John Armor

Death by Talk Radio: the Amnesty Bill
Posted by John Armor on Jul 8, 2007 - 12:25:00 PM

[BB Even 554, 30 June 2007, 738 words]

I've done a lot of talk radio beginning with Chuck Boyles on WBAL in Baltimore in 1968.  It's a challenging form of communication.  You don't know what's coming, yet you must be ready for it.  It is true that talk radio killed the amnesty bill in the Senate, for the second and final time, last week.
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   The first surprise of talk radio is how fast it is.  Like the internet, it is viral.
 An idea (an infection) begins at one point, but within 24 hours it is everywhere. The other, equally important surprise, is that ideas can come from ordinary people.
In all other media except talk radio and the internet, the "leading" ideas are proposed by people in the know, people in suits.  Ideas might or might not succeed
-- consider the iPod as the example du jour -- but they come from the suits.
   Talking about suits, empty or otherwise, brings us to the US Senate.  Not only did the Senate strike a backroom deal on the "illegal immigration" bill, they told the world they'd done such a deal, before they dropped the bill in the hopper.
   Majority Leader Harry Reid introduced it directly on the floor -- no committee hearings, no testimony, no reviews in the press.  Just stick it in and tell the whole Senate they must pass it because "the President, and bipartisan Senate leaders support it."
   I've dealt with Senators over the years.  Most of them become supremely arrogant by the time they are a few years into their second term.  There are exceptions, and I respect all of them deeply, but that's the general pattern.  And the one thing that arrogant people have greatest difficulty recognizing is their own arrogance.
   (To my sainted mother and all the members of my family by blood and marriage I say, yes, I know, I've been guilty of that myself on occasion.  "But I got betta," as the Monty Python line says.  Can I get back to the story about the Senate, now?)
   The arrogance of the Senate was bipartisan and towering.  Trent Lott, R-Miss., said that "talk radio was a problem," that needed to be solved.  James Inhofe, R-Ok., said he overheard Hillary Clinton, D-NY, and Dianne Feinstein, D-Cal., talking about reinstituting the Fairness Doctrine to get control of talk radio.  Both Clinton and Feinstein later denied the conversation had taken place, but their careers demonstrate that neither takes kindly to criticism.
   George Voinovich, R-Oh., actually said he felt "intimidated" by citizen reactions engendered by talk radio.  Helloooo.  Anyone who feels intimidated by groups of citizens should be in a different line of work than politics.
   The misnamed Center for American Progress, run by Bill Clinton's former Chief of Staff, staffed with Clintonistas and funded by George Soros, among others, issued a report that concluded that talk radio was badly skewed to the right.  The report was biased on its facts and in its conclusions.   It rejected market demand as an explanation of success in talk radio.
   In the last 10 days, I've been invited on the air with about a dozen hosts to discuss the danger to talk radio if the government gets back into the business of telling them the content they can broadcast.  I was on as an authority on the First Amendment, not talk radio.
   To all I said the key to the situation was understood by Thomas Jefferson, two centuries ago.  On freedom of the press, he wrote about "the marketplace of ideas."  Jefferson recognized that concepts, as well as goods and services, are put out in public, and those which are well-received, prosper.  The others do not.
   It fascinated me that my one interview with a "liberal" host, on a station in New York City, went along the same lines.  I'd expected her to be loaded for bear, and to attack the idea that talk radio is, and should be,  market-driven.  To my surprise, that is exactly what she and her listeners thought.
   There is a real, but not immediate, risk to talk radio.  If someone is elected President who thinks talk radio should be controlled, that President can appoint a majority on the Federal Communications Commission.  The FCC can, with the stroke of a pen, reinstall the Fairness Doctrine to replace the Free Speech Doctrine.  And if so, only the Supreme Court can likely save talk radio from being told what to broadcast.  But those are stories for another day.