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 Sunday, January 11, 2015

Talk Radio is No Place to Discuss Serious Ideas


Talk radio. How exciting! A place on the commercial broadcast airwaves where people ruminate and opine on the important issues of our era. Everyone from academic experts to traveling salesmen sharing a forum to air their views.

This is how I viewed talk radio for many years. Only recently have I realized that talk radio is no place to discuss serious ideas.

As mentioned in my recent post "How Can a Tank Stop an Idea?," an Atlanta talk radio host posted on Facebook that America's answer to the Charlie Hebdo attack in France should be to put boots on the ground. "You are so on point, man!," one reader wrote, and overall his sentiment drew 36 likes.

I joined the conversation and said, as I did on my blog, that the radical Islamic threat is more complicated than that, and we already had intelligence agencies with data bases full of info who've been doing all they could do since the 1970's. I got three likes.

That's when I realized I would not have done very well in talk radio. Although the host used a lot of words to say it, his message was, "Let's kick their ass!" It was a simple sentiment that captured the mood of the moment and got the blood pumping. Now imagine a host saying, "This is a complex situation which requires a nuanced response. We're already doing the best we can. This may just be the new normal. Now, stay tuned for a message from our sponsors, folks!" A third of the audience would have hung themselves before the bumper music even started.

Over 10 years ago I was a guest a few times on an Atlanta talk radio show. On my first appearance, we discussed a local news story where a woman had started a new job, