Washington Post media reporter Kurtz (Media Circus, 1993) looks at a nation awash in talk TV and radio, and concludes that it may be drowning. Kurtz surveys the vast expanse of talk media, from Oprah Winfrey to Meet the Press, from C-SPAN to Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh. He shows how the sausage is made, going backstage on Nightline and Larry King Live. Kurtz lets Phil Donahue defend the daytime TV talk show genre and explains the marketing philosophy behind the choreographed conservative va. liberal fireworks on such programs as The McLaughlin Group and Crossfire. He traces the history of talk media, from its staid and conservative beginnings to its present wildness, where ""television has made deviance seem passâ€š"" and where reporters and pundits trade honest journalism for fame and fortune. Kurtz is insightful but unexciting until he turns, in the last third of the book, to a critical examination of the influence of talk media, and especially talk radio. While Kurtz was himself a talk-show host for 16 months on a Washington radio station and is still a frequent guest on the talk-show circuit, he is ambivalent about the genre. ""Clearly, the talk phenomenon helps viewers and listeners feel connected to a political world that seems increasingly remote from their daily existence,"" he writes. On the other hand, says Kurtz, talk shows are often mindless and repetitive, merely a vehicle for their insincere or strident hosts. Kurtz applauds the talk-show genre as a ""wonderful, impassioned forum for debate"" but laments its lack of both self-regulation and restraint. ""The real question,"" Kurtz finally concludes, ""is whether there is a significant market for talk that is not driven by bluster, sensationalism and superficiality."" Given the evidence he offers of the enormous political influence of talk shows, it is a sobering question at the heart of a sobering critique.