Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Damaging Talk Radio

Talk radio shock jocks Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh do not believe that their shows are a definitive source for the news. Despite their denial of being a factual source of anything, but rather an opinion-based medium, many conservative (and liberal for that matter) talk radio listeners take what is said on those shows as fact-based commentary on the state of this nation and the world.

When I first read Rory O'Connor's Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio, I was amazed at the oft-recited argument that Hannity, Limbaugh, and their cohorts are entertainers with no ethical responsibility to journalism or the truth for that matter. I, of course, don't believe what they say to be factual representation of current events, not any more than I believe a word out of MSNBC when it comes to any campaign in direct opposition to that of Senator Obama, but I do believe that when you have a large audience listening to what you say religiously, you have an obligation to remind that audience that your commentary is opinion. The argument that these shock jocks don't represent themselves as journalists or legitimate news outlets never made sense to me. Now I understand why they are forced to make that argument.

Yesterday, while talking to an unemployed man who listens to conservative talk radio on a daily basis, some days for a majority of the day while sitting at home or driving in his car, I realized exactly why the argument is necessary. The people who listen to these shows believe what is said there as 100% truth.

Due to his location, this man listens to a majority of talk radio on KBAR, a Rupert-based AM station, as well as The Savage Nation and all things Rush on various talk radio stations. He's not a man I would consider to be up on current events or even one I'd expect to have a solid understanding of foreign policy. I was right, almost. Yesterday he described to me the situation in the former Soviet republic Georgia and what it means to the United States.

Brace yourselves:

Russia invaded Georgia for the same reasons we invaded Iraq: ethnic cleansing, oil, and global terrorism. The only difference is that in a handful of days the Russians have killed more people in Georgia than we have in five years in Iraq and somehow their actions and the number of casualties are not a problem for them, yet they continue to oppose our war in Iraq.

Georgia invaded the southerners (referring to South Ossetians) for ethnic cleansing, Russia invaded Georgia for invading their own people, and Russia will continue to fight until the threat against democracy (i.e. terrorism) is no longer and their oil interests are protected.

If Russia does not retreat the United States will be forced to enter a "super war" in an effort to protect the world from Muslim terrorists and to ensure that oil prices do not continue to rise because of instability in yet another Persian Gulf country. The region of the world responsible for 9/11 will not go unnoticed by the Bush administration.

Oh boy.

Let me see if I can tackle all of the misinformation in his argument without having my head explode.

First, let's address the issue of geography. In relation to Georgia, South Ossetia is not southern anything. South Ossetia is south of Russia! South Ossetians can therefore not be considered "southerners" at least not in the sense that those south of the Mason-Dixon line in 19th century America were. Second, Georgia is bordered by the Black Sea. This would technically be considered southwestern Asia. Not the Middle East. And there's just a small division between Georgia and the Persian Gulf, two actually, Iraq and Iran!

Now the issue of why Russia invaded Georgia is a lot more complicated than simply gaining control of South Ossetia. Russia has for some time sought to assert their military power wherever possible. Perhaps I should say Putin, not Russia. Regardless, the invasion was a direct reaction to Georgia's recent attempt to regain control of these independent areas situated between Russian and Georgia. Nothing to do with global terrorism, probably not a whole lot to do with ethnic cleansing (timeline doesn't support this), and the oil is another issue entirely.

Of all the reasons, true and false, that have been spoken regarding our invasion of Iraq, oil is one that is mostly unspoken. Why we went into Iraq is an evolving issue and one that is answered differently by factions of Americans. Some say WMDs (still, though we know this isn't a fact now), some say as a response to 9/11 (still, even though we also know this to be false), and some say to take out an oppressive dictator (regardless of the consequences). Oil in Georgia and oil in Iraq are two very different matters. Oil in Georgia exists primarily in a pipeline, not as a resource to be tapped. The amount of oil we access from that area is minimal in comparison to our oil interests in the Middle East.

The issue of responding to terrorism is in itself a disaster of a point. The United States is not going to involve itself in a war, "super war" or otherwise, with Russia at this point. To say we would on the platform of protecting the world from terrorism is ridiculous. Have we learned nothing? We were attacked on 9/11 by extremists, extremists that we rightly invaded in Afghanistan. We were not attacked by Iraqis and we certainly weren't attacked by Georgians. The man behind the attack on 9/11 remains in hiding. Hiding in a cave somewhere on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan, our resources should be concentrated on finding that man, not involving ourselves in a war between Russia and a former Soviet republic.

