Could This Be the Moment? (For Real Media Reform)

Note:  This piece was originally published on The Brad Blog 
under the title "Sheriff Dupnik is Right:  Radio Lies, Our Culture Dies."  
But after President Obama's remarks at the Tucson Memorial, 
I am changing my tone - a bit.
January 12, 2011

A moment in the culture. 
A moment like Columbine, like Fort Hood, like Oklahoma City, yet different; different because the madman's rampage that targeted Tucson, Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords was predictable. 

It's hot in Tucson --- temperatures soar to 117 degrees in the summertime. But that's nothing compared to the political heat generated recently in this community just an hour north of the Mexican border. Nowhere in the country were the 'Tea Parties' angrier than in Arizona; rage over healthcare and immigration reform boiled over in Tucson.

It had been bad already, even before Obama had been elected to office in 2008. Take a look at this remarkable list of eliminationist rhetoric coming from the Right, as compiled as long ago as March 2007. But, as if that wasn't horrible enough, things have gotten even far worse since then.

Who wouldn't be incensed? Reports of increased crime, beheadings on the borders, government takeover of health care, death panels. Given all that, who would not stand and fight to protect their grandmothers?

If all that were actually true. But of course, it is not true. Those reports and other fabrications like them are a creation of Right Wing Talk Radio. It isn't just the vitriol spewing from Savage and Hannity and Boortz and others, it is what is behind the vitriol: a genuine fear born of propaganda. And as a culture, we the people are buying into it.

So, regardless of whether the alleged shooter Jared Lee Loughner actually listened to any of the six "Conservative" stations on the dial in Tucson, Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik was correct when he blamed the attack on a cultural environment built of Talk Radio...

"I think the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear, day in and day out, from people in the radio business, and some people in the TV business, and what we see on TV, and how our youngsters are being raised, that this has not become the nice United States of America that most of us grew up in. And I think it's time that we do some soul-searching," the sheriff said in a press conference the evening of the January 8, 2011 attack.

Dupnik is talking about the culture that has emerged as a result of a 24 hour, seven day a week drumbeat of hate and misinformation that emanates from Right Wing Talk Radio, a culture that readily accepts violent extremism as part of our national conversation, a culture that thinks that whoever's voice is the loudest must be the one that is correct. A culture that no longer can decipher the difference between fact and opinion, nor does it care to try.

It didn't use to be this way.

Earliest radio owners understood the extraordinary power of allowing someone to express their views directly into someone's home or car, and so they created a voluntary code of ethics of fairness for broadcasting. Congress thought fairness was too important to be voluntary, so it codified those public interest standards into law with the 1934 Telecommunications Act. Then, post World War II and "Tokyo Rose", the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), tasked with protecting the public interest, created the Fairness Doctrine in 1949, which provided that various sides of controversial issues be told on radio and TV.

But in 1987, Ronald Reagan's FCC chose to "deregulate" broadcasting. One sided political diatribes? That was the plan. Personal attacks? Fair game. Fairness? "The market will create fairness," the FCC said.

In hindsight, the "market" did not provide fairness, but programs like Rush Limbaugh's certainly created profits. This was not lost on corporate giants like Clear Channel, who lay in wait for the 1996 Telecommunications Act to allow them to gobble up nearly all the best radio real estate, stations with 100,000, 50,000, 25,000,15,000 10,000 and 5,000 watt signals, stations that reach a lot of people and hence make for easy profitability. (See Right vs. Left radio station coverage maps here.)

They left the little 1,000 watt crumbs for the progressives, stations that reach almost nobody, and are nearly impossible to break even, let alone make money. Then the Right Wing giants deride progressive stations for being uncompetitive.

The Giffords rampage created a moment of reflection. A moment, perhaps, where we as a nation would listen to our better angels.

Could this be the moment when the Clear Channels of radio would hearken back to an earlier age and voluntarily create fairness? Create discussions instead of diatribes? Put as many progressives as non-progressives on the air? Make sure every area is served by the local voices that bring communities together?

I wish it were so. But after listening to Rush and the rest since Saturday, the answer is no. The Right Wing media has chosen this moment to fight for the territory it staked out in 1996, the Republic be damned.

"Do not kid yourself," Rush said Monday after the shooting, "what this is all about is shutting down conservative media." 

That, like most of what is said on Right Wing talk shows, is a lie, but it is the standard line the GOP right makes anytime anyone correctly notes the lack of fairness in broadcasting. Scare people with this: Rush - or Sean - or Glenn - or others - might go away: Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. 

Rush is right about one thing: this is a critically important Free Speech issue. If we all had real Free Speech on the nation's radio stations, we could have a national discussion about many issues of importance. As it is, only one of every twenty talk radio shows in the country make any mention of the progressive point of view. As I've written before, radio speech is not free speech: it is owned and managed by pro-GOP corporations for their own self promotion.

It wouldn't matter if the numbers were small. But consider: 50 million American views are informed by right wing hate and lies. One of six people, one of five adults, in a nation where Presidential elections are decided by 500 votes.

Words do matter. And those words, hate and lies repeated 24 hours a day, seven days a week, in every town, in every corner of the country, to the exclusion of all other thought, is changing our culture. Dupnik recognizes it; millions of others in "Red State" America know it, too.

