Talk Radio and the New Absolutism

Posted: Jun 05, 2014 3:07 PM

Editor's note: This column first appeared in the June issue of Townhall Magazine.

Programming talk radio in America is somewhat akin to living in the Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day”: the same scenario repeats over and over and over again. Every time any act of violence, large or small, occurs, liberal politicians trip over themselves racing to TV cameras leveling the same denunciation of talk radio as the cause.

A few examples:

  • Nineteen years ago in the aftermath of the 2005 explosion at the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, then-President Bill Clinton zeroed-in on talk radio, whining to St. Louis station KMOX: “After I get off the radio with you today, Rush Limbaugh will have three hours to say whatever he wants and I won’t have any opportunity to respond, and there’s no truth detector.” (Quite an indictment coming from a president later impeached for lying under oath)
  • On April 16, 2010, marking the five-year anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing, Clinton, revisiting this theme in an address to the Center for American Progress in Washington, stated: “We didn’t have blog sites back then so the instrument of carrying this forward were basically the right-wing, radio talk-show hosts, and they understood clearly that emotion was more powerful than reason most of the time, and it happened that they got much bigger listenership and more advertisers and more commercial success if they kept people in the white heat. … It shaped the environment in which we were in.”
  • In August 2013, during an interview with CNN anchor Chris Cuomo, the current occupant of the White House said that some congressional Republicans told him privately that they believed defunding Obamacare is a bad idea, but said they are “worried about what Rush Limbaugh is going to say about me on the radio.”
  • Obama picked up the torch again in a 2014 interview with The New Yorker: “The issue has been the inability of my message to penetrate the Republican base so that they feel persuaded that I’m not the caricature that you see on Fox News or Rush Limbaugh,” Obama said.
  • All of this smacks of the concept of “absolutism” pursued in 17th century France, where attempts at state control of the culture reached new heights under Louis XIV, the so-called “Sun King.”

    Under his reign, thoughts considered unacceptable, including political writings that were not compatible with his absolute monarchy, were targeted by censors. The king believed his mission was to rein in and crush views opposed to his.

    Recently, perhaps channeling Louis XIV, Sen. Ed Markey(D-MA) introduced S.2219 (the “Hate Crime Reporting Act of 2014”) designed to stop what he terms “hate crimes based on gender, race, religion, ethnicity, or sexual orientation” on the Internet, radio, and TV.

    But make no mistake: like Messrs Clinton and Obama before him, Markey, who acted only days after a shooting at a

    Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kansas, was using the incident to again target the New Absolutism’s No. 1 target: talk radio.

    “We have recently seen in Kansas the deadly destruction and loss of life that hate speech can fuel in the United States,” Markey says, “which is why it is critical to ensure the Internet, television, and radio are not encouraging hate crimes or hate speech that is not outside the protection of the First Amendment.”

    Of course, that’s the key: what exactly is “hate speech”? To LGBT activists, it is the suggestion that marriage be limited to one man and one woman. To overweight people, it is late-night comedians making fun of fat airline passengers. To PETA, it is reports about actual eggs being used in the White House’s annual Easter Egg Roll. To Markey, it could well be discussion of guns… or illegal immigration… or possibly the very title of NBC’s hit TV show “The Blacklist.”

    Once we let politicians start defining and regulating so-called “hate speech” in America, journalists (who only recently fended off an FCC plan to have inspectors pawing their way through radio newsrooms investigating the ‘decision-making process’ by reporters and management) can get ready to hang out the Going Out Of Business signs. Because on that day, the free flow of information that has always delineated America from various banana republics around the world would cease.

    History shows the French eventually rejected absolutism in their nation. Let us not embrace it in ours under the misguided premise of eliminating “hate crimes” while muzzling talk radio, the last bastion of free and unfettered conversation in America. •