Previously in "Hannity & Limbaugh: The Worst of America?" we invited discussion on the legal domestic propaganda techniques used by our country's two most-listened to talk radio "entertainers", suggesting that the right wing talk phenomenon evolved directly and deliberately from deregulation, creating a schizophrenic media environment where we must navigate extremes in right or left wing opinion and commentary, and will rarely glimpse the self-contained balance in media that previous generations knew.
After the essay ran for about a week as a top hit on major search engines under either the term 'Hannity' or 'Limbaugh', Hannity started speaking about bloggers in their basements posting terrible, horrible things about him, wearing only their underwear. He reused this quip relentlessly throughout the week. Though many left wing bloggers do curse Hannity in the worst ways imaginable, it made me look again at my OpEd. Did I "attack" Hannity or were these legitimate criticisms? Was there balance? Did I appeal to the intelligence of my reader, or pander to their basest emotions?
If I was one of the 'amateur journalists' Mr. Hannity was referring to, one thing is for sure, he did not discuss my arguments on their merits - rather he painted me as a half-naked subterranean hack. Just for the record, my basement is too cold for just underwear - our home heating costs have tripled since 2000.
Hannity was also reactive this week to flak he took for his ongoing Rev. Wright diatribe, where he has been seeking to cram-fit Barack Obama's ideology somehow together with the slyly spliced sound clips of Reverend Jeremiah Wright's worst moments, speculating that Obama must endorse racist policies because he did not leave the church or publicly denounce those comments before.
Hannity held that Obama's claim he wasn't "in the pews" when Wright's harshest words were spoken is at odds with a remark made in his Philadelphia race speech just days later, explaining that he had heard Wright make controversial statements. Were they specifically the same exact statements in the clips? Hannity cried "Gotcha!", in the assumption that Obama was reversing himself. But what do you think?
It was a keen caller who summed it up best for me, and I credit Hannity for allowing the call, because it showed more level-headed thinking then I'd heard on his show in months and thereby, a sorely missed voice of balance. The caller was an older African-American woman married to a 30-year-plus retired military man, speaking in a disarming "church lady" oratory that may have charmed Hannity's screeners enough to get her by.
Once on the air, she told Hannity his Obama-Wright chestnut was not only repetitive but fundamentally ill-founded, as Obama himself had never expressed any such radical views, even after 20 years in a supposed "racist" church - just the opposite, he emerged with greater and greater messages of racial and social unity. Hannity pressed her, and the woman conceded Wright's statements were bad, but that it was a stretch to claim Obama had "internalized" those sentiments.
Hannity quickly moved on, continuing in stride to make the same guilt-by-association case over and over, starting and ending almost every segment with it. With the odd exception, calls overwhelmingly and continually reinforced Hannity's notion that Obama was untrustworthy. After a few days, Sean's tactic bore fruit: polls showed a dent in Obama's numbers.
But this pounded-in-to-the-ground ploy also caused a backlash from those arguing the link was too flimsy, complaining that he had made his point and was overdoing it, spending more then a week on such a minor issue while fully ignoring the Bear Stearns bailout or resignation of Admiral Fallon. Hannity's mission had been simple - to plant doubt and suspicion - and it worked. But now Hannity needed a strategy to portray himself as more objective and substance-based because of the criticisms by perceptive media-manipulation watchers.
To do this, he enlisted the help of a radical black preacher who had made outrageously inflammatory statements in church, calling Obama a pimp because of the "Obama girl" video a female fan made independently and posted on YouTube. This preacher claimed Obama had a duty to renounce the video because the girl's breasts were so scandalously large, showing the level of his logical acuity and bias, but it got worse.
The pastor preached of Obama, "He was born trash." after "His African in heat father went a-whoring after a trashy white woman." Hannity saw opportunity here, promoting this sideshow hatemonger from obscurity to guest star on Fox TV and multiple appearances on America's second biggest radio show, having the preacher play the dastardly foil to Hannity who suddenly had a just and heroic side.
Hannity defended Obama's birth, but in a most unusual way, saying over and over he did not agree but while repeating the damning parts again - as in, "I disagree that Obama is just born trash and that his mother was a prostitute", instead of "I disagree", or better yet, not giving the maniac preacher air time at all. Subliminal? You decide.
On his self-manufactured higher ground, Sean boasted about how he opposes Obama on issues, but mentions only briefly and vaguely the same stances on the Iraq war, higher taxes and nationalized health care that could fit almost any Democrat.
Here we see Hannity's guile - aware that he needs to be perceived as balanced and objective. If we feel our host is presenting both sides of a story in balance, we'll be less likely to check out other views independently. After a fortnight of smearing Obama with Wright's audio clips, literally moving national polls, the next week's "balancing" trick erased the slate.
In the United States of Amnesia, this is the name of the game. Hannity's broadcasting imbalance is just like steroids in baseball. He can take calls and choose topics with more transparency and journalistic credibility, but when he mainlines a little intentional distortion, his effectiveness shoots through the roof. Just think of Hannity and Limbaugh as political discussion with an asterisk.
This week, it's back to the guilt-by-association trick on Hannity's show, this time using William Ayers, a member of the radical Weather Underground group who bombed government targets decades ago. Now an accepted member of liberal Chicago social and academic circles, his connections to Obama are not even clear. Hannity bellows about Obama commenting he and Ayers were "friendly", and they appeared in panel discussions before. So Hannity works with what he has - you can tune in all this week to hear him hysterically exaggerate about Obama's "terrorist" pal. The exciting part will be listening to hear if any caller gets through to mention that Ayers was exonerated of wrongdoing when it was found the government was eavesdropping on his communications illegally! This is why Hannity broadcasts in a bubble.