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Talk Radio Needs To Tune Into Truth

Wed., May 15, 1996

Rule No. 1 in journalism: Check all facts. Then check them again.

A Seattle radio station and its notorious talk jock Mike Siegel ignored that rule last month when they aired baseless allegations by a former employee out to get Seattle Mayor Norm Rice.

Who is hurt by this? Norm Rice, obviously. But it hurts all of society as well.

The smear campaign began with Kurt Hettiger, who printed a newsletter saying Rice had had a homosexual affair and had been shot by a family member who had discovered the liaison. Siegel has admitted there was not a shred of truth to the allegations. But he allowed them to be discussed on his show in a simulcast with Spokane talk jock Richard Clear.

Rice, after weeks of watching the rumor grow, held a press conference Monday to set the record straight. The mere fact that he had to stand before cameras and microphones to deny the rantings of a disgruntled ex-employee and blast talk radio programs is an embarrassment to all media.

Radio listeners - as well as readers of newspapers and viewers of television news - deserve a medium that strives for accuracy and analysis, not lies and cynicism. Talk radio is the worst of the offenders - starting with Rush Limbaugh, who once said there are more American Indians alive today than when Columbus arrived.

Radio jocks will insist they’re not journalists, that they’re entertainers. But they can’t deny that they purport to disseminate information; they talk as if they’re reading from the Bible itself, when too many of their words are rooted in falsehoods.

Talk radio has a responsibility to its listeners to tell the truth. It’s a duty that largely goes unheeded on the freewheeling, anything-goes gabfests.

By the nature of its fast-paced format, talk radio runs some risk of inaccuracy. Unlike newspapers, it rarely corrects mistakes.

There is a place for talk radio. It’s a natural tool in democracy - public dialogue on important topics, the hashing-out of ideas in an open forum with an emphasis on problem-solving. But there’s danger in the utter lack of accountability and self-control.

Siegel says it was Rice’s obligation to come forward and answer the allegations. Wrong. It’s Siegel’s responsibility to deny a free forum for rumormongering and slander.

All of talk radio should strive for higher standards. If they’re going to be the “new media” - as they call themselves - talk jocks must raise themselves to a level of responsibility they thus far have shirked.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Anne Windishar/For the editorial board

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