THE END OF TELLING-IT-LIKE-IT-IS TALK RADIO IS NEAR
By Servando González
February 20, 2003
Painter Pablo Picasso once said that in art, as in the dictionary, against comes before for. The current dismal state of conservative talk radio indicates that Picasso's words can be applied to politics as well. It is useful to remember that the enormous growth of audience experienced by conservative talk radio occurred during the Clinton era. At the time, it was very easy to handle a conservative talk radio program: the only thing you needed to do was to criticize Clinton and his administration for the wrong decisions, corruption, scandals and foreign policy disasters. But now there is a Republican administration in charge and, as Mary Starrett observed in her recent article, "Going...Going...Gone", the Limbaughs, Savages, Hannitys and O'reillys aren't speaking our language anymore, if they ever were.
During the initial months after W. Bush received the presidency, all criticism was directed at mistakes inherited from the Clinton administration. As the months passed by, and that argument ran out of steam, the main scapegoat was Clinton appointees still working for the Bush administration -- no explanation was ever given as to why the new president did not fire them. But lately, faced with the fact that only the most gullible are buying such arguments, our conservative talk radio hosts seem to be totally lost.
In a September, 2002, article, "Why liberals are not on talk radio," Neal Boortz mentioned as the main cause for this inability the fact that the most important component of talk radio is listener participation, and liberals could be incapable of facing adversarial callers. According to Boortz, talk radio hosts cannot hit and run: they have to face feed back in the form of calls. Well, if you have listened lately to any of our conservative talk radio stars, you may have noticed that they are having trouble in handling callers who don't agree with the policies of Mr. Bush. Our conservative talk radio hosts are rapidly becoming experts in the hit and run business.
The last times I heard Hannity's views confronted by adversarial callers he had lost his cool and ended up by resorting to name-calling. Rush Limbaugh has managed not to loose control, but it has become obvious that he is not feeling comfortable any more. Savage just cuts the callers and insults them in the most uncivil way.
By the way, Michael Savage is perhaps one of the best examples of the strange phenomenon we are facing. Before entering into my criticism, let me say that Mr. Savage is neither crazy nor is he a fool. On the contrary, he is a very educated person, with a remarkable knowledge of international politics, history and culture. He is also an outstanding radio professional. Some of the radio interviews, political analyses, and criticisms he has made in the past are among the best I have heard -- and I have a long experience in the radio business.
In the months prior to the September 11 attack, Mr. Savage was, almost daily, analyzing with a keen eye the state of things in America, which he rightly compared to the fateful days of the Weimar Republic in Germany that preceded the Nazi takeover by Hitler and his SA thugs. But then, we had our Reichstag fire, and suddenly Mr. Savage's vision blurred and he failed to see what cannot be more evident. Now, turned into a sort of Republican party spokesman, he spends interminable hours talking about the Mexican illegal aliens and the evil Saddam Hussein -- the ones he apparently see as the cause of all our problems. The last time I listened to him he was yelling like a madman when I turned my radio off.
Unfortunately, the arguments expressed above are not the only reason I have to believe that the end of talk radio is near. Let me give you other examples.
A few months ago I was listening to the Ken Hamblin program. A caller, who evidenced an inside knowledge of military matters, was enumerating, with a calm and precise voice, a long list of strange coincidences related to some agencies of the U.S. government's in relation with the September 11 attack. Then, Hamblin interrupted him: "Are you implying that the American government was behind the attack?" -- which, by the way, was precisely what the person was implying. But, after a too long period of fearful silence, the caller answered, "Of course not!," and he went to pains trying to prove that it was not the case.
The moral of the story is that talk radio can only flourish under a democracy, where citizens, including talk radio hosts, feel totally free to express their ideas, even the most outrageous ones. But, after September 11, only a very naive person or a fool will not watch what he says. In an excellent article, "Fearing the New Bushtapo," Roger Fredinburg confessed his fears of the new "gargantuan police state." I cannot blame him; I am scared myself. By the way, the advice to watch what you say came right from the White House, in the words of press secretary Ari Fleischer. The ones who still believe we have two political parties would have been surprised that a Republican administration is actively enforcing speech codes.
