Stern's wild and wooly comedy show, which mixed comedy or satire with pure venom at times, became a litmus test for FCC standards, but most denunciation focused on sexuality or at times racial humor. Far less attention was paid to Limbaugh, who added quips, song parodies and impressions to his political talk show so as to also squeeze under the "just entertainment" umbrella. America didn't notice much as Rush's intimate little AM show permeated small-town markets, attacking and ridiculing the liberal left relentlessly without representation.
In becoming the largest syndicated radio show of all time, Rush touted the moral superiority of the right, exploding in popularity when the rascally Clinton-Lewinsky scandal rocked the nation. But in my years of calling 800-282-2882 to take issue with Rush, I've never gotten on the air, nor have I personally ever heard a well-spoken defender of the left on his airwaves. Competent pro pundits are summarily ignored as Limbaugh carefully shapes the world-minds of ditto-headed devotees, offering calm, conflict-free discourse in phone-ins. This can be confirmed any day by counting the proportion of "friendly" calls. Also unheeded and unexplored are news events which might tilt Rush's boat, such as the Alberto Gonzales hearings (covered live on many other stations). Dismissed as a witch hunt, the actual testimony was ignored as if it simply didn't matter.
Hannity followed in Rush's footsteps starting in 1998, promoted to wider syndication as a back-up strategy while Limbaugh was famously scandalized as an admitted drug addict and charged with illegal prescription use. Though he does not have the hypocritical personal baggage of Limbaugh who has gone through three divorces, Hannity too broadcasts in a well-buttressed right wing utopia, taking ample time to repeat and reiterate the day's talking points. Though controversial topics are discussed, nary is an articulate defender of the left allowed daylight, and the most damning stories or exposés critical of the right are simply left out.
Hannitizing (Sanitizing) the News
Hannity does make more of an attempt to appear as if he entertains opposing viewpoints, taking the occasional riled-up "lib" caller, and foraying a bit more adventurously to the left with some guests then does Rush, but nowhere to be found on his radio show are the real left wing policy experts, the scholars, the authors, pundits, politicians, whistleblowers, eyewitnesses, or military who are drooling to take issue with Sean's positions and add the missing facts for listeners. He does, however let the occasional hippie-chick or bongwater burnout on for ridicule, summarizing their appearances with sweeping generalities about the left.
On the Hannity & Colmes TV show where Sean is partnered with liberal co-host Alan Colmes, Sean has to work harder to make points amid panels that include left wing personalities, but as is often seen on Fox-TV, Sean spends time shouting them down, cutting them off or employing the common deflection strategies used when sidled with a meritless argument - the "straw man", distraction, the tit-for-tat, or "kill the messenger".
On his presumptuously-named solo TV program Hannity's America however, Hannity uses a barrage of bias tricks designed to vilify lefty targets like MoveOn.org or Michael Moore. Hannity peppers his script with needless derogatory adjectives, no rebuttals are invited, accusations are made without evidence and subjects are wrongly cross-associated. For example, Hannity baldly asserts in one show that liberal billionaire George Soros sponsors terrorists. The proof? He points out that Soros contributed to lawyers defending Guantanamo detainees who had been held for years without evidence or trials. In "Hannity's America", these are "terrorists".
Hate: the Newest American Family Value
In addition to whipping up fear of an ever-indeterminate enemy, Hannity loves to fan the flames of hate, reframing anti-war activists as "hating our troops". By painting the peace movement as evil, cowardly or unpatriotic, he himself shows where the deviousness and contempt originates.
I assert any professional political commentator should be able to make a convincing argument without denigrating others, even if "the other guys do it too". If not, perhaps the show may not be suitable for all ages. If our consumer laws protect us from advertising that does not disclose all facts relevant to claims, why do our broadcast laws allow the show content to do so?
Pharmaceutical ads today are required to list all major potential side-effects, protecting buyers from exaggerated promises. This is government regulation, enforcing the requirement that consumers should be educated as to "the rest of the story". So why doesn't this concept extend to the programming? One need only look at the recent developments in media consolidation, where, despite significant public outcry, more deregulation was rammed through last December, ending the 1975 ban on radio and newspaper cross-ownership.
This trend began in 1981, increasing the number of TV stations a single entity could own. In 1985, the FCC eliminated limits on how much advertising stations could run each hour. In 1987, the Fairness Doctrine was eradicated, and in 1996, the Telecommunications Act, signed by President Clinton, lifted the 40-station ownership cap so Clearchannel could gobble up 1,200 stations, allowing Limbaugh's show to spread like wild fire. This new megaconglomerate came to dominate key markets with low-cost robotized programming and exert crushing leverage against small independent stations with diverse political perspectives.
