Friday, March 2, 2012

The Silence is deafening!


The silence is deafening. The silence of the Republican Presidential candidates in the face of Rush Limbaugh's latest misanthropic diatribe about contraception and a Georgetown female law student's testimony before Congress . Rush Limbaugh labeled her a "slut' for wanting free contraceptive coverage. According to Limbaugh, " if she wants to get paid for having sex she is a prostitute", and she should videotape and share her sexcapades so Rush and his cigar chomping confreres could at least watch.

What? Did he actually say that on a nationally syndicated radio show that is on the public airwaves? That is pretty creepy, not to mention, over the top. The last time this kind of thing happened it was " Imus in the Morrning" who became a casualty of his own loose lips which sunk his broadcasting ship. Talking about "Nappy hoes" with kinky hair was considered beyond the pale, and Don Imus had to go. So does Rush.

There was a time when it was unthinkable that a radio personality could engage in such vituperative doggerel and get away with it. Pre 1987, back in the "Happy Days" of 1947-1987 when the FCC's Fairness Doctrine existed, such conduct would have been unthinkable. With all the retro like rhetoric coming from the Republican Presidential candidates about family values and the good old days, nary a one has advocated a return to the Fairness Doctrine. That was the national policy which required broadcast stations to balance their political commentary by offering responsible spokesmen for opposite points of view to be given airways access to counter and/or balance comments that could be viewed as one sided. That policy is no more. It was done in by Ronald Regan and his political minions , and it ushered in the likes of Don Imus and Rush Limbaugh's and Michael Savage and Keith Olberman. Some say the quality of our political dialogue went to hell in a hand basket with the repeal of the FCC's Fairness Doctrine. It has given license to political debate which is not fact centered or civil, but comes down to a "Your mother wears combat boots" approach.

It was the Danish political philosopher Soren Kierkegaard who said. "If you label me, then you can dismiss me". If you're not a "ditto head" or a "Great American", it is Limbaugh or Hannity who controls the kill switch on the microphone, not some dispassionate moderator. Daytime talk radio has become a cesspool of political invective, political labeling, and political demagoguery of unparalleled proportion. If ever there were an argument to be made about restoring civility in our political dialogue, and a return to the Doctrine which required fairness and balance on the public airwaves, this is it.

I am a firm believer in Free Speech and the First Amendment rights of all citizens, but as the courts have long held, there can and should be time manner and place restrictions in the exercise of that freedom. You can't yell fire in a crowded theatre, and your ought not be able to defame other citizens caustically and with impunity on the public airwaves. Such
drivel may be suitable for Internet podcasts, but not for the public airwaves.

When I was a young man, I was a disc jockey on a local radio station. One day I had to fill in as moderator of a local talk show called " Open Mike". I will never forget the owner of the station, Cliff Harris, coming into the control room flailing his arms at me and mouthing for me to " go to a commercial" while I was on air. I did, and he laid me out in lavender for giving my opinion on a subject to a caller. The hot controversy at the time was whether the city should adopt a dog leash law, and I had my opinions on the subject. So did the caller with whom I was disagreeing on the air. He said " you are the moderator...moderator.. Do you understand me? Your opinion does not matter, it is the public opinion that does!" I will never forget the fire in his eyes and his tone of voice in correcting my errant ways. Too bad Cliff Harris isn't still around to do the same thing to Rush Limbaugh today! He certainly deserves a comeuppance for his over the top remarks. Can you step up to the plate and call out the bully 'Messrs. Romney, Santorum, Gingrich and Paul? Who will be the first to say to him as Joseph Welch did to Senator Joe Mc Carthy , " Enough! At long last, have you no decency , sir?" We are all waiting and watching.