Talk radio routinely reminds me of what a jerk I really am. For a few months now, my bad thinking, bad upbringing and bad internal compass have been popular topics on Spokane’s most vociferous radio shows.
This personal jerkiness comes from working at a newspaper, one of the truly sinister threats to society according to boys like Richard Clear and Todd Herman.
Day after day these most ornery, opinionated and obnoxious talk radio hosts read the paper and find material they describe as left-leaning lies that have trapped the masses in a mushroom-like existence where they are fed bull and kept in the dark.
Together, my personal jerkiness and my diabolical employer are part of the larger, mainstreamliberalmedia conspiracy to wreck America, according to this talk radio tandem.
Details of the conspiracy remain somewhat fuzzy, but involve black helicopters with Jewish pilots who shuttle Hillary Clinton from place to place where she confiscates guns from valiant patriots in the woods.
For a time I worried and fretted about my miserable life.
How could I have been so wrong? For years, I have clung to a small-town, civic-booster view of my life as an editor.
It’s a view my father, a good Republican, World War II veteran and yes, newspaperman, planted in me.
He said the key to the health of this country is being able to agree to disagree, still vote, say ‘Hi’ on the street and help one another in times of need.
Alas, talk radio had me thinking that perhaps I needed to wear rubber gloves during business hours so these filthy and infected civic notions wouldn’t ooze out into the public arena.
Then came the tragic bombing in Oklahoma City.
For a brief moment, a flicker of doubt swept through the monotonous callers who offered mega-dittos and other audio high-fives to the talk radio hosts.
A few quivering voices wondered if all this us-vs-them rhetoric, all the hateful innuendo and the on-stop backslapping on the air for singlesource opinions might play a teensy-weensy role in sending people around the bend in their ideas that the government was out to get them.
Au contraire, the talk radio hosts quickly responded.
How ridiculous to suggest words could be so powerful.
Remember, these shows aren’t all the same. Maybe some appeal to wackos, but not ours.
The on-air hosts went to great lengths to explain how they, in fact, had never suggested a bombing and how they resented being singled out and blamed for tragedies like the Oklahoma City bombing.
These disclaimers and pronouncements convinced me perhaps I didn’t need the rubber gloves, after all.
Yet I remain confused.
Before the Oklahoma City bombing, weren’t these same radio voices earnestly warning listeners about at all the damage being done by the words written in the newspaper?
Weren’t these talk radio hosts, now pleading that their medium not be lumped together in a big glob, prone themselves to lumping this newspaper into the mainstreamliberalmedia? (An odd assertion since our editorial pages have endorsed more Republicans than Democrats in virtually every election for the past 100 years.)
And, despite pleas that they not be demonized for the bombing, weren’t these guys the same ones who demonized me day after day?
In dark moments I wonder if talk radio isn’t playing a cruel game with its listeners: say outrageous things that appeal to a narrow audience. Keep saying these things to hold ratings - and your job.
In a country flush with jobs, low inflation and no wars, which is the America of today, such little games probably don’t hurt much.
But in a time of crisis, this feeding upon the fears and frustrations of people and encouraging the disenfranchised to drop out of the political and social mainstream would be unethical, unpatriotic and damaging to the principles of a democratic nation.
Maybe that’s what this recent blip on talk radio signals.
In the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing, maybe even the talk radio audience realizes that we need to pull together in this country.
We need to recall what is good about America’s traditions and institutions.
In times like this we need to take a breath, grab hands, look for ways to help close wounds, not open them.
Most of all, in times of crisis, we need to quit whining.
We don’t have it so bad.
Take a cruise through Africa or Asia and see what bad government really is.
Recognize that local media play a vital role in keeping us informed about things in our neighborhoods and communities, and fiercely guard their independence.
For now, I have turned off talk radio.
I’m not mad at these folks. The great thing about the First Amendment is that they have every right to be on the air.
It’s just that some important work needs to done fixing democracy, repairing the civic fabric, and getting people to quit whining.
Right now, that’s not the direction much of talk radio is headed.