Copyright © 2003 Henrietta W. Hay
April 4, 2003
Several years ago I started listening to late night radio. It was
amusing then -- better than counting sheep. Although there were
occasional flashes of country music or rock, the nighttime sounds were
almost all talk. Constant talk. Talk about politics and psychology and
money and sports and sex and anything else anybody could think of. And
it was almost exclusively male. Apparently the women go to bed to rest
Talk radio has changed. It's not any fun any more. It has and has
been taken over by the Republican Right Wing and is almost exclusively
Some efforts are being made to establish some left-leaning talk shows,
but today it is as if one medium has been thoroughly ceded to the right,
and in this case, pro-war wing.
John/Jane Q. American Citizen has always been very vocal. We have
talked and orated and criticized on all sides of every issue through the
years. It's one of the pleasures of our lives in a democracy. We have
called our leaders all sorts of names and accused them of everything
from incompetence to outright crime. But there has always been a safety
valve. There have been restraints imposed by physical circumstances.
Speakers, public or private, have been limited by the fact that their
listeners knew who they were and they had to be responsible -- more or
less -- for what they said.
I had a toy steam engine I had when I was a kid. When the tiny boiler
got too hot the steam poured out and the whistle alerted everyone within
earshot to cool it so the whole thing would not blow up. Free speech
and love of argument are the emotional safety valve that let democracy
work without exploding.
The British have another safety valve. One Sunday morning years ago I
wandered around in London's Hyde Park. There really are soap boxes and
anybody can climb up on one and shout about anything he/she wants to.
It doesn't have to be true, but it really doesn't matter. The audience
is limited to the people standing within hearing and seeing distance and
the boos are as strong as the cheers. It provides a very noisy safety
It doesn't work that way with talk radio. The callers can say anything
they want to say in complete anonymity, however outrageous, hateful or
outright untrue it may be. And there is no responsibility involved. If
an occasional caller ventures to disagree, he is ridiculed or cut off
As a long time civil libertarian I believe in democracy and I believe
that "the peepul" should have every right to express themselves. But
the kind of political hate I hear on the talk shows now truly scares
me. The hosts deliberately incite verbal riot and the callers respond
with enthusiasm. Right now the two main targets are the Democrats and
the "media," both of which they consider dangerously anti-war. The
talkers don't worry about facts or solutions. All they want to do is
call their enemies nasty names.
We have talk show hosts like Rush Limbaugh, Oliver North, Bill
O'Reilley, G. Gordon Liddy, Sean Hannity and others. They hate
Democrats because, as Rush says, they are wrong, and they hate the
"media" because they think it is liberal and therefore wrong.
That is too silly to bother to answer. Talk radio has followed George
Bush's words, "I don't see many shades of gray in this world." It is a
medium that is black or white, us or them, good or evil.
There are serious, intelligent, thoughtful people on both sides of the
big issues of the day. There are legitimate opinions of honest,
patriotic Americans. But you won't find them on talk radio.
I wish we had more Daniel Patrick Moynihans and fewer Rush Limbaughs.
What we need now is civilized, rational dialogue.