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Talk Radio: Fascism or Democracy at Work?

by Winfield Myers Friday, Jan. 30, 2004 at 9:24 PM

Those attacking Clear Channel are the rringe elements - potentially violent radicals, anti-Semites, conspiracy mongers - including the various incarnations of the left-wing Indymedia.org.

January 30, 2004

"Fascistic Corporate Monopolists at Clear Channel Silence even Conservative Anti-War Voices." Or so claims Indybay.org, a web site of the San Francisco Independent Media Center. This outburst was sparked by the rescheduling of Phoenix radio talk show host Charles Goyette's program from afternoon to evening by the management of his station, KFYI, which is owned by Clear Channel Communications. Goyette, who describes himself as a lifelong conservative, vehemently opposes the Iraq War and many other policies of the Bush administration. In the latest issue of Pat Buchanan's magazine, The American Conservative (TAC), Goyette blames his move to the less prestigious evening slot on Clear Channel's unwillingness to tolerate criticism of the War. But the politics of talk radio are inseparable from the demands of its audience, and Goyette's rant against the establishment is unconvincing and misdirected.

Goyette charges the White House with conspiring to silencing dissenters in his TAC essay, "How to Lose Your Job in Talk Radio: Clear Channel Gags an Antiwar Conservative." In his own words:

The principals of Clear Channel, a Texas-based company, have been substantial contributors to George W. Bush's fortunes since before he became president. In fact, Texas billionaire Tom Hicks can be said to be the man who made Bush a millionaire when he purchased the future president's baseball team, the Texas Rangers. Tom Hicks is now vice chairman of Clear Channel. Clear Channel stations were unusually visible during the war with what corporate flacks now call "pro-troop rallies." In tone and substance, they were virtually indistinguishable from pro-Bush rallies. I'm sure the administration, which faced a host of regulatory issues affecting Clear Channel, was not displeased. Criticism of Bush and his ever-shifting pretext for a first-strike war (what exactly was it we were pre-empting anyway?) has proved so serious a violation of Clear Channel's cultural taboo that only a good contract has kept me from being fired outright.

A more rational explanation for Goyette's troubles is that his views are simply too unappealing for Clear Channel to justify investment in his program. Management at KFYI told the Arizona Republic that Goyette's demotion stemmed not from his anti-war stance, but because his show alone failed to garner a majority of adult male listeners in its competition with rival station KTAR. That claim is bolstered by the fact that his replacements at KFYI have caught up with their competition in the latest ratings.

Identifying Goyette's strongest supporters sheds further light on his commercial quandary. They include the paleo-libertarians at Lew Rockwell's blog, who are among the President's harshest critics. Various incarnations of the left-wing Indymedia.org, whose headline on corporate fascism is quoted above, are running Goyette's TAC piece. Anti-war.com, which bills itself as "the best source for anti-war news, viewpoints, and activities," also featured Goyette's article. You'll understand Anti-war.com's take a little better if you know that on January 16 one of its contributors, Randal Todd Royer, who wrote under the name Ismail Royer, pleaded guilty to federal weapons and explosives charges in a courtroom in Alexandria, Va. Royer was described by the Washington Post as a "key member of an alleged Virginia jihad network" that learned military tactics using paintball guns. In exchange for his guilty plea, prosecutors dropped charges that Royer conspired to "provide material support to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization and to his Taliban protectors in Afghanistan," according to the Post.

Another Goyette apologist is The Federal Observer (at federalobserver.com), which features Goyette's article along with rants against the Bilderbergers - who, we learn, are still conspiring to establish a new world order - and other gems from the paranoid right. Among these is a piece entitled, "What Price, Israel? How Jews are Brainwashed," which claims that "Some anti Semitic [sic] accusations indeed reflect the secret activities of Jewish power brokers." Or that the "Jewish Illuminati, specifically the international bankers and their many non-Jewish allies are uniting the world under their control, using the United Nations as a front."

