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Talk Radio and the Conspiracy to Kill

Would Jim Adkisson have killed without prompting from extreme right-wing talkers?
 
 
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Now I know how the others feel.
Having written extensively about talk radio's right wing shock jocks and the hate speech they regularly use to tar opponents -- equating liberals with terrorists, homosexuals with child rapists and the Mafia, and political and media figures with the Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan (even calling on air for assassinations, as Michael Reagan, son of the late president, did last month) -- it was only a matter of time until the smear merchants took aim at me.

Still, it was a little surprising to hear that "O'Connor's mentor in spirit, Josef Goebbels, must be laughing in his grave." And it was more than just disconcerting that the charge of Nazism was made as part of an attack on the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the award-winning tolerance group named for the late ' Nazi Hunter,' after the Center's New York office offered to host a launch party for my book " Shock Jocks: Hate Speech & Talk Radio ."

The allegation that Goebbels is my mentor came in an email forwarding a post by former Boston Herald writer Don Feder, which originally appeared on GrasstopsUSA.com ("Give Your Values A Voice".) Feder, the email said, "believes that the Wiesenthal Center supports deceptive fools like O'Connor to appease its wealthy leftist supporters. If that is true (and of course no offical [sic] at the Center would own up to it), it is shameful."

What's really shameful, of course, is trotting out the ad hominem "You're a Nazi" meme when confronted with ideas that differ from your own. Feder's "exclusive commentary" was headlined "Obama and the Conspiracy to Kill Talk Radio," another false meme being consistently bruited about by the right. Its opening made Feder's thesis clear: "Looking ahead, liberals are determined to derail potential opposition to their plans to accelerate the deconstruction of America. Consequently, they have targeted talk radio. Bringing back the Fairness Doctrine is just one facet of their scheme to eviscerate the only part of the media controlled by conservatives."

According to Feder & Company, "The jihad against talk radio" (I thought I was a Nazi, not an Islamofascist!) is this:

"The left will do anything to gag its opponents. From the college campus to the halls of Congress (think campus speech codes, think hate crimes legislation, think speech-suppression zones surrounding abortion clinics), liberals are the chief proponents of censorship in America.

On July 23, the Simon Wiesenthal Center's New York Tolerance Center will host the launch of Shock Jocks: Hate Speech & Talk Radio by Rory O'Connor, a book which indicts talk radio as "highly politicized, overly partisan and often factually challenged" -- unlike, say, The New York Times , AKA, Mainstream Media Hacks for Obama.

But that's not all. According to its cover, this penetrating analysis (endorsed by Walter Cronkite, the dean of liberal media manipulators) exposes the "dirty secret" of radio talk shows -- how "they use the guise of 'not being politically correct' to ratchet up their anti-gay, anti-woman and overtly racist language." In other words, they're against same-sex "marriage," reject feminist mythology and oppose racial quotas. Oh, the venom! Oh, the malice!

The left uses allegations of hate speech to set the stage for censorship. In its invitation, the Wiesenthal Center hyperventilates: 'Hate speech can lead to hate crimes. And hate speech has no role on the public airwaves.' Apparently, the First Amendment doesn't apply to anything the left deems "hate speech."

FYI, a friend of mine -- a Jewish conservative -- noted the exquisite irony here: Conservative talk-show hosts tend to be the most outspoken defenders of Israel anywhere in the U.S. media, while their counterparts in the mainstream media are overwhelmingly anti-Israel. Like the Anti-Defamation League, the Wiesenthal Center carries water for the left in the guise of fighting anti-Semitism.

Shock Jocks is just the latest manifestation of the left's obsession with talk radio."

Feder's unoriginal jeremiad -- which he further promulgated on WABC's Sunday morning "Religion on the Line" program with Rabbi Joe Patasnick -- went to repeat what other right-wing media organs such as NewsMax and WorldNetDaily have already attempted to inject into the mainstream -- the ridiculous idea that there is a conspiracy afoot to "Hush Rush" and knock conservatives off the airwaves by requiring "fairness" and "balance" in our public discourse.

Normally I ignore such ignorant attacks on my person, along with absurd charges like the one that Barack Obama is somehow engaged in a stealth "conspiracy to kill" talk radio. I raise them now only because of a real conspiracy to kill -- one that took two lives in a Tennessee church recently. After a troubled man named Jim Adkisson murdered two and wounded seven, it was reported that he had books by shock jocks Michael Savage, Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly in his home. (What wasn't widely reported is that radio station WNOW-FM in Knoxville airs shock jocks Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Neal Boortz and Mark Levin every weekday. Given the killer's professed hateful attitudes towards liberals and homosexuals, it's at least as likely that he was influenced by the hateful speech Savage and the others spew forth on the public airwaves as by their books ... )

So when these and other shock jocks regularly employ and promote hate speech over the public airwaves aimed at women, minorities, immigrants, homosexuals, foreigners, Islam and its adherents, and anyone else they perceive as an opponent, dehumanizing them with terms like 'feminazis,' 'hos,' 'slanty-eyed gooks' and the like ... and when they consistently blur the borders between news, opinion and entertainment, then quickly retreat when challenged, claiming it's just 'good fun,' asking why you're being so 'politically correct,' and demanding that you just 'change the channel' ... and their audience is angry and armed -- what do you expect to happen?

Are the shock jocks creating a climate where such acts are somehow deemed acceptable? Do they have blood on their hands if others -- albeit a few, marginalized, desperate and deranged listeners -- act on their poisonous rhetoric? Would Jim Adkisson have killed without prompting from extreme right wing talkers? We'll never know -- but isn't it time to step back and think about the effect this sort of debased dialogue is having on our democracy and society? It's not 'just entertainment' any more -- if indeed it ever was. Instead, it's now literally a deadly serious business, and we all need to examine our accountability -- as well as to look for new strategies to contain the spread of hate speech in our media -- before someone else gets killed.

In the last few months alone, Michael Reagan has called for murder on-air; Rush Limbaugh has hoped for riots in Denver at the Democratic National Convention and spoken about a non-existent tape of Michelle Obama castigating 'Whitey'; Bill O'Reilly has mentioned Michelle Obama and a lynching party in the same breath; Don Imus has (again) engaged in racially charged remarks; and Michael Savage has called autistic children 'idiots' and 'morons' and charged that both autism and asthma are 'rackets.'

As previously noted, the real racket is the shock jock racket. You know, the one where everyone gets paid -- Savage, Limbaugh (to the tune of 400 million dollars), Hannity (100 million), etc. -- but also local stations like WOR in New York City, which expressed 'regret' but took 'no responsibility' for Savage's remarks; national distributors like Talk Radio Networks -- the second largest provider of syndicated talk shows -- and its headman Mark Masters, who puts Savage on 350 stations reaching 8 million listeners every week; and of course their corporate advertisers and sponsors. So let's pressure the corporations who are using the public airwaves but not serving the public interest -- and let's challenge the shock jocks whose dehumanizing talk may be leading to terror and hate acts such as that which played out so tragically in a church in Knoxville.

In remarks given at my recent book launch party at the Tolerance Center, I specifically warned about shock jocks' hate speech and the potential for some listener actually to take their advice literally, and to act on it in a real world "conspiracy to kill." Some attendees later told me "You called it." I hope not.

Filmmaker and journalist Rory O'Connor is the author of " Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio " (AlterNet Books, 2008). O'Connor also writes the Media Is A Plural blog.

 
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