For 200 years, the right of free speech has served as the lighted match in the fireworks factory known as American politics.
Today, talk radio is the spark that has changed the course of politics by helping the Republicans ascend to power in Congress.
This is all well and good.
But it is not new. Talk radio is just the most recent example of free speech in action.
If talk radio hopes to maintain its powerful voice in society, the medium will have to change - and soon.
The reason is that while loud voices long have been able to stir people to action in this country, these voices eventually grow raspy and crack.
Benjamin Franklin might well have been a talk radio host in his early years as he spoke forcefully of revolution, a corrupt political force and the need for change.
Later, he secured his place in history because he helped a nation calm down and establish an enduring Constitution. A pattern for solving problems.
The Founding Fathers understood that the right to free speech is essential to a healthy democracy.
But people eventually grow tired of ranting and raving. They demand that those at the microphone or printing press provide real information and reasoned opportunity for dialogue.
Americans want to make up their own minds, thank you.
They want the facts. They want access to information, access to different points of view, and then they want to be heard.
Talk radio can - and does - serve many of these needs.
But because it found success in a particular ideology, namely conservatism, and because it so far depends upon shouting and highly vocal supporters to light up the phone lines, it runs the risk of flaming out as it runs low on information and long on diatribe.
Talk radio needs a code of ethics.
Talk radio needs to make sure it seeks out simultaneous rebuttal and offers free speech access to people who don’t agree with the host’s views.
The challenge for talk radio is to move beyond its infancy and mature into a voice that serves the people over time, rather than merely entertaining and inflaming them.
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