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Talkers have responsibilities

By G. Michael Dobbs
Managing Editor

At the New Media Seminar in New York recently the annual talk radio convention presented by Springfield's own Talkers Magazine former CNN host Lou Dobbs spoke on the First Amendment.
Dobbs no relation, unfortunately, otherwise I would have asked him for a loan spoke about the importance of not bowing to political correctness and advised the attendees to ignore requests to "tone down" their rhetoric.
After hearing various conservative talk show hosts' debate during the seminar's Talk Rumble, I didn't think Dobbs was telling them anything new. After all, calling the president a "communist" is scarcely holding back, which WOR's Steve Malzberg did.
I wondered if Dobbs would have been supportive of me interrupting him and telling him he was filled with fertilizer. Wouldn't that have been in keeping with his philosophy?
What concerned me about Dobbs' speech was his emphasis on opinion rather than presenting fact.
For me, freedom of speech is not just saying what's on your mind, but also carries an obligation to saying something truthful. It is also the responsibility of someone in my position to make room for differing points of view, which I do on our letters page.
Do you feel the same? Is it better to say something outrageous or inflammatory or something that is truthful? Or is it better to actually have a debate that illuminates issues rather than obscures them?
And what is the motive behind any statement to question the status quo or to support it?
I know my media history and the rough and tumble we hear today is very similar to what took place in newspapers at the beginning of this nation. Americans have always played nasty when it comes to expressing political and social opinions. The difference is today these opinions are being disseminated in ways that would baffle the fighting founding fathers.
One would like to think that civility in public speech would be something that has evolved in this country over the past 200-plus years, but it hasn't.
Having worked as a talk show host years ago, I understand there is a push toward the extreme. I think there was less of the hyperbole back in the 1980s when local hosts reigned in markets small and large because they were actually part of the community. When you were required to do live broadcasts from a supermarket or other sponsor, there was a reason for you to be liked.
Today's syndicated hosts, for the most part, have little or no ties to any locale or local issue. Being heard throughout the country, they have to go broad.
And considering the number of syndicated programs, they also have to go louder and angrier than the other guy. The trend tends to encourage the biggest amount of bombast.
But other than provide a sort of bizarre entertainment, does it do anything else? Frankly, I don't think so. The shrill syndicated shows spreading opinion as fact do not serve the public good as radio stations are charged to do so by the government in my humble view.
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