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Ed Schultz, the liberal/progressive radio talk show host, felt first-hand the power of the Pentagon earlier this week. He now knows the meaning of the word “torpedoed.” Schultz, who has never been in the military, was scheduled to go on the air on American Forces Radio (AFR). Then, the Pentagon pulled the plug.

The Ed Schultz Show is syndicated by the Jones Radio Network on over 100 stations and has experienced incredible growth and popularity in the last year. Schultz and his company had cut a deal with AFR to air one hour of the show beginning on Monday, October 17. Early that morning the show’s producer got a call canceling the deal.

The story has a number of twists and turns, so instead of repeating all that, it is best to read the
story as published by the Washington Post
. (AFR is also identified as Armed Forces Radio, AFN or Armed Forces Network and AFRTS or American Forces Radio and Television Service.)

As you can see from the Post story, something doesn’t add up. Did Schultz have a deal? Did the Pentagon break that deal? Did someone at too low a level at AFR promise Schultz something that couldn’t be delivered? Was this just a petty attempt to get even with Schultz for airing audio embarrassing to the President? All this will shake out in the next few days and is secondary to what is actually going on here.

Schultz is just the latest victim of the Bush administration’s attempt to control what we hear, see and read. Schultz is not known as a fan of President George W. Bush and his popularity, like that of Air America Radio (AAR), rankles conservatives right up to the Oval Office. (There is no connection between Schultz and AAR even though some stations carry programming from both.)

During the time I was a broadcaster for AFR (’77-’80) the most pressing choice we had to make was whether to listen to the Wolfman Jack Show or the Charlie Tuna Show. The Wolfman and Tuna were the most popular DJs of their day. Listening to AFR was, for the most part, a mindless exercise. It was just there.

Then, Rush Limbaugh came to AFR. Military broadcasters wondered exactly what this meant. By regulation, political opinion had never been allowed on AFR, just as political campaigning is not allowed on federal property. And, AFR is federal property.

For one stateside tour I taught military broadcasting at the Defense Information School (DINFOS). At that time the primary directive of AFR was to “inform and entertain.” Information was news, not commentary. Entertainment was just that. And, DINFOS-trained air personalities and newscasters were specifically taught not to delve into politics or politicians when near a microphone.

In the battle for the hearts and minds of the American military, AFR has become a playground for conservative political commentary. So, the entrance of Ed Schultz into that playground was considered the utmost in fair play. The right got their hour of airtime and now the left would have an hour. “Fair and balanced” comes to mind--except I think somebody already uses that.

Now, that balance hangs in the balance. If Ed Schultz does get on AFR our military personnel in 177 countries will have a chance to balance Limbaugh’s commentary. If the Pentagon refuses to put Schultz on the air then our troops lose. (If Schultz doesn’t make the cut, I wonder if the Pentagon would consider Randi Rhodes of AAR? She’s former Air Force and would have the troops eating out of her hand.)

If the AFR deal falls apart, Jones Radio Network should take a tip from Christian broadcasters and pursue getting the Ed Schultz Show on short-wave outlets around the world. It’s not that expensive and would put liberal/progressive talk into many foreign countries where English is usually the second language, citizens are hungry for information and our troops would be served at the same time.

Even though we frame this situation in terms of what is “fair” and what is “balanced” and question if Ed Schultz is getting a raw deal, it goes to a more personal level. The Bush administration’s desire to keep our uniformed uninformed is a slap-in-the-face to those who serve. It questions their intelligence. It questions their decision-making abilities. And, it makes a mockery of the liberties for which they have been told they are fighting.

Someone once said that the pen (in this case the spoken word) is mightier than the sword. There’s another take on that offered up by the prototypical rappers, The Last Poets. Their theory, in word and song, is that the “The Pen and the Sword are Equal in Weight” and you can accomplish as much with one as the other.

Our military already has the sword. Shouldn’t they be allowed access to the pen—the spoken word? Or, does the Pentagon believe there’s a danger in that? Is a good military well-armed and well-informed? It appears not.

What we now believe to be a minor scuffle between a liberal/progressive talk show host and American Forces Radio goes right to the heart of the Bush administration’s desire to control the media here at home and abroad.


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Larry Scott served four years in the U.S. Army with overseas tours as a Broadcast Journalist in Korea and the Azores and a stateside tour as a Broadcast Journalism Instructor at the Defense Information School (DINFOS). He was awarded DOD's First Place Thomas Jefferson Award for (more...)
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