Media feeds on hate culture
By G. Michael Dobbs
In May of 1982, I started work as the afternoon drive time talk show host on WREB in Holyoke. I was a local guy who had worked as a reporter in the area for a few years and had been a guest on the station thanks to the generosity of George Murphy thanks pal.
I soon realized there were roles my colleagues and I fell into playing quite naturally. Ron Chemlis yes, the sports columnist at The Republican was the morning host and Jonathan Evans did the mid-day shift.
Ron was definitely a conservative, Jonathan was some sort of a moderate after working with him for five years, I could never figure out his politics and I was the house liberal.
Since I was on during the Reagan presidency, I naturally was the object of the greatest amount of hate mail and callers who disagreed with me. I soon realized two things: the first was that I loved the gig and the second was it didn't really matter what I said as people were inclined to despise me because I wasn't a part of their tribe. I was seen as the enemy the enemy they tuned into every day.
The station manager loved the arguments on the air, loved it when I cut someone off in anger or desperation and loved the sizzle that came with that part of the medium.
Frankly, I thought good radio was interviewing interesting people, making people laugh or putting information out there that was of value to people. The discord for the sake of discord never really appealed to me.
I wasn't very good at being an angry guy then. I probably could do it better now I have more reasons to be angry. I still wouldn't want to do it, though.
It always has annoyed me to think that entertaining talk radio had to be something that raised someone's blood pressure on a daily basis.
My time on radio was before the rise of nationally syndicated talk radio and before the realization that a national audience skewed older and was more likely to have a conservative attitude.
After more than 30 years of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of radio hosts tapping that anger, people are now questioning in light of the shooting in Arizona the effect of that kind of discourse.
As I write this column, no one knows for sure what were the motivations behind Jared Loughner's attack. I certainly would not blame political discourse without evidence.
It's clear, though, that we live in a society in which more and more people seem emboldened to ignore the concept of civility and to see it as some sort of ideological weakness. Listen to talk radio. Read the forums on MassLive.
For instance, Rush Limbaugh now regularly attacks Michelle Obama by calling her "Michelle My Butt." Why is this kind of language necessary to describe a First Lady?
Questioning the kind of discussion we have today can land you in hot water. Immediately after the attacks, Arizona Sheriff Clarence Dupnik called for people to lower the amount of "vitriol" and was instantly assailed by those who make a living by increasing the level of anxiety.
The fact that Gov. Sarah Palin had used a crosshairs denoting defeating Rep. Gabrielle Giffords during the November election hasn't been lost on her critics nor has her language about "reloading" during the election.
Now Palin has issued statement through a video posted on her Facebook page that included, "Acts of monstrous criminality stand on their own. Especially within hours of a tragedy unfolding, journalists and pundits should not manufacture a blood libel that serves only to incite the very hatred and violence that they purport to condemn. That is reprehensible."
And so it goes on. We lurch from one angry moment to the next one, but do we talk about solutions as much as we do about what enrages us?
Have we had hours of conversation about why and how a mentally disturbed young man was able to buy a handgun? Do we question why America is such a violent country, compared to other industrialized nations? Do we want to know why so many people seem to feel so comfortable hating someone?
Hey, agree with me? Disagree? Drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org
or at 280 N. Main St., East Longmeadow, MA 01028. And as always, this column represents the opinion of its author and not the publishers or advertisers of this newspaper.