One Muslim terrorist does not equal an entire religion of terrorism. And for what it is worth, Georgia is not a Muslim nation. Even John McCain recognizes that Georgia is a mostly Christian nation, in fact he seems to believe U.S. interests there have more to do with it being Christian than anything else. Orthodox Christians make up an estimated 83.9% of the Georgian population. Muslims? The Muslim population is estimated at 9.9%. Stark contrast to the 97% or so of the Iraqi population that is Muslim, isn't it?

I can't vouch for what is being said on conservative talk radio to fuel this misinformation campaign, but I can say that this man wouldn't have come up with this on his own and the only thing he has to counter the opinions he hears on the radio is what he sees on Fox News.

Would it be so difficult to do a little research about something before you start telling people that Georgia is going to start a "super war"? I mean, really, the CIA World Factbook (hardly a liberal propaganda machine) is only a click or two away. And would it be so hard to add to the disclaimer playing on many stations before these talk radio programs, the one that says the views and opinions presented there are not necessarily the opinion of the station or sponsors, that the preceding show is not necessarily based in fact? You can say you're an opinion-based show, but that isn't going to stop people from believing what you say, word for word, lie by lie.

For a long while I've understood how damaging hate speech is on talk radio, I just never realized how damaging misinformation on talk radio is until now.


Adam said...

Its glen beck thats the problem....
cant understand why he would talk to you about this and why u didnt tell him what a dummy he is....

Jared said...

Wow...I know I shouldn't do this, but I will anyway.

I don't know who this person is (though privately I have my suspicions), but, honestly, Tara, you can say all talk radio is misinformation because one very ill-informed listener is full of conspiracy theories. I don’t base my opinions of bloggers on the plethora of 9/11 truthers online or the Daily Kos crackpots that lamented. They are isolated, fringe I think you just found an ignoramus, regardless of his news sources. What you describe does not demonstrate that talk radio is the cause of his ignorance in any case. His fatalistic and illogical conspiracy theory is nothing like I've heard on the radio (or anywhere for that matter) the past few days nor is it what conservatives think about Russia and its support or irredentist movements in its former satellite states. But then again I don't listen to Bell, Mitton or Savage, because I don't consider them to be conservatives in the first place and find their shows lacking in intelligent commentary.

Talk radio show hosts should not have to give a disclaimer anymore than Keith Olberman, Bill O'Rielly, Maureen Dowd or George Will should. Everyone knows they are expressing opinion. We had an era when with the advent of television news where journalism was vaunted and held in high esteem, but they betrayed the public trust. You can’t have a renowned news anchor stand by falsified documents and expect it not to have a negative effect on the whole lot of journalists. Unbiased journalism is a quixotic notion anyway, from my point of view, save some rare exceptions, to wit the late Tim Russert. And even he had hard time disguising his roots as a Pat Moynihan Democrat. We have transitioned back into an era of muckrakers, of all political stripes, where the purveyors of opinion and the journalist often come often in the same package. It happens on both side and in between and quite frankly I prefer it this way.

Jared said...

Correction: I don’t base my opinions of bloggers on the plethora of 9/11 truthers online or the Daily Kos crackpots that lamented Cheney's assination attempt in Afgahnistan. They are isolated, fringe kooks.

Sisyphus said...

"Everyone knows they are expressing opinion."-- I strongly disagree. If that's true then why was Rupert Murdoch so instrumental in dismantling the Fairness Doctrine? Why does his head spin like Linda Blair's whenever the subject of reinstating it comes up again? Cause he knows that he is much more influential by placing the trappings of popular belief into the broadcasting he's doing. Its pure Orwell. The only thing he sacrifices is the credibility of the medium. He could care less. Trouble is it undermines the fourth estate and its critical role in a functioning democracy.

Just because you can discern the difference makes you skeptical and critical. You have way too much faith in the average joe if you think he has the same qualities. The lead up to the Iraq War is case in point.