The NPR-distributed talk show On Point from WBUR in Boston – which airs nationwide on 169 stations – took up “Angry America” as a topic on Monday, illustrated on the show’s website with pictures of Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, and Michael Savage. Host Tom Ashbook summarized that radio talk could lead to violence: “Lately, the language on air in the age of President Obama, economic bust, and big government bailouts, has been particularly hot – and hot when sales of guns and ammunition are surging.”
To discuss this inflammatory liberal thesis, he brought on experts presented as nonpartisan: professor Allan Lichtman (who ran for the U.S. Senate in Maryland in 2006 as a Democrat) and Mark Potok of the hard-left Southern Poverty Law center, who quickly blamed Beck as one who “animated” the recent cop-killing in Pittsburgh. For “balance,” Ashbrook brought on former GOP Rep. Mickey Edwards, who denounced Rush Limbaugh as a “buffoon” and insisted hot talk “has got to stop.”
Ashbrook played 15 clips from conservative talk shows during the hour. About ten minutes into the show, Potok started whacking Beck:
POTOK: This rhetoric ultimately, down the line, translates into criminal violence...In the 20s that might have been burning down Catholic convents, and carrying out those kinds of attacks. Today, you know, the clip you just played about Glenn Beck going on about guns being taken away and so on, you know, that was the very kind of rhetoric that apparently directly animated this fellow, Richard Poplawski, who eight or nine days ago came out of his house shooting at police officeers and murdering three of them.
ASHBROOK: In Pittsburgh, yeah.
POTOK: In Pittsburgh, that’s correct. Poplawski was also influenced by other kinds of rhetoric that you don’t hear so much on Fox. Rhetoric from the white supremacists about the Zionist Occupation Government, you know, and the Jews kind of run the whole universe. But very, very similar ideas, nevertheless. I mean, he has, matter of fact, apparently downloaded a video clip of Beck talking, and talked very much after he was arrested that they were coming to take guns away from him.
Edwards came into the show about twenty minutes along, and seemed much more like a David Gergen figure – a scold of “hot talk” from all directions. He suggested “the left was really over the top” in the Bush years, and then scolded conservatives in the present:
EDWARDS: It’s a problem when Newt Gingrich goes on television and he compares Rahm Emanuel to Haldeman. It’s coming from, not just the Rush Limbaughs. If it was just an occasional buffoon, like Rush Limbaugh, you could brush it aside, but it comes now with a sort of nastiness from people much more generally, and you have Rush Limbaugh on one side and Keith Olbermann on the other side, and there’s nothing but name-calling.
Edwards talked up those “conservatives” who decided to vote for Obama in despiar of “what the Republican Party had become.” Memo to NPR hosts: to conservatives, there is no such thing as a “conservative who voted for Obama.” The second half cancels out the first.
Potok repeated the idea that conservatives “animated” killers:
POTOK: Let’s not forget, you know, the man who shot up a church in Knoxville, Tennessee, last July, you know, and told the police after he’s murdered two people and tried to murder a whole lot more that what animated him entirely was hatred of liberals because they’re a cancer and a pestilence, and they are Marxists who are coming to take over this country.
ASHBROOK: You gotta wonder where he gets that.
About halfway through the hour, a caller named Jason came on to complain that the show’s guest list was unbalanced and it was a “huge stretch” to blame talk-show hosts for murders. He complained that Sen. Harry Reid called Bush a liar and “you didn’t hold a show on it.” Ashbrook replied: “I have to say we do shows on the substance, day in and day out. Today, we’re trying to laser in on this particular angle. But we take your point, I mean, there is inside these views, substantive political perspective at the same time, and as you say, show biz.”
He then turned to the “conservative” Edwards, who accused the caller of missing the point. He boasted he was a founder of the Heritage Foundation, and “This [complaint about conservative hot talk] is not liberal.” He then returned to how many conservatives voted for Obama “out of their despair...because of their concern for what was happening to the Constitution....It’s not a bias.”
In response to the caller’s complaint, Mark Potok bizarrely claimed there was no left-wing cable talk or national radio talk in America during the Bush presidency:
ASHBROOK: There was certainly boiling rage.
POTOK: There was certainly boiling rage, but I think it was entirely different in the sense that you know, what you have now is you have people with slots on cable television news channels, who have shows, typically an hour apiece, five days a week. They’re given, they have positions of great power, and that is the pulpit from which these things are said --
ASHBROOK: You’ve got left-leaning talk show hosts as well –
POTOK (without stopping): – you’ve got some anarchists in San Francisco, you know, saying that Bush is a war criminal. That is really different, I think, than Glenn Beck saying on the air, to hundreds and hundreds of thousands of people, repeatedly, you know, that we’ve got a Nazi for a president, or whatever it may be.
ASHBROOK: [Paraphrasing Beck] You didn’t want to lose the Republic. But you’ve got left-wing voices on –
POTOK: We do now. There was no Rachel Maddow. There was no Keith Olbermann. There was no Radio America, Air America.
ASHBROOK: They’ve been around for a while, and they’re on right now.
While the Maddow show debuted last September, Keith Olbermann’s Countdown debuted on March 31, 2003, just days after the Iraq War began. (He replaced Phil Donahue, also on the radical left.) Air America debuted exactly a year later, on March 31, 2004.
Lichtman said it’s too much to trace this kind of rhetoric to any particular incident of violence, and Potok claimed to agree, but he and Ashbrook quickly went back to guilt by association:
POTOK: I certainly agree with Alan about that, and I don’t mean to suggest that you know, we can go to that Jim Atkinson, shooter in Knoxville, and say ‘It’s Bill O’Reilly’s fault.’ But what I am trying to argue though it that the airwaves, the sort of public square, is filled with this kind of rhetoric. It’s been so for a good many years now. The anti-immigration rhetoric that we have heard over the last seven or eight years, certainly from our analysis, has been behind the really quite rapid growth of hate groups in this country. So I think these things do ultimately have consequences. I agree that it’s not possible to say, you know, because someone read a certain book, by Ann Coulter, you know, they went out and murdered people.
ASHBROOK: No, no, I mean, the Knoxville shooter did have Michael Savage’s Liberalism is a Mental Disorder –
POTOK: And Hannity’s book, and O’Reilly’s, sure. and we know what his ideological interests were, and he spoke about it specifically.
Here’s what the segment’s Web page said:
American politics and political discourse have never been pattycake. In the years of George W. Bush, opponents railed against the president.
But the language lately on air has grown particularly fierce and apocalyptic: President Obama called a dictator and sympathizer with terrorists. His policies called socialist, Marxist, Bolshevik, dangerous. Americans called to rise up in revolt. All this while the economy tanks and gun sales surge.
Is this just the hurly-burly of American politics, or something else?
This hour, On Point: Hot airwaves, fear and anger in the age of Obama and economic bust.
So where did 15 clips of “hot talk” from conservatives come from? This hat tip was not much of a surprise, coming from NPR:
A big thanks today to Media Matters, which tracks, catalogues and fact-checks political rhetoric.