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Washington Voices

Words still powerful; use wisely

Sat., March 5, 2011

Words. There’s been talk lately that words are inconsequential forms of communication. That, in reality, they hold no water, carry no weight, sway no decision and warp no mind, but those who live and work in this intricate and influential craft know this isn’t the case.

If the above were true and words did nothing to prompt, promote, persuade and promulgate then most, if not all forms of speech from movies to books, advertisements, music, pulpit and political pundits, would be silenced for their words would cause no change, unite or divide no nation, soothe or irritate no soul, spread or reject no good news.

Words are my business. Both my freelance gig and the bump and grind of the everyday workplace rely on successful wordy communications. So, I can understand the flap that arose when the finger was pointed at the media’s vitriol political jabbering being the catalyst behind the recent shooting in Arizona.

Although there’s no proof what happened in Tucson is connected to the rancorous political climate of late, a collective pause did occur in the aftermath of that day as a nation confronted the knowledge that the same words which travel across the airwaves into our cars and homes and out of our mouths can, indeed, be the spark that incites a violent act.

Wordsmiths know too well the power behind carefully constructed sentences that can open new thought, create havoc, calm, embolden love, sever unity, incite, stop prejudice or cause a backpack filled with explosives to be placed on a city bench. If words had no influence, 9/11 would’ve been an ordinary autumn day in New York. Words can pack a punch to the heart and soul and mind, even the unbalanced ones.

There are those in the word business, however, who defiantly defend freedom of speech but fail to practice its equal partner, responsibility and refuse to consider the consequences when one speaks irresponsibly. Talk-show hosts are at the forefront of this mire.

As the tragedy in Tucson unfolded, talk show hosts quickly denounced blame while vigorously stirring the loss-of-freedom fear pot but the responsibility attached to this freedom is never discussed and there’s good reason.

Beneath that fear pot, roar the fires of fame and fortune. Tempering the bitter and slanted diatribes of such radio personalities like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Dr. Laura, Randi Rhodes, Bubba the Love Sponge and Glenn Beck by insisting they adhere to responsible and ethical journalism would silence their shtick faster than a mute button.

Responsibility keeps our freedoms, particularly the speech kind, in check. Separate one from the other and the cornerstone of our culture, indeed one of the most sought after and admired attributes of this country, become a mockery.

Even though Americans are fed up with the hate-filled political spiel coming from elected officials, they don’t connect the dots to the more pronounced and malicious messages churning out from radio and television talk shows. Inciting anger with carefully constructed buzz words and misquoted information is their job and they get paid handsomely. Fail and their cushy lifestyles end.

Words most assuredly influence. Consequences, good or bad, most assuredly follow. Keep this in mind the next time a favorite radio personality has you foaming at the mouth in anger.

And take comfort in the fact that most mainstream media writers abide by the code of journalistic responsibility and ethics.

Otherwise, they’d all be talk show hosts.

Contact correspondent Sandra Babcock by e-mail at

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