does not mind when other talk show hosts criticize him and his ideas, so long as they do it respectfully.

Why the hell should they do it respectfully? Talk radio and the media are not respectful mediums. Dennis Prager deserves great respect for his accomplishments, but he has chosen to largely work in an environment not conducive to respectful treatment - talk radio.

To many people, asking that others who criticize, do it respectfully is a statement of dignity and, in a non-perjorative sense, of self-importance.

Which leads to the second definition of pompous. Full of self-importance.

Dennis is certainly an important man. He rightly regards himself as such, and he has many reasons to do so. So, I think it would be fair to characterize Dennis as full of self-importance, as long as that is understood as in no way negating that Dennis IS VERY IMPORTANT, and that his importance is in no sense a delusion or ego trip.

Dennis says that his mission is to heal a wounded nation (America). As Prager also says that it verges on the impossible to do vast amounts of good, that goodness can only be built up slowly, by one person at a time, that society can only make glacier like improvements (unless it is through negating an evil); then it seems audacious of Dennis to declare that his life mission is to accomplish something that even he would have to say, verges on the impossible.

So is Dennis pompous? Pompous to whom? Pomposity is in the reaction of the listener. It is incontrovertibly true that for a large part of Prager's listening audience, he comes across as pompous.

Those of us who wish to promote the values he so eloquently espouses should not simply roll our eyes and dismiss the 'pompous' accusation.

Would there be anything that Prager could do, to minimize this impression of pomposity? Yes. As Dennis often says, we largely influence how people react to us.


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