With election day upon the world's greatest democracy, US voters are bitterly divided, ill-informed and bombarded with dumbed-down, partisan messaging from all sides. At at time the country is mired in the worst economic period in a generation - and just when we need to be pulling together to correct mistakes made against our own children - the #1 and #2 voices in broadcasting are the worst offenders in a political talk schism that has taken us straight into "accepted" mass public deception.
Driving home each day, I tune in to Sean Hannity, a man who dishonors his 5th grade English teacher by intentionally and amorally omitting readily available counterbalance to his arguments on the most important national issues.
By broadcasting propaganda over public airwaves Sean Hannity is thumbing his nose at every American teacher, educator or parent who believes in fair play and wants the best examples for our children. We all know what's at stake - huge ratings, enormous advertising accounts - and no less than political control of the nation. So we see the seductive motives to "win at all costs" for Hannity.
But let's go back to something Hannity's elementary school teachers were also supposed to teach young Sean - morality and contributing to the public good.
As an influential radio and TV titan, Sean Hannity has little legal responsibility to include opposing perspectives in his reports. All Americans have well-protected free speech, allowing Sean Hannity to pick and choose his guests, callers and sources to best make his case. This is because an outmoded law enforcing "equal time" over public airwaves was struck down by Hannity's personal hero Ronald Reagan in 1987.
The Fairness Doctrine was rightly eradicated - the government should not serve as judge over it's critics in media - but the neocons threw the baby out with the bathwater - we lost a self-policing ethics provision carried over from the Smith-Mundt Act of 1948, outlawing intentional deception within US borders. The original Fairness Doctrine of 1949 designated station owners who get FCC licenses as "public trustees", responsible to make "every reasonable attempt to cover contrasting points of view". Hannity laughs at this today, making a blatant effort to suppress half the story.
Rush Limbaugh was already famous for flying in the face of journalistic balance before anyone had heard of Hannity. Limbaugh's show has been for decades an ivory tower of cowardice, with no informed, articulate, educated dissent allowed through on caller lines.
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Though your children's first essay writing lessons might ask them to consider all sides of an issue before forming opinions and sharing out, our wealthiest commercial radio icons intentionally bury information that guts their arguments.
Sean Hannity is terrified at the prospect of confronting informed, articulate opposition politicians, candidates or pundits like Amy Goodman, Katrina vanden Heuval, Naomi Wolf, Naomi Klein, Liz Holtzman or Jane Hamsher (for just a few examples).
By contrast, Rachel Maddow does debate opposing viewpoints on air and actually documents her many declined requests to interview right wing politicians. Just see how fascinating it is to see Maddow interview someone like Tom Ridge and hear intelligent, civil discussion between equals.
As a father of two daughters, I often wonder what Hannity wishes for his own children. He seems to be a nice dad, picking up tennis balls for them each weekend. But does he want them to know the full, sometimes complex history of the United States, or does he wish his kids to remain in the dark like Hannity's listeners who won't ever see Sean take on the best of the left?
Will they be ashamed to find Sean buries basic coverage of GOP scandals, omits full-context quotes, corrections or informed rebuttals. Just last week, Hannity's call screener rejected my call and hung up on me when I didn't match the profile she was looking for - inarticulate Obama supporters. When we teach children how to critically think and communicate with others, we stress diligent research and balance in presentation. It's our duty as Americans to be intellectually honest when we share information. But Hannity has raised to an art form the practice of deception by omission, distraction, fancy footwork or just hanging up on callers and using the delay button to censor them.
Take any issue as an example of Hannity's deception by omission and complete, utter hypocrisy - the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the economy, the health care debate, Obama's past ties, torture, election integrity or the large national debt.
Instead of finding the most informed guests on either side of the debate, Hannity stacks the deck repeatedly and intentionally. To debate the war, it makes sense to pick one pro-war and one anti-war guest and allow Americans (including youngsters) the benefit of hearing the smartest arguments on both sides. But this is commercial, for-profit radio sponsored by right wing political organizations like the Heritage Foundation. Most relevant evidence questioning the legality of the war is buried completely - including White House insiders who flipped.
So Hannity will not allow on anti-war guests of the caliber of Howard Zinn, David Swanson, Arianna Huffington or Lt. Ehren Watada who have all the research at their disposal. Nor will Hannity cover the revelations made by former State Department chief of staff Lt. Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former CIA Director George Tenet, or former White House press secretary Scott McClellan revealing the Bush Administration knew that the need to invade Iraq was exaggerated and the war was "sold" to the public with Cheney, Rumsfeld and others emphatically citing on TV that WMD had been found when they clearly had not. Hannity conveniently skips over all of this.
With these hard facts hidden from Fox viewers and talk radio listeners, can the public really make up it's mind on the war? When a caller slips through Hannity's screeners and challenges Sean on the legality of the Iraq war, is it a thorough enough treatment of the issue for Hannity to simply say "the winds of freedom will blow through Iraq?". Is this the best broadcaster America has to offer a public in need of crucial information?