Further proof that not only the callers, but most of the talk radio hosts as well are scared to death, is the case of Republican Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott. During a party on December, 2002, honoring retiring senator Strom Thurmond, Lott said: "When Strom Thurmond ran for president, we voted for him. We're proud of it. And if the rest of the country had followed our lead, we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either." Immediately after Lott uttered his statement, a strong campaign was launched to construe it as racist. However, even though I don't feel any personal sympathy for Mr. Lott -- or for any other politician, for that matter -- I have carefully read his statement several times, and I am still trying to find anything that sounds racist in it. Actually, the arguments raised against what Mr. Lott said were not that he had made a racist remark, but that he had it in his mind when he said these words. That is, Mr. Lott had committed a thought crime. And, Who joined the thought police in the condemnation of Mr. Lott's thoughts? Surprise! None other than our compassionate conservative President. As expected, all of the "conservative" talk radio stars joined the thought police and condemned Lott's thought crime..
Unfortunately, I think that the problems our conservative talk radio hosts are facing, though they have lately become more visible, did not begin with the empowerment of the Bush regime. The problems have deep ideological causes. Contrary to a few talk radio hosts who, like Geoff Metcalf, Roger Fredinburg or Brian Wilson, make a point to deal with different arguments based only on their intrinsic value, not on the political filiation of the person advancing the argument, most of our "conservative" talk radio stars are actually liberals in disguise. To them the political universe is divided into conservatives and liberals, and anything coming from a liberal is bad, while anything coming from a conservative has to be good. This criteria actually reveals a close similarity with the operating liberal principles of situational ethics and moral relativism. This explains why these "conservative" talk radio hosts sound more and more like closet liberals.
Contrary to liberals, true conservatives believe that there are moral and ethical absolutes, and some things are good, moral and ethical, while some other things are bad, unethical and immoral independently of the political filiation of the person who does them. To a true conservative, a person's actions must be judged by these absolute ethical and moral principles, therefore, the fact that a person is conservative or liberal is practically irrelevant. Of lately, however, the words liberal and conservative are a litany repeated over and over in these talk radio shows. If one is to believe Limbaugh, Hannity, Savage and O'reilly, getting rid of the liberals would solve all of our nation'sproblems -- which is exactly the view of the liberals, with the only difference being that they are convinced that the cause of all the problems is the conservatives.
Listening to some talk radio stars, one can reach the conclusion that their main reason for supporting Mr. Bush's war on Iraq is because the ones who are demonstrating in the streets against it are leftists. Granted, most of them. if not all, are leftists who didn't oppose Clinton's war in the Balkans. But the fact that our political opponents are against something should not be the only argument to back it. Giving the fact that the American left has always been bankrolled by the most reactionary socialist right through their non-profit foundations, one may suspect that, unwittingly, the left is playing the right's card. So, when the reactionary socialist right wants conservatives to support their secret agenda, the only thing they need to do is to pay the left to oppose it, and then the conservatives will automatically support it.
Granted, in this ideological battle, conservatives face an unfair disadvantage: while they are supposed to listen with open minds to arguments provided by their opponents, and accept them when they are sound ones, liberals and leftists will never accept any argument coming from their opponents -- which they don't see as opponents, but as enemies. But, as history has proved once and again, becoming the enemy has never been in the long run a successful way to defeat him. Therefore, conservatives must learn to live with this apparent disadvantage and put it to work on their behalf. Doing otherwise, which is what most of our "conservative" talk radio host are doing, is not only immoral and unethical, it is also self-defeating. Wittingly or unwittingly these "conservative" talk radio hosts are helping to perpetuate the far- fetched idea that just by changing the rascals in the White House, the Capitol and the Supreme Court building, America will solve her grave problems. Lately, most talk radio hosts seem devoted to perpetuated the wrong idea that we have two parties, while actually we have only one that has been in power for too long, becoming a sort of Communist party of the U.S.: the infamous Repucratic party, whose ultimate goal seems to be the total destruction of this great country.
González is a Cuban-born American writer. He is the author of
The Secret Fidel Castro: Deconstructing the Symbol, and The Nuclear Deception: Nikita Khrushchev and the Cuban Missile Crisis. E-Mail: email@example.com