Monday, October 21, 2013

Return to 'the Ranch'

What would provoke the editor of one of the state's more read newspapers to write, "I was scared. Knot-in-the-stomach scared"? A visit to Zeb Bell's "Zeb at the Ranch" radio show. But the bigger question is, what would provoke this editor to write what amounts to a puff piece that writes off the underlying vigilantism, hatred, talk of violence and bigotry of Zeb Bell?

When I read Autumn Agar's "From the Editor: Times-News at the Ranch," I was taken back to the year in which the editor of The MountainGoat Report and myself devoted our time to following Zeb Bell's radio show. We chronicled some of the most disturbing issues and comments to arise on the show and came to the ultimate conclusion that the hatred spewing from the microphone of Zeb Bell and his guests is harmful to Idaho, both the residents who hear the show and the reputation of the state as a whole.

Unfortunately, the piece in the Times-News is nothing more than a puff piece. It talks of Zeb Bell's guests as if they're a likable bunch that occasionally say something outlandish that is uncomfortably funny. Agar noted the caller who told Zeb he should have a baseball bat ready when the folks from the Times-News showed up. 

Agar wrote about the baseball bat threat:
"Did I think Zeb was going to hit me with a baseball bat? No. But there was something in that woman’s voice. She hated us. I was afraid I was going to learn something about how people in the Magic Valley really felt. I was afraid the curtain would be pulled back and I would never be able to forget what I saw."
Ms. Agar would close the piece by returning to the baseball bat: "The hour ended. The baseball bat never came out."

This would be a cute anecdote if it weren't for the history of violence, real and imagined, displayed by Zeb's guests, the callers and Zeb himself. Back in February of 2009, the case of Roger Barnett made news and Zeb and his callers were particularly adamant in their support of Barnett's history of detaining people illegally who crossed his property on our southern border. Those detained were always Latinos, always accused of being in this country illegally and were always treated harshly. I remember clearly the conversation that day between Zeb and a caller. The caller said that if an illegal immigrant were cutting his fence, the second day it happened the authorities would be picking up bodies on the other side of his fence. It wasn't the first time I'd heard Zeb's callers speak this way and it certainly wasn't the last.

Even more disturbing is an event that actually occurred on Zeb's ranch in Murtaugh. Zeb spoke of the incident candidly and with a degree of pride. You see, it isn't just talk of violence and the simmering hatred threatening to boil over that makes "Zeb at the Ranch" threatening and dangerous, it's the man behind the microphone, his own behavior and the behavior he condones. On one of his shows, Zeb went into great detail about holding a Hispanic man at gunpoint on his ranch after the man had run into a fence on Zeb's property. You can listen to the entire story as told by Bell here, but the gist of the story is this: Zeb approached the man who ran into the fence finding him slumped in the front seat and rather than offering the man help, Zeb held a gun on the man and even went so far as firing a shot. Zeb bragged about the incident on the airwaves. Airwaves that reach as far as Pocatello and Bliss and can be heard around the world online every Monday through Thursday morning.

When the folks from the Times-News ended their visit at Zeb's place, they said "they had a blast." Ms. Agar wrote almost glowingly about Zeb's expertise and interest in the issue of wolves in Idaho. What wasn't said is that the show is anti-gay, anti-immigration, racist. bigoted, and vile. And, to the dismay of this Idahoan and others, it is visited and supported by members of our congressional delegation including Mike Crapo and Jim Risch, various Idaho legislators, the former Idahoan and certifiable wingnut Bryan Fischer of the American Family Association, and even the Idaho State Police.

It is unfortunate and perhaps self-serving that the participants from the Times-News didn't note any of the above mentioned issues with "Zeb at the Ranch." It's hard to believe that this is the same paper that once gave Gary Eller a platform where he spoke about the insane and danger-laced tirades of Zeb and the Magic Valley callers who truly believe every bit of filth that emanates from Zeb's microphone. 

Sure, Zeb and many of his listeners refer to the paper as a "liberal rag" and its employees as the "lamestream media," but isn't it the media's job to show both sides of the coin? Where is the other side? They mention the caller who suggested the baseball bat, but only as a joke, really. Is that self-serving or just irresponsible? 

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