Why have these fringe elements - potentially violent radicals, anti-Semites, conspiracy mongers - rushed to Goyette's defense? Goyette himself, for all his criticism of Bush and mainstream Republicans, surely doesn't sit comfortably with such characters. But their sympathy for his anti-war stance, coupled with his charge that big business and big government have colluded to silence him, appeals to their messianic belief that dark, invisible forces control what we're allowed to say and, therefore, what we hear. None of that is surprising, especially among the groups that operate chiefly on the web. Broadsheets on cheap newsprint have given way to cheaper web sites for the same reasons that every other information-rich enterprise has a Net presence - it's affordable, ubiquitous, and gives a voice to groups that feel squeezed out of the mainstream media.

Just like talk radio. In the past 20 years, talk radio has mushroomed from late night shows hosted by cranks obsessed with UFOs to a massive industry earning millions from brand name advertisers. Conservatives dominate talk radio today because, in a very real sense, they created the demand that gave rise to the industry. Elite newspapers, network news outlets, wire services, PBS and NPR, and the original cable news channel - CNN - monopolized the news gathering and distribution systems for decades. Conservatives, whose self-consciousness and intellectual acuity grew alongside modern communications industries, felt ill-served and insulted by the dominant media.

Lacking an outlet of their own in those pre-Fox and pre-Internet days, conservatives found in talk radio a source of information that affirmed rather than assaulted their patriotism, moral values, and middle class dreams. With the Reagan administration came the demise of the Fairness Doctrine, an odious regulation designed to ensure the dominance of the liberal minority's ideology even when market forces failed to support it. Talk radio was free to expand until its audience was satiated, a goal that remains unmet. Conservatives still dominate the talk airwaves, not through an industrial/political cabal, but because its listeners embrace it as a refuge from the liberal alternatives.

Seen in this light, Goyette's complaints against Clear Channel sound like those hurled by artistic or scholarly types against sources of funding they view as a birthright. Every year "artists" complain that the National Endowment for the Arts engages in censorship simply by denying their grant requests. Just last week, the Chronicle of Higher Education charged that the National Endowment for the Humanities was "flagging" applications for grants it deemed too radical. On the retail level, Wal-Mart refuses to sell not only risqué or pornographic materials, but radical political tracts. It knows the number of middle and working class families such materials would drive away exceeds those they would attract. Liberals will roll their eyes at such Philistinism and cry censorship, but let them whine. Anyone who can't find pornography or radical writings in our society is blind to more than just vice.

The underlying assumption among these aggrieved parties is that they're owed money -from someone else's pockets - whether or not there is any demand for their work. In none of these cases does censorship play a role. In Goyette's situation, KFYI clearly determined that his anti-war stance, in a time of war and heightened concern about national security, diminished his ability to attract and retain his audience and, crucially, the advertisers who sponsored his show. Given the demographics of talk radio's listeners, who are mostly conservative and male, is it surprising that they are largely in favor of the war in Iraq? Offer them the alternative they've become accustomed to, and they'll reward you and your sponsors. Insult their sense of patriotism, and they'll turn the dial.

Goyette and his allies on the left and far right are discovering not that American society and business squash dissent, but that one's thoughts aren't something that others are obliged to pay for. Because talk radio fulfills market demands for conservative views that are otherwise unmet, it is mostly conservative. Should society's elite institutions, including major newspapers, network news, academe, federal agencies, and nongovernmental organizations all turn to the right, talk radio may once again become the preferred outlet for malcontents and UFO spotters. Given the likelihood of that scenario, however, Rush, Hannity, and their cohorts can sleep soundly.

--------------

Winfield Myers is chief executive officer of Democracy Project, Inc., an educational 501 (c) (3) organization in Wilmington, Delaware. His writings and commentaries have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, National Review Online, the Weekly Standard, FrontPage Magazine, American Outlook, the Texas Education Review, the Washington Times, and many other publications. He is principal author and editor of a college guide, Choosing the Right College: The Whole Truth about America's Top Schools (Eerdmans, 1998; 2001), former editor of the ISI Study Guide Series, former senior editor of The Intercollegiate Review, the Political Science Reviewer, and Campus Magazine, and former communications director and senior editor for the Intercollegiate Studies Institute.

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