There is a spirit that has been lost in this country in the generation since one-sided political talk radio began to dominate the airwaves. Where radio once was the glue that held communities together, it now is the wedge that drives us apart.

But Right Wing Radio will howl… and politicians will bow. (At least they have up until now.)

Could this be their moment to actually lead?


  1. Jared Loughner was a known leftist, pothead, and Bush hater. So how does any of your b.s. apply?

  2. Wow! I see you've really got people listening, Susan. Take the hint...conservative radio is successful for one reason, and one reason only: PEOPLE LISTEN! Progressive radio has repeatedly failed, even with your hero Al Franken at the mic, because NOBODY LISTENS. Besides, practically all print and television media is owned by liberals, so it's not like you don't have a chance to be heard. Convervatives take an active, rational role in being informed, and don't take anybody at their word. They dig for the truth. That's why they keep listening, and that's why advertisers spend their dollars on conservative, intelligent, informed listeners who weigh information in making their decisions, unlike libs who let their emotions take them wherever the wind blows. Flaky, unstable, undependable, and thus not worthy of advertising dollars. Get it?

  3. And by the way, Susan, I find it interesting that as you trash Rush Limbaugh, you simultaneously post his comment about you in an attempt to leverage your credibility somehow by showing us that he knows you exist. I seriously doubt he concerns himself with the likes of a media whore such as yourself.

  4. It's always funny to me how right wing ideologues never give their names when commenting. That's OK, you are afraid, I understand that. Talk Radio unnecessarily scares the hell out of millions.

    As to your premise, you simply have your facts wrong. Progressive hosts like Thom Hartmann beat Rush Limbaugh in the ratings when they are given an equal size microphone. (Size does matter - in radio - as perhaps in other things...)

    Why don't you read this story, that liberal McClatchy news ran it awhile back, and boy, did it piss off Rush Limbaugh. He ragged on me to millions of people. I, of course, am not allowed access to his microphone to respond.

    As to this comment: "Besides, practically all print and television media is owned by liberals, so it's not like you don't have a chance to be heard." You say you dig for the truth, so dig a wee bit deeper.

    First, TV. Show me the number of "liberal" shows (Two and a Half Men) vs "conservative" shows (CSI) on broadcast television. Programming that appeals to conservatives dominates the programming schedule. And if you think ABC, CBS, and NBC nightly news is liberal, you are confusing liberalism with journalism.

    (Note, I am not talking about cable TV. I concern myself only with the Public Airwaves.)

    Second, as to print media, if you have money, you can start a newspaper tomorrow. But you cannot just start a radio station. There are only so many frequencies, and they have been snapped up by Right Wing corporations and they aren't selling them.

    There. I feel better now. Have a nice day.

  5. Susan, I'm so glad you feel better. That's always what it's all about for you people, feeling better. Unfortunately, sometimes truth gets in the way of your need for feeling better. I'm hardly a Rush idealogue. I spend far more time listening to NPR, and consider myself an independent. Fiscal compassionate conservative/social liberal. However, I do find it amusing how you use Rush to lift yourself up, as if you need him to make yourself look credible. That, my friend, is a hallmark of fear. You are afraid to stand up on your own, afraid your ideas need to be bolstered by holding them up as anti-Rush. Fact is, I don't disagree with much of what I've read on your blog thusfar, however, I do find you to be an opportunist. The fact Rush may have mentioned you and was annoyed by you is NOT a badge of honor, as you seem to believe. If you've ever spent serious time listening to Rush, as I have off and on for decades, you would understand that many in his audience disagree with him, and do so often. You would also know that when someone has the nuts to call in and speak with his screener to rationally present a dissenting point of view, they are often the most interesting calls, as well as the most lengthy. Rush respects someone who is articulate and intelligent. What annoys him is irrationality, emotional rants, and incoherent thought. I guess you can now understand why he was so annoyed with you. But then, at least you FEEL better. Glad I could help you out. Dan Barrett You want my birthday too? I'm a Scorpio, like long runs on the beach and dark beer makes ME feel better.

  6. Susan, where are you? Have you called Rush yet? He would take your call! Identify yourself, and it would be the call of the day, or the week! Do it! If you really believe in your point, and yourself! Otherwise, if you'd rather rather rationalize about not being heard, shut the fuck up!

  7. PSS As previously posted, I'm posting my personal email address, simply because I can see that there is no one else reading these posts! Dan Barrett is my real name. Since you are inclined to berate the one and only person to participate in your blog, you really should send me a check. No, really, I think $100 is fair. Think of it as seed money. Not a single other sould has responded. Really. Get a clue. Dan Barrett. 916 295 0278. Real number. Real I'll look forward to your check in the mail.

  8. Again, since you like to tag fear upon your fellow bloggers, which seem to be scant, my name is Dan Barrett, Contact me if you wish. Otherwise, seriously, kill yourself. You are a plague upon society. I reserve that kind of statement for those who seriously deserve it. Your husband will be relieved. Trust me on that.

  9. Rush Limbaugh defenders seem to have an IQ of around 80. Is that the new American average? or just what the GOP aspires to?
    -- urs

  10. The dumbing down of America is pretty evident with most of these posts. It has happened so slowly over the last 30 years (Reagan era) that Liberals did not want to believe the fairness doctrine was abandoned. Until federal law changes or people start blowing up right wing stations nothing will change.