by Scoobie Davis
Why Tom Daschle is Right about Rush Limbaugh and Talk Radio
Tom Daschle came out and finally addressed talk radio hatemongering—pointing out how talk radio increases the number of threats against public officials. The reaction by the usual suspects was swift and predictable. I didn’t hear what Limbaugh said about it but I heard Rush-clone Sean Hannity (see my previous post). Although I wasn’t able to get on the program, I listened to the program. Not surprisingly, Hannity accused Daschle of “McCarthy-like tactics.” Hannity is wrong.
Talk radio is, on the whole, a pathological medium in the hands of the American right. As someone who listens to talk radio, I could spend days explaining why Daschle is right. In the interest of time and space, I can give five reasons why Daschle is right about Rush and talk radio encouraging threats and violence:
1) Limbaugh’s show and American talk radio has been the home to lunatic conspiracy theories regarding political opponents that rival the famous hoax, The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion. The purpose of these conspiracy theories is to foment hate.
2) Limbaugh’s show and talk radio have engaged in systematic hatemongering, rumor-mongering (rarely with any retractions once the rumors are discredited), disinformation campaigns, demonization, as well as attacks on the families of political opponents that are reckless. This deluge of hatred creates an atmosphere of hostility.
3) Limbaugh and other talk radio jocks have engaged in reckless behavior that comes very close to advocating violence against political opponents. In fact, a tragedy was narrowly averted because of the reckless behavior of Limbaugh and other media people.
4) Limbaugh and talk radio have been apologists for political violence.
5) There is evidence that Limbaugh and other talk radio jocks have targeted their message to an audience comprised of a significant number of people who are obviously motivated by hatred and who are incapable of processing information with logic and reason.
Let me elaborate on each of these points.
1) For those of you familiar with this site, you know that one thing that sticks in my craw is how the right has gotten away with some particularly ugly and heavily funded attacks on the Clintons during the 1990’s. One of the most noxious of these attacks involves a paranoid conspiracy theory created by the American right after Vince Foster’s death. Limbaugh and the executive producer of this television show, Roger Ailes were just two of the media heavy-hitters who posited the loony smear that Foster was murdered and the Clintons had something to do with it. The vicious innuendo on Limbaugh’s show was an affront to human decency. According to a story in Extra!:
The executive producer of Limbaugh's TV show, Roger Ailes (a Republican campaign consultant and president of the CNBC cable network), didn't claim that his star had debunked the rumor--he boasted that Limbaugh's report of "a suicide coverup, possibly murder" was a scoop. On the Don Imus radio show, Ailes remarked: "The guy who's been doing an excellent job for the New York Post [Chris Ruddy]...for the first time on the Rush Limbaugh show said that...he did not believe it was suicide.... Now, I don't have any evidence.... These people are very good at hiding or destroying evidence."
This last part of Ailes’ apologia for Limbaugh is a hallmark of most whacko conspiracy theories: the lack of evidence for the conspiracy is evidence of both the conspiracy and a cover-up (so much for Orrin Hatch’s contention on Hannity’s show today that Ailes has never gone “over the line”). Captain Queeg would call it a good example of “geometric logic.”
The fact is that if you spread whacko conspiracy theories such as the Vince-Foster-Didn’t-Commit-Suicide conspiracy theory, you are one or more of the following 1) isolated and woefully misinformed; 2) clinically paranoid; 3) a political assassin; 4) a mercenary (media whore). Limbaugh and other talk radio hosts who put forth these hateful lies are not only responsible for causing further suffering for a grieving family, they are responsible for fomenting action by their more unhinged listeners.
2)The dehumanization, demonization, disinformation campaigns, and vicious attacks on politicians and their families by Limbaugh and his clones are the mainstay of American talk radio. Just a few examples: the comparison of Daschle to Satan by Limbaugh; Limbaugh spread the GOP lie that Bob Beckel was trying to blackmail electors in 2000 (Beckel received numerous death threats); the vicious Chelsea/dog joke by Limbaugh on his Ailes-produced TV show; Limbaugh’s spreading the Moonie Times Clinton/Georgetown speech hoax. I could go on.
3) As far as I know, Limbaugh’s reckless rhetoric has not led to any fatalities. One near-fatality occurred when Limbaugh not only repeated the false allegations by Kathleen Willey that a man had stalked and threatened her, but Limbaugh did the odd act of spelling out the man’s name. This is the type of thing one would do if one wanted potential predators to make sure they knew the correct spelling in order to track him down. One unhinged person( Pat Buchanan’s brother; who would suspect mental illness in the Buchanan family?) went after the hapless man and a tragedy came close to happening because Limbaugh didn’t bother even trying to get the story of the falsely accused man.
4)When the GOP political operatives flown in to Florida to disrupt the vote-counting rioted and pummeled various people, Limbaugh was part of the chorus justifying the violence.
5) There is good reason to believe that at least a significant percentage of the talk radio audience have impaired reasoning ability. Just one example, When Limbaugh made the following wacky claim (called a “scoop” by Ailes):
OK, folks, I think I got enough information here to tell you about the contents of this fax that I got. Brace yourselves. This fax contains information that I have just been told will appear in a newsletter to Morgan Stanley sales personnel this afternoon.... What it is a bit of news which says...there's a Washington consulting firm that has scheduled the release of a report that will appear, it will be published, that claims that Vince Foster was murdered in an apartment owned by Hillary Clinton, and the body was then taken to Fort Marcy Park.
Even though this was highly publicized accusation, Limbaugh later claimed on his show (3/1/95) that he never mentioned anything about the alleged murder occurring in Hillary’s apartment. This transparent lie is something out of 1984. Obviously, Limbaugh knew his audience and didn’t fear any credibility problems with them. That’s scary—especially considering Limbaugh reckless rhetoric. Also, if you are the type of person who would believe that Bill and Hillary Clinton are responsible for the death of Vince Foster and dozens of other people, you are a whackjob. On his radio show, Limbaugh indulges these whackjobs, giving them additional conspiracies for their Clinton-hating fantasy world. This is potentially dangerous stuff. Thank God nobody has been killed.