There is a perfidious odoriferous evil in this country that is labeled as “Radio Talk Show Hosts.” This panoply of would be patriots and dispensers of sage wisdom includes such infamous names as Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham, Ann Coulter, Sean Hannity, Glen Beck, Bill O’Reilly and most infamous of all Rush Limbaugh. Each of these commentators is supported by millions of naive and gullible people, who listen, believe and follow the guidance and supposed advice of these slick Goebbels like hucksters. Hucksters who purport to share truth, knowledge and insight on the everyday happenings of politics and society. Only in America, with our First Amendment rights would such liars and hypocrites be tolerated. Ironically, these slanderers are 100 percent supportive of the Second Amendment but have mixed tolerance for the First Amendment. They love the First Amendment when it protects their right to lie, exaggerate, falsify and spread vicious innuendos (Obama is not an American, Obama is not a Christian, Autism is a fraud, etc.), but they hate it when it supports the rights of others to speak out against injustice and deception.
Let me digress for a moment. You might be thinking: “John is labeling and using pejorative terminology to describe these people whom he obviously does not respect, how is this any different from what he is accusing them of doing?” Good question. Here is the simple answer. I am not getting paid or making any money from what I am telling you. Read this if you want to or not. It’s not going to put any money in my pocket. Rush Limbaugh’s annual salary is seventy million dollars. These radio talk show hosts are making millions of dollars by sowing rancor, discord and disillusionment. Furthermore I condemn their behavior and I hope to show the key principles that we should all follow when engaged in public discourse of any type. Principles that I believe would return civility and respect to our government and airwaves.
If the ranting’s of these vicious individuals were strictly entertainment and was recognized as such, I would have no problem. However, when lies are mistaken for truth, when innuendoes are mistaken for facts and when hyperbole substitutes for civility, we all have a problem. Too many of these radio talk show hosts are listened to and trusted by millions of Americans. They use the same tools of propaganda developed by the Nazis to spread “big lies” which are believed by their listeners. What should a listener be asking and expecting of those who are highly paid to dispense such advice and information? I think there are three principles which should be in the forefront of any audience’s mind when tuning into a radio talk show host or for that matter any so-called expert or talking head. Failure to follow these principles results in misinformation, misdirection and all too often a general miscarriage of justice.
- Search for facts and truth
- Civility and respect for the opposition
- Win-win and the Golden Mean.
Before we begin to look at these three principles, just a few of the type of vitriolic and extremist comments made by these talk show hosts will serve to illustrate my points about degrading, hyperbolic and vicious speech.
“The shutdown was so magnificent, run beautifully. I’m so proud of these Republicans, and that is because they have branded the Republican party as the anti-Obamacare party.” – Ann Coulter
“If homosexuality being inborn is what makes it acceptable, why does racism being inborn not make racism acceptable? … We are born that way. We don’t choose it. So shouldn’t it be acceptable, excuse — this is according to the way the left thinks about things.” – Rush Limbaugh
“My main point remains true, It is an over diagnosed medical condition. In my readings, there is no definitive medical diagnosis for autism.” – Michael Savage
“The government is full of vampires, and they are trying to suck the lifeblood out of the economy.” – Glenn Beck
Sean Hannity claimed that White House science and technology adviser John Holdren “advocated compulsory abortion” and sterilization. PolitiFact had previously rated a similar claim — made months earlier by Fox News’ Glenn Beck — “pants on fire” false.
Barbara Espinoza took to her website and boldly admits that she called the president a “monkey,” and then defends the racist statement by noting that, “Unless there has been a takeover of America and free speech is no longer allowed and I can be put to death for making a remark, I refuse to take the fifth.”
Finally, a comment by Ed Schultz that pretty much sums up much of the rhetoric used by the right wing talk show pundits.
“There’s something very ugly and dangerous going on in this country,” Schultz said. “Right wing talk show hosts seem to be amping up racist and reckless rhetoric like never before … the level of racist and violent rhetoric on hard-right wing radio today is off the charts.”
A brief caveat before we look at the three principles I am advocating for public and civil discourse. I have omitted any recognition of extreme, incendiary, racist or outrageous comments on the part of “left” wing talk show hosts, such as Jon Stewart, Bill Maher, Keith Olbermann, Thom Hartmann and others (See List of progressive talk radio hosts in the United States). I readily admit my bias is liberal and progressive. I also admit that I am frequently entertained by the comments of Jon Stewart, Bill Maher and other liberals. I find them less violent, less inflammatory, less racist and less reactionary than any of the right wing commentators I have noted. Nevertheless, the rules I am going to discuss apply to them as well. Whether or not they are right wing or left wing commentators, these principles should apply. I believe “We the People” should hold commentators to the same standards of dialogue and discourse regardless of political persuasion. Whether or not you are right leaning or left leaning, let us all expect that people who are paid to elucidate and illuminate the rest of the country, will and must be conservative and cautionary with their rhetoric.
Search for facts and truth:
The first principle for honest discourse is a search for Truth based on facts. True, facts can be elusive. For instance, what is the height of Mt. Everest? What is the population of New York City? Who is the richest woman in the world? What movie star is the most popular? Facts change since the world is not a static entity. Many things that were once facts are now in the dust bin of antiquity. The search for truth is a process that relies on facts to confirm decisions that are then judged to be true or false. For instance, a trial revolves around evidence that either supports a verdict of guilty or not guilty. The elusiveness of truth is well illustrated by the famous Rashomon story wherein a robber, a bridegroom, a bride and an innocent bystander all give widely differing versions of an alleged rape and murder. The famous lawyer Clarence Darrow once said that “there is nothing as unreliable as an eye witness.” Dr. W. E. Deming, the noted quality expert often said that there is nothing in life that can be determined with 100 percent accuracy. He noted that “it all depends on how you measure something and that all measurement relies on a process.” One process will reveal one set of metrics or “facts” and another process will reveal another set of metrics and facts.
If facts are indeterminate and truth must be based on facts, is there any truth in the world? The answer is that truth exists if we think of it as a “range of possibilities.” For instance, was Jodi Arias guilty or innocent? The probability is high that she is guilty but not a 100 percent certainty. Jurors are warned that they must be certain of their verdict beyond a “Reasonable” doubt. But what is reasonable to one person might be wild conjecture to another. Can we depend on a written confession? How many innocent people have been coerced into “false” confessions? Can we depend on anyone telling the truth? Confessions often depend on how much the person has to gain or lose by “telling the truth.” Workers in many organizations quickly learn whether telling the truth is a valued asset or a major liability.
Thus, the search for truth must be an ongoing pursuit. Richard Feynman, the Nobel Prize winner in physics said that the highest obligation of a scientist is to prove they are wrong. The search for truth in science is a series of successive approximations. We learn more, we accumulate more facts, we find more reliable and valid data and our theories of reality become stronger or they are jettisoned in favor of new paradigms that better fit the facts.
Imagine then, if talk show hosts treated the “Truth” as a pursuit of knowledge and not as an absolute reality that belonged to one party or one individual.
Civility and respect for the opposition:
The second principle for civil discourse is Civility. Unfortunately, every day brings new instances of incivility and a culture of narcissism and self-absorption. In many cases, we see rampant greed and a total disregard for the welfare of others. In the worst cases, we see school shootings, murders for money, road rage resulting in violent encounters and a hostile culture where few people feel safe at night on any major city street in the USA. Do I attribute this to talk show hosts? Did incivility come first and lead to the selection of such commentators as Michael Savage and Ann Coulter or did the latter talk show hosts contribute to the wide spread increase of disrespect and hostility in our culture? My guess is it’s a two way street. There are no doubt many other major factors. However, when you look at the number of people that are tuned into these talk show hosts, you cannot deny the impact that their vitriol and hate has had on those who look to them for advice and inspiration.
I spent over three years regularly listening to the so called “Patriot” radio station when I lived in Minnesota. Daily diatribes by people like Mike Medved and Hugh Hewitt each trying to outdo Mike Savage in terms of gross invective and vile comments about the presidents, liberals, gays, democrats, college professors, college educated people, women, minorities, disabled and even elderly. Day after day, hour after hour of endless demeaning, hateful and malicious comments made about anyone who they did not deem sufficiently patriotic by their narrow definition of patriotism. Time and again I was reminded of Samuel Johnson’s comment that “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
Civility is defined as: “Formal politeness and courtesy in behavior or speech.” Civility does not exist in talk radio. Most of these talk show hosts are abject cowards. They hide behind their microphones and distance from others to insult and demean those whom they want to attack. They are bullies of the worst kind, since they will not even come out to face their opponents. These bigots want to equate patriotism with military service and heroism with serving on the front lines, but look at the record for most of the top bigots.
- Mike Savage, did not serve
- Sean Hannity, did not serve
- Rush Limbaugh, did not serve
- Bill O’Reilly, did not serve
- Michael Medved, did not serve
- Glen Beck, did not serve
I won’t even mention Ann Coulter (Cornell University) or Laura Ingraham (Dartmouth) both of whom are Ivy League graduates and never served a day in their life except as high paid business or legal consultants.
The more cowardly these phony patriots are the more they fly the flags of patriotism, jingoism, chauvinism, racism, xenophobia and intolerance. Ralph W. Sockman once noted that “The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.” These pitiful excuses for humanity neither demonstrate tolerance or courage. Indeed, they demonstrate the exact opposite. They are intolerant when they feel they are in the majority and then attack those who are weaker and more defenseless. When in the minority, they are silent cowards who hide behind the First Amendment, the American Flag and hollow calls to their servile brand of patriotism.
Let the American people start judging politicians, TV hosts and Radio Talk show hosts by their civility and respect for their opponents. Americans who value respect, politeness and civility need to tune out anyone, right or left who has no respect for others, unless of course, the others have demonstrated time and time again that they have no respect for those who disagree with them.
Win-Win and the Golden Mean
My third principle for civil discourse concerns the Golden Mean and the concept of win-win. The Golden Mean was a principle first noted by the ancient Greeks to denote the idea that moderation was the guiding principle of a successful and happy State and human existence.
In philosophy, especially that of Aristotle, the golden mean is the desirable middle between two extremes, one of excess and the other of deficiency. For example, courage, a virtue, if taken to excess would manifest as recklessness and if deficient as cowardice. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_mean_(philosophy)
The win-win concept first became popular with Steven Covey’s book “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People.” Other writers such as Alfie Cohn and Edward De Bono also wrote about the power of the concept and its unique position to make allies out of former enemies. In a win-win scenario, would be antagonists move from an adversarial negotiation to a problem-solving mode in which the goal is to find an outcome or outcomes that are highly desirable to both parties. Win-win theory stresses the importance of a joint decision that supersedes even compromise. Unlike compromise, wherein everyone sacrifices to attain a mutual decision, in win-win, the parties seek to avoid decisions that are less than optimal for either party. Compromise is always a fallback position but win-lose is not admissible in the set of desired outcomes.
Now imagine for a minute, a group of Republicans and Democrats, or a group of pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates or a group of conservatives and a group of liberals all sitting down to a win-win scenario. Instead of bargaining, fighting, positioning, game playing and slimy tricks to get better position, the participants sit down in a spirit of cooperation and good will. Each one knowing that the principle of the Golden Mean entails finding an optimum solution that lies somewhere between the two extremes or perhaps even in a different frame. Now you can imagine what the Founding Fathers were able to do and why the documents that this country were built on are so magnificent. As Abraham Lincoln said:
“The true rule, in determining to embrace, or reject any thing, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it have more of evil, than of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost everything, especially of governmental policy, is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded.”
I am talking about “EVIL” people here. The Nazis were evil. Why, because they sowed hatred, intolerance, injustice, contempt, racism, genocide, murder and destruction. They used the machinery of democracy to establish a reign of terror like the world had never seen before or since. Many Americans have asked “Could it happen here.” Goring said:
“Why, of course, the people don’t want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally, the common people don’t want war; neither in Russia nor in England nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy or a fascist dictatorship or a Parliament or a Communist dictatorship.”
The Nazis laughed as they led Germany into destruction and as their propaganda machine convinced millions of innocent Germans that they were protecting Aryan supremacy and the German way of life. Millions of Americans are being led down the a similar road of hatred and intolerance by these Nazis style commentators who call themselves Radio Talk Show hosts. Hitler said: “I do not see why man should not be just as cruel as nature.” Himmler said: “The best political weapon is the weapon of terror. Cruelty commands respect. Men may hate us. But, we don’t ask for their love; only for their fear.” Talk shows feed on the fear and cruelty that they not only exacerbate but they also create.
In my 67 years on this earth, I have been to Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Catholic, Unitarian, Baptist, Methodist and several non-denominational churches. I have attended over 30 Jesuit Retreats at Demontreville Retreat Center in Minnesota. I do not claim to be a great Christian. I do not claim to turn the other cheek as often as I should. I do not claim to help my fellow man as often as needed. What I do claim is that in not one of these houses of worship, have I ever seen Jesus portrayed as a racist or a sower of hatred and intolerance. In the famous parable of the adulterous woman, Jesus said: “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.” In Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan, he said “Who is the neighbor to him who fell among the robbers?” In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said “And why beholds thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but consider not the beam that is in thy own eye?” Over and over again, Jesus preached love and forgiveness. Where does Jesus say “Go and preach hate?” “Go and preach intolerance.” “Go and preach bigotry.”
Time for Questions:
Has fear blinded too many Americans to the symptoms of bigotry and intolerance and incivility that are symptomatic of many Talk Show Hosts? Are you going to church on Sunday and applauding Rush Limbaugh on Monday? Are you silent in the face of hypocrisy, racism, sexism and homophobia? Do you take a stand on your principles whether you are Christian, Catholic, Muslim or Jewish? Are you following principle of love and forgiveness or an “Eye for an Eye?” What can we do to abolish the pervasive malice, hostility and meanness that are symptomatic of Radio Talk Shows today?
Life is just beginning.