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Bill Ayers and the Talk Media Circus

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If you get your news from Sean Hannity at ABC Radio and Fox News, you might almost have the impression in recent weeks that Barack Obama, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, and Bill Ayers are all members of a terror sleeper cell operating out of Chicago's prosperous Hyde Park neighborhood.

Such is the level of today's less than edifying talk media culture. The rule for mainstream news now seems to be let the right-wing zealots set the debate agenda. Indeed, while the United States hemorrhages $12 billion each month on war in Iraq, talk media blowhards from coast to coast instead press us to ponder the burning question: Should America elect a man who once sat on a non-profit board with-gasp!-former '60's Weather Underground leader Bill Ayers?

For those whose thoughts about the world germinate in the weed garden of right-wing radio, the Obama story has devolved into the worst sort of caricature. How can America stay strong with a President who, unlike Brit Hume of Fox News, doesn't wear a flag pin every day? And just why is he married to a woman who was not always proud of America?

What rank hypocrisy now drives the right-wing media noise machine on issues of war and terror. No better example is the fact that one of Hannity's favored guests is a man he describes as a "personal hero," Oliver North. In the 1980s, of course, North was involved in illegal fundraising on behalf of the Nicaraguan Contras, who were then waging an indiscriminate campaign of murder and terror against Nicaragua's civilian population. Thanks largely to North's efforts, millions of dollars were funneled to the Contras through the illegal sale of weapons to Iran.

Amid more allegations that he covered up the Contra's drug smuggling operations, North was eventually convicted of obstructing justice in the Iran-Contra affair. Like Ayers, North's prosecution also later fell apart on legal technicalities. Unlike Ayers, however, who never killed or tried to kill anyone, North's collaboration with the Contras implicated him in thousands of deaths. This grim reality is apparently part of what it takes to be a "great American" in Hannity's moral universe.

Notably, North's terrorist track record is also of little concern to John McCain, who welcomed North's recent endorsement of his Presidential bid. It just has to be asked: Is there no irony in McCain joining the chorus to denounce Ayers as an "unrepentant" bomb-thrower? Ayers at least never used an A-4 Skyhawk fighter jet to drop bombs on people, as McCain did in Vietnam. Ironically, unrepentant is exactly the word to describe McCain's attitude toward his Vietnam-era actions.

It's also apparently of little concern to Hannity that McCain equally welcomes the endorsement of the Rev. John Hagee, a far-right bigot who preaches war with Iran, denounces gays, and calls the Catholic Church "the great whore." Tellingly, what may be of more immediate concern to Hannity is his contract with Citadel Broadcasting, which owns his ABC Radio show. The talk show host's reportedly primed to soon leave Citadel for greener pastures, Thus, it's no surprise that Hannity's been taking credit for making the Obama-Ayers "issue" an actual issue. His ability to interject extraneous nonsense into the election debates will translate nicely as he leverages his next multimillion dollar media contract.

As we ponder this latest manufactured issue, let us not forget now what the Vietnam-era protests were all about. In 1972 alone, Republican President Richard Nixon authorized over 40,000 bombing sorties over North Vietnam. Tens of thousands of North Vietnamese troops and civilians died under a relentless months-long assault. It was but one of many ignominious chapters in a war that earlier had led Martin Luther King, Jr., to decry his own government as the "greatest purveyor of violence in the world today."

King's assessment came in 1967. By the time of the war's end in 1975, the American military campaign would claim more than 3 million Vietnamese casualties. For the Vietnamese people, it would hardly be hyperbole to describe the U.S. war as anything less than what it was-state-sponsored terrorism.

Unlike most peace activists, Bill Ayers wrongly channeled his legitimate outrage over the war's atrocities into the destructive late '60s politics of the Weather Underground. But the New York Times got it wrong. Ayers never claimed that he regrets not doing more bombings. His regret was that he didn't do more to oppose the Vietnam War.

The Obama-Ayers "issue" is just more spritzer water in the face of serious politics. It's more evidence of the media circus show U.S. politics has become. The only question now is how many talk media blowhards (and Hillary Clinton) will cram into this guilt-by-association clown car?

Why talk about unaffordable health care or spreading home foreclosures or a war with no end in sight? If you're one of the "great Americans" of the airwaves and you have no real solution to anything, why indeed?


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Mark T. Harris is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. He is a featured contributor to "The Flexible Writer," fourth edition, by Susanna Rich (Allyn & Bacon/Longman, 2003). His blog, "Writer's Voice," can be found at

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