Editor's note: This column originally appeared in the October issue of Townhall Magazine.
When 18-year-old Michael Brown strolled down a street in Ferguson, Missouri on a Saturday evening in August, neither he nor Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson could possibly have known that in a tragic flash, Brown would lie dead and Wilson would be at the vortex of an international dialogue on race relations.
But the August 9 shooting of Brown by Wilson propelled Ferguson and the subsequent protesters onto the top of talk radio’s agenda both locally and across the nation: Charles Brennan and Mark Reardon of talk leader KMOX in St. Louis almost immediately began broadcasting from Ferguson; Sirius XM host David Webb, himself an African-American, braved what he describes as the ‘brutal’ Ferguson heat in mid-August to originate his own talk show from the community as well as iling live reports on FOX News Channel; and Dana Loesch of KFTK, St. Louis scored some powerful interviews with locals (including law enforcement officers). National talk radio programs could not answer calls fast enough whenever the topic of Ferguson was mentioned.
According to Michael Harrison, publisher of radio industry publication TALKERS magazine, “Ferguson contains a tempest of pressing and controversial American issues. There’s red meat for both the Left and Right in this tragedy. Talk radio, collectively, has played a positive role in responding to and covering it by airing all the different ideologies, including those that are politically incorrect, and moving the vital discussion forward.” Harrison believes that talk radio hosts helped bring the public “closer to the disturbingly obscured truth.”
Mike Gallagher, heard nationwide on the Salem Radio Network, called the violent civil disturbance in the aftermath of the Michael Brown shooting “one of the most gut-wrenching things I’ve ever talked about on-air in the 36 years I’ve been a broadcaster.” Gallagher agrees with one Fox News source that summed up Ferguson’s unrest this way: “A powerful, ugly spin has completely ruined any public discourse of this situation.” But Gallagher adds: “That doesn’t mean we won’t keep trying.”
Sean Hannity, who presides over a Premiere Radio Network talk show as well as hosting “Hannity” on the Fox News Channel, was on top of events from Ferguson from the very start of the controversy. “When a tragic event like this takes place, it’s important for [all] of us covering the story on radio and TV to exercise responsible broadcasting,” Hannity tells Townhall.
“This story evolved and changed from the beginning, and two very different accounts of the shooting are on record. I’m proud to say that on both my radio and TV shows, we have done our best to bring out the facts in a responsible way by interviewing the people who make the news and not rushing to judgment.”
That approach appears to have yielded positive results in Ferguson, according to David Webb: “Many people in the crowds of agitators succumbed to what I call the Parrot Principle: repeating anything they’ve heard without bothering to fact-check what they are saying. But I ran into many young black marchers who told me while they didn’t agree with everything I was reporting on the Fox News Channel, they told me that they nevertheless believed we were giving the fairest coverage.”
Webb, who spent much of his off-air time meeting with and getting background information from black business owners in Ferguson, feels that as the media glare on Ferguson subsides over time, so will many of the issues with violent protesters.
“The snake feeds on its tail,” Webb contends. “Troublemakers will always be there, but without TV cameras and microphones in their faces, Ferguson can get back to the core mission of tackling high crime and skyrocketing unemployment.”
That’s one story responsible hosts on talk radio should look forward to tackling in the weeks and months ahead. •