If I was a radio commentator, I would not only invite dissent, I would insist on it, to show my audience as transparently as possible that I felt my arguments are able to withstand criticism. The main purpose for public discussion is to practice precisely the democracy and free speech that are cornerstone ideas of our nation. As an educator, I firmly believe that our people, young and old, deserve the honesty and respect to know whatever age-appropriate information is available so they can become independent free thinkers, not automatons, or worse still, customers groomed for gullibility.
Money eats Morality in Media
I don't single out Rush or Hannity for distorting the balance in news and events of the day, as it's clear from the whitewash of network TV news that many important allegations and stories on unethical politicians are being withheld from the public. From the day-to-day death counts of US combat troops and news from the front lines, to the never-denied Downing Street memo, the vote caging scandals, the DOJ firings, the Niger Document controversy, CBS' Abu Ghraib cover up, Rumsfeld's secretive Operation Copper Green, the Scott McClellan allegations, the Jeff Gannon ruse, the Sibel Edmonds bombshells and so much more, receiving little attention or none at all, despite serious ethical or criminal allegations at the highest levels of our government.
As the TV networks must protect the corporations who provide their profits, news coverage is carefully designed to make viewers receptive to advertising regardless of what's actually transpiring in the world. But Rush and Hannity go out of their way to make social and moral proselytizations while muckraking, sliming people personally instead of debating their arguments, and furthermore regarding them as enemies of America. These tactics run afoul of reasonable civil discourse, like the propaganda of old. I've explicitly heard on the air that Hannity supports the right to intentional distortion on public airwaves. We should all be able to agree that intentional deceit is elitist and immoral - I invite readers to weigh in.
It's ironic to hear Hannity pointing out media manipulation on the left as he does exactly the same thing under his listeners' noses. For example, he travelled to Iraq to speak to soldiers, but 100% of the video he came back with was pro-war despite polls at the time showing the military was about 50% in favor of redeployment. In 2006, Hannity told us to "stay the course" and elect pro-war candidates because the "winds of freedom" will be blowing through Iraq, delicately sidestepping the awkward fact that a majority of Americans already opposed the war. Continuing even after the elections, Hannity retooled his message continually as if he was paid by the war machine to sell listeners on this product.
Hannity is blatant in his support for pro-war candidates, extending them abundant air time - for example, George Allen and Rick Santorum, both of whom went down to defeat in 2006. With his poll numbers slipping, Santorum actually asserted that WMD had finally been found in Iraq. For this Hannity pounded his fist on the desk, blurting "You see? I knew it all along, I never doubted for a minute!" But Santorum's claim turned out to be based on shipping records for unspecified materials trucked out of Iraq and proved nothing. On Fox TV that night, when Santorum referred to WMD, Alan Colmes interrupted to alert viewers that the weapons in question were documented as pre-1991, blowing the air out of Santorum's appearance and landing him in a number of embarrassing online videos the following day. Despite all Santorum's air-time which continues today, I've never heard the K Street scandal mentioned on Hannity's show.
Hannity's other guests include Karl Rove, who feels the need to speak to Sean despite his reluctance to answer Congressional subpoenas on a host of matters ranging from Plame-gate to the DOJ firings. Ann Coulter is another "friend of the show", who at least has the intellectual honesty to admit that she wants to bomb Iran because it's good for Wall Street. Hannity's show is the chosen venue for President Bush or Clarence Thomas to do safe, pre-taped interviews, knowing his is the most sympathetic audience, primed and ready for the soft-pedal, while career journalists look on.
The Public Airwaves For Private Profit
As the generation responsible for handing this nation down to the next, I encourage discussion of media bias from all sides. It is increasingly difficult to get reliable information today when for-profit media outlets are so heavy on ad reps and short on investigative reporting staff. No station looking primarily to sell products is looking to foster a discriminating, skeptical viewership - thus the rationale for listener-supported radio channels and not surprisingly, the continual financial struggle of liberal commercial radio, whose hosts are more likely to report corporate wrongdoing.
This said, left-wing hosts should be subject to the same professional expectations, despite the fact that they pull down a fraction of Rush/Hannity's ratings. For example, Air America's Randi Rhodes chortling "she's rotten from the inside" at a mention of Condoleeza Rice's uterine surgery was deplorable, but Rhodes herself underwent a hysterectomy shortly after, perhaps learning the error of her ways.