Radio Magic

November 6, 2009

Dateline:  June, 2007.  Republican President George W. Bush had the support of the opposing Democratic party to pass his immigration reform legislation;  by most political calculations, the bill should have sailed through Congress.  But then Conservative Talk radio went on an anti-immigrant tirade, and a majority of the president's own party rose up to defeat the bill.  Senator Trent Lott, R-MS, then told the New York Times that "Talk radio is running the country," which in turn inflamed the Talk Jock rhetoric toward Lott.   Lott has since retired from his Senate seat.

In David Brooks' October 2  New York Times article entitled "The Wizard of Beck," he likens talk hosts Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Sean Hannity to the little man behind the curtain creating grand illusions in the Wizard of Oz.   But their real wizardry is to make illusory mountains out of molehills; and while it’s easy to sweep aside a molehill, a mountain is hard for a politician or the press to ignore.

Case in point, the tea parties. 

According to, the tea parties started with "just three online grassroots organizations with an idea."   Had the tea party promotion remained online, it likely would have resulted in a molehill of a protest with a few hundred angry citizens making their views known locally.  

But then talk radio host Glenn Beck and Fox News decided to cross the line from reporting on the tea parties to promoting them.  According to the research group Media Matters,  Fox News featured at least 20 segments on the "tea party" protests and aired at least 73 in-show and commercial promotions for the events.  Other conservative talk hosts joined the cheerleading squad on radio stations nationwide, and soon the Tea Party Protests were a phenomena.  A mountain of people showed up. 

But the real slight of hand is how the wizards conjured up a spectacle that news could not resist;   News organizations like McClatchy's Sacramento Bee covered the Tea Parties on the front page.   Although polls showed otherwise, the wizards created the impression that most Americans, on April 15, 2009, had already had enough of President Obama and wanted change.  The mainstream media was magically transformed into a public relations pawn for the right wing war of words.   

Fast forward to November, 2009.    Just days before a critical House vote on Healthcare reform, Rep. Michele Bachman, R-MN, staged a Tea Party protest in the nation's capital.   Again, Fox News and Radio Talkers Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and other on thousands of radio stations moved into action, using their giant microphones to whip up public sentiment against healthcare reform.  The thousands who showed up at the Capitol made news in national publications from Washington to Los Angeles, and according to a poll from USA Today, the Tea Partiers are making inroads into gaining the coveted independent vote.  

It's not that the Tea Partiers don't legitimately believe in their cause;  it's that the media wizards are using the public airwaves to publicize only the views of this vocal minority, while ignoring the voice of the majority who do support reform and the "public option" (57% of Americans according to a recent Washington Post/ABC News poll.)

So, thanks to the wizards, the molehill of opposition against the public option in healthcare now looks like Mt. Everest, when it should look like a speed bump.  And there's no magic way for the rest of us to be heard.

Good trick.

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