Destroy Talk Radio and Fox News!
by MARK GABRISH CONLAN, Editor
Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
A front-page story in the July 30 Los Angeles Times headlined “Obama, the Velcro President” gave a sense of dèja vu to the dwindling number of Americans who both still read newspapers and still have a sense of history. The “Velcro President” tag got stuck on the last Democratic President before Obama, Bill Clinton, too. The piece’s authors, Peter Nicholas and Janet Hook, made the obligatory comparison to “Teflon President” Ronald Reagan and riffed on the subject for 29 paragraphs without once mentioning a key factor in Obama’s dramatic decline in popularity: the vicious, relentless, hate-filled and endlessly repetitive campaign against him by Right-wing talk radio and Fox News.
The Right-wing media establishment, launched in its present form after the Reagan administration’s repeal of the Fairness Doctrine in 1987, has so dramatically grown in importance, influence and devastating power that today it holds the balance of power in American politics. It functions as a continuous propaganda outlet for the Republican party in general and the most arch-conservative tendencies within it. It serves as an ideological enforcer not only against Democrats but also more moderate Republicans who might otherwise be tempted even to consider working with Obama and Congressional Democrats instead of maintaining the monolithic “Party of No” opposition stance the people running talk radio and Fox News decided, even before Obama took office, should be the Republican response.
In one respect, talk radio and Fox News are throwbacks to the openly partisan media of the 18th and 19th century. With the possible exception of Franklin Roosevelt, no president in the first nine decades of the 20th century was subjected to the relentless, vicious attacks — not only political but personal — that Obama, and Clinton before him, have had to endure. One would have to go back to the presidencies of Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson and Abraham Lincoln to see the level of meanness with which Clinton and Obama have been savaged by the Right-wing media. But Jefferson, Jackson and Lincoln had a way of fighting back denied to Clinton and Obama: an equally committed, equally relentless, equally partisan media party on their side.
The idea that the media should seek “fairness,” “balance” and “objectivity” as its standard for news coverage came in only towards the end of the 19th century, as the previous way newspapers had been funded — by doing printing work for government and political parties — was replaced by commercial advertising. Though the U.S. developed a corporate media that propagandized in a broad way for capitalism and the “free market,” most media outlets hung back from being too ardently political for fear of alienating readers, viewers and listeners with different points of view — and thereby potentially costing their advertisers business.
All bets are off in the highly politicized Right-wing media of today. Just as the U.S. has two corporate political parties — an ardently pro-market Republican Party and an internally less consistent Democratic Party that preaches the “public interest” but deregulates almost as enthusiastically as the Republicans — so it has developed two corporate media parties. One, led by the old-line TV networks (NBC, CBS, ABC) and big-city newspapers like the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, still pays at least lip service to old-line “professional” journalistic standards of objectivity and accuracy.
The other — led by Fox News, talk radio and Right-wing print outlets like the Wall Street Journal, Washington Times and American Spectator — is relentlessly and unabashedly partisan. When a Republican is in the White House, they coddle him and make excuses for his failings. When a Democrat is President, they go after him endlessly and repetitively. What’s more, they coordinate their efforts. Every Wednesday, a meeting in Washington, D.C. funded by financier Richard Mellon Scaife and chaired by Grover Norquist, head of the Americans for Tax Reform, essentially writes up the agenda for the Right-wing media for the following week and serves notice on Right-wing media personalities what they’re supposed to talk about and what position they’re to take on the major issues.
This coordination has given the Right-wing media the ability to achieve the two most important goals of any propaganda campaign: consistency and repetition. The message of talk radio and Fox News is the same day-in, day-out: “markets” good, government bad; war spending good, tax cuts for the rich good, welfare spending bad; fossil fuels and nuclear power good, renewable energy bad; “global warming” a hoax by people who hate civilization and want us all to live like cavemen; capitalists good, unions bad; Christians and Jews good, Muslims bad; “traditional” families good, any other domestic arrangements bad; 19th century European immigrants good, today’s immigrants bad; Right-wing Republicans good, moderate Republicans bad and Democrats not only bad but evil, hopelessly corrupt and doomed anyway.
Though they may not share the ideologies of their mid-20th century predecessors, the Nazis and the Communists, today’s Right-wing propagandists on talk radio and Fox News have learned from them that the secret of keeping people riled up is to throw scapegoats at them. Talk radio and Fox News throw up so many scapegoats — Democrats, environmentalists, labor leaders, “illegal” immigrants, welfare recipients, people of color and Queers — it’s not always easy to keep track of them all. But the basic message is the same as any propagandists for the rich and powerful must adopt: to keep people mad at — and keep them blaming their problems on — those below them, not those above.
Another basic Propaganda 101 principle talk radio and Fox News follow is avoid any attempt to appeal to people through reason and legitimate debate. Instead, they are relentlessly conspiratorial. No talk-radio host or Fox News personality will ever concede that someone they disagree with may have good intentions but be wrong. They don’t just say Obama’s economic policies risk bankrupting America and destroying its private sector; they say he’s doing that deliberately as part of a sinister plot to wreck this nation on behalf of ill-defined “elites” who alternately want to turn America over to Islamic radicals, force us all to live in caves again, or impose whatever horrifying apocalypse the people at talk radio’s and Fox News’s microphones — and the people paying them — think would be the most effective threat at the moment.