But The Left Does It Too!
The argument that left-wing hosts censor the right is a form of false equivalency that is a large part of the neocon playbook. The casual observer might agree that neither side seems to enjoin the other on air. But left wing hosts like Maddow, Olbermann, Thom Hartmann, Ed Schultz or Ron Reagan would give their eyeteeth to have a major Conservative guest on their show - it would likely make headlines, in fact.
The right wingers, on the other hand - Hannity, Limbaugh, Laura Ingraham, Bill O'Reilly, Neil Boortz do the opposite - refusing to allow the left any daylight on their ideologically-insulated shows. Their excuse? Hannity's WABC colleague Mark Simone says they won't allow a 'competitor'on, meaning money or ratings trump the public's need for crucial facts.
To save face, Hannity feigns balance, allowing inarticulate average folks on to represent the counter balance. Hannity is not doing his level best to present both sides and explore important issues and this is hurting our country's ability to make good decisions. Hannity's passion and personal Conservative values are blinding him to responsible broadcasting and his management has no ethics ombudsman in sight.
Maddow's approach is vastly different, tackling Conservative talking points head on by showing evidence or reasoning that confronts it while including it in the conversation. Hannity's tactic is to only present one side which as an American parent is unacceptable. Hannity claims his is an "opinion" show, yet he presents all the facts that support his views. Should he provide contrasting facts if and when they exist? Of course.
Using the economy as another example, Hannity maintains our current crisis was caused by liberal laws like the Community Redevelopment Act forcing lenders to grant unqualified (yes, minority) borrowers mortgages. When they defaulted, the whole economy came crashing down. Hannity sticks to this, though it's been debunked - the CRA contributed to our current crisis far, far less than the credit default swap madness caused by massive deregulation and no oversight. Hannity's financial "experts" represent a single, deceitful narrative that paints banks as victims and the government as the bad guy (even though his boy Bush ran the government?).
Hannity's fix for our the crisis? He actually says we should revert back to tax cuts for the rich, creating jobs through a "servant class". Hannity would personally benefit by hundreds of thousands in income tax savings if the Bush tax cuts were extended again. This provides a plausible motive for why he would deceive his listeners, but it's easy to see the economy imploded before Obama was elected. It happened after Bush and the corporatist Congress enacted trickle-down economics, deregulation and corporate giveaways and their unmitigated greed cost the US countless jobs when they took on irresponsible risk.
As fast as Hannity tries to shift blame for the economy onto Obama and the Democrats, it was actually Reagan and the Bushes who signed off on over 75% of the national deficit before Obama took office. There's no other way to put it - Hannity is trying to fool you and your children by criticizing Obama for the same stimulus packages and corporate bailouts Bush used to cripple the economy. This hypocrisy damages his message - are bailouts always wrong, is running a deficit always wrong?
To cry about the deficit after the Bush administration bled red ink for so long is laughable Hannipocrisy. When asked by a caller on air, Hannity shrugged off Bush's part in runaway spending with one sentence - it was necessary to keep us safe.
Forget the fraud and waste that would have been spotted by basic Congressional oversight, but the near trillion spent so far on wars of choice included no-bid, cost-plus contracts that by nature are set up to waste US tax dollars.
During World War II, the Truman Commission ensured "no one would get rich off this war", limiting profit margins and scrutinizing contracts so the war budget would not drag down the US economy. Under Bush, the wars were used specifically to stove-pipe money up to the richest 1%, while paying soldiers less than the contractors washing socks or running Pizza Hut kiosks in the Green Zone.
Hannity was not only onboard for this, he was the commercial spokesman for it in ways that may have run afoul of broadcasting statutes. If there was to be an investigation into who coordinated the "selling of the war" for Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld - it might start with the claims that Karl Rove was supplying "friendly" talk show personalities with talking points out of the White House Office of Strategic Initiatives, blurring the line between pro-war government messaging and "independent" commercial broadcasts. As a frequent guest on Hannity's shows today, Rove surely treasures Hannity's long, loyal friendship.
But are our children learning properly, going back and forth like this? What ever happened to open debate? Who is demanding a level of voluntary balance in broadcasting so our people aren't being misled or brainwashed, rather they are given enough information to make informed decisions themselves - particularly our children.
Basic ethics and American tradition require FCC license holders don't push radical ideology in a vacuum, but that we provide information and allow our fellow Americans to make the informed decisions. Who will lead us out of this dark period in US broadcasting and what will happen when Hannity's kids come home from their first journalism course in which ethics and journalistic balance are discussed? It will be a shameful realization that dad helped destroy the quality of our national political discussion - our #1 ratings leader is admittedly biased and believes propaganda should be the new standard in America.