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Revealed: How Conservative Radio Creates an Echo Chamber of Hate

A new study looks at the ways right-wing radio amplifies certain extreme voices and legitimizes their anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim rhetoric.
 
 
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By itself, Pamela Geller's May 2010 appearance on the "Sean Hannity Show" was par for the right-wing talk-radio course. The conservative blogger was brought on to rail against the conservative raison d'outrage of the moment, what she habitually called the “Mega mosque on Ground Zero” (SPOILERS: the whole building really wasn't a mosque, but that wasn't going to stop her) that was being planned in New York City around that time. But a recent study places the Geller-Hannity encounter in a bigger, more dangerous context that observers have noted for years.

The study, released last month by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center, used Hannity's radio show and four programs – the "Rush Limbaugh Show," the "Glenn Beck Program," "Savage Nation" and the "John & Ken Show" -- as the focus of an investigation of the influence and confluence of specific interests in ultra-conservative radio programming. The results, as you might imagine, were not surprising.

“The findings reveal that the hosts promoted an insular discourse that focused on, for example, anti-immigration, anti-Islam and pro-Tea Party positions,” the study concluded. “This discourse found repetition and amplification through social media.”

Geller's appearance was part of that amplification. The study notes that her “Mega Mosque” rant became a gravy train for her during 2010, as it garnered her an “exponential” growth in appearances on the talk-radio circuit, thus presenting her as an authoritative source to the conservative audience Hannity and the like cater to. When you add in the fact that four of the five shows featured in the report were syndicated nationally, it became really easy for a microphone in Geller's hand to become a megaphone – or a pipe bomb.

“Using hateful rhetoric, these hosts have cast immigrants as disease-ridden, equated pro-immigrant organizations with neo-Nazis, called Islam an 'evil religion,' claimed the Obama administration is promoting 'race riots' and made fun of the ethnicity of Asian-American politicians,” Salvatore Colleluori wrote at Media Matters, one of several sites that has been keeping tabs on the homogenous culture and conversations on this section of the dial.

These shows create this kind of social (or anti-social) network, the study says, like any other radio station would: with a tight rotation. In the six weeks measured for the studies, nearly every guest was white (89%) or male (81%). Nearly a quarter of the guests were identified as Fox News talent. And nearly all of the politicians who appeared as guests were either Republicans (93%) or Tea Party members (89%).

Similarly, the topics on the table were usually centered around a few hot-button topics: Undocumented Immigrants Are Bad, Islam Is Evil, etc.

What's interesting, for a report talking about media influence, is that this study hasn't gotten much attention in regular media circles. Google "talk radio study UCLA 2012" and you won't get any hits on CNN, MSNBC or even Current. The most prominent outlet to offer up a post about it seems to be Fox News Latino, which posted a wire report discussing the anti-immigration rhetoric the study measured.

“It doesn't surprise me that this type of dialogue is continuing on the radio waves,” Jorge-Mario Cabrera from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles says in the piece from the Spanish news agency EFE. “In the United States we tend to greatly protect the right to expression, albeit at the cost of some of the words being said on the air being greatly harmful to certain populations.”

Cabrera can attest to that firsthand. After the "John & Ken Show" released his cellphone number on the air, inviting listeners to complain about a proposed bill that would have offered financial help to California's undocumented immigrants, he said he received more than 450 angry calls, including threats against him personally.

The study also mentioned a tragic consequence of Geller's rhetoric; a New York Times story on Anders Behring Breivik, the man behind last July's massacre in Norway that left 77 people dead, reported that he “frequently cited” Geller's own "Atlas Shrugs," the platform from which she launched onto the airwaves. Naturally, Geller accused the "liberal media" of drumming up hateful sentiments – around her.

And as Crooks & Liars' David Newert asserts, the situation hasn't been getting better this election season. As Republican rhetoric grows ever bolder in its implications, “what emerges is a discourse that remains insular rather than open and that finds alignment, repetition, and amplification through social media,” the study says.

That might explain why, in the wake of the Oak Park gurdwara shooting, even Republicans have begun calling for people like talk-radio favorite (four appearances during the survey, including three on the Savage show) Michele Bachmann (R-MN) to tone down her efforts to “expose” Muslim influence in Washington.

Yet, the radio element the study examines will not take these kinds of suggestions in stride.

“It is our right and our duty to criticize the people who have put the fate of our country in peril,” Rush Limbaugh told the Times after the Gabrielle Giffords shooting last year. What he fails – or refuses – to consider is whether he needs a mirror to do that.

Arturo R. García is the managing editor at Racialicious.com. He is based in San Diego, California and has written for both print and broadcast media, including contributions to GlobalComment.com, The Root and Comment Is Free. Follow him on Twitter at @ABoyNamedArt
 
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