Talk radio and Fox News don’t engage their political or ideological opponents; instead, they ceaselessly ridicule them. The message of talk radio and Fox News — as it was of the Nazi and Communist propagandists that preceded them — is that the truth of what they have to say is so self-evident that anyone who disagrees is either an idiot or an enemy: in their case, a sinister Left-wing conspirator out to destroy America and freedom. Virtually every talk-radio host has developed a mocking laugh he or she uses in any discussion of any political point of view different from theirs — a powerful symbol of their self-righteousness and utter indifference to any form of civilized debate. Talk radio and Fox News are not intelligent forums for conservative points of view. They are the products of bullies, aimed not at answering their political and ideological opponents but at destroying them utterly.
And they are devastatingly effective. Recent opinion polls show that 70 percent of Americans are against building the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” in New York City (which isn’t a mosque and isn’t going to be at Ground Zero, but talk radio and Fox News are so powerful that most Americans have bought that Big Lie); 70 percent of Americans support Arizona’s racist immigration law; 55 percent think Obama is a socialist; 24 percent think he’s a Muslim; and 20 percent believe he was born outside the U.S. and is therefore constitutionally ineligible to be President.
In 1958, when John Birch Society founder Robert Welch wrote that then-President Dwight Eisenhower was “a conscious, dedicated agent of the international Communist conspiracy,” the overwhelming majority of Americans who heard that statement at all — including responsible conservatives like William F. Buckley, Jr. — condemned it as the nonsense it was. Today, similarly ridiculous and scurrilous charges against Obama can be heard day in, day out, 24/7 on cable outlets and the people’s airwaves. Talk radio and Fox News have permanently unbalanced American politics, putting a firm thumb on the right-hand side of the scale and giving the Right a weapon to prevent Democrats from winning the presidency and a congressional majority — or, failing that, to make it impossible for Democrats to govern.
Talk radio and Fox News may have failed to keep Barack Obama out of office, but they have succeeded brilliantly in making his presidency a ruin. Aided by disunity within the Democrats in Congress, they have been able to frame the agenda so most Americans see public spending — the only force that has generated what little “recovery” there has been from the 2008-2009 recession — as an economic threat instead of a promise. The tea-party movement is almost totally a creation of talk radio and Fox News; their on-air personalities have relentlessly promoted the tea-party rallies, given them extensive live coverage and inflated their reporting on the size of their crowds.
They have created a scenario in which most American voters, appalled by the persistence of high unemployment and either unemployed themselves or terrified that their heads will be the next on which the ax will fall, are about to embrace a party whose “solutions” — eviscerating the public sector and following the failed Hoover and Reagan strategy of throwing more money at the rich — will only worsen the economy and turn the coming “double-dip” recession into a full-blown depression.
Just as a democracy cannot survive when the mainstream media are monopolized by the government, so it cannot survive when the mainstream media are monopolized by the government’s political opponents. There is utterly no possibility of a liberal or progressive revival in American politics unless the power of talk radio and Fox News is dramatically diminished, and the vicious messages they pump out daily are driven out of mainstream communications and relegated to the nutcase fringes where they belong.
The task of what’s left of America’s progressive community therefore must be to organize to put talk radio and Fox News out of business by any legitimate means available. We should not delude ourselves into thinking that we’ll ever be able to compete with them by creating our own media outlets. Not only do they have a quarter-century head start on us but they also have billions of corporate dollars available in an era in which media infrastructures are so costly the rich can basically freeze out media access to any group that does not support their agenda.
What we need to do is to scare the corporate media back to their position through most of the 20th century, when they curbed out-front politicking out of fear that it would cost them readers — and cost their advertisers customers. We must organize a total boycott campaign against the sponsors of talk radio and Fox News. We must vote with our dollars and tell companies who keep these scurrilous propaganda outlets on the air that there will be an economic price to pay. And we must do it now, while the Internet is still a relatively free means of communication, before the corporate ruling class and the Right-wing politicians elected by talk radio and Fox News destroy “Net neutrality” and remake the Internet the way they have radio and TV: as an ongoing transmission belt for Right-wing propaganda that acknowledges the existence of progressive ideas only to ridicule and demonize them.
What’s more, the campaign must not only be nationwide but worldwide. America’s pathetic excuse for a Left needs to seek help from other countries to organize similar boycotts and create a worldwide movement against U.S. talk radio and Fox News on a level with the international sanctions and divestment campaigns that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa. We need to make it clear to the rest of the world that they have skin in this game, too. Either they help us bring down talk radio and Fox News, or they will have to deal with the world’s biggest military power being run by ignorant crazies like George W. Bush and Sarah Palin.
Taking on talk radio and Fox News is an enormous challenge, but there’s evidence that it’s doable. The campaign against Fox News personality Glenn Beck didn’t get him off the air, but was spectacularly successful in getting most mainstream advertisers off his show and reducing him basically to being a shill for dubious gold investments. More recently, the Queer community’s exposé of Target for donating $150,000 to a Minnesota corporate political group that passed it on to an anti-Queer candidate for governor raised concerns from Target shareholders that such contributions risk driving business away from Target and treducing the value of its stock.
In 1967, at the height of the U.S.’s debacle in Viet Nam, Che Guevara called on the world’s revolutionaries to “create two, three, many Viet Nams.” Today we need to create two, three, many Targets and scare the corporate elites away from financing talk radio and Fox News.
For information on boycotting Fox News visit www.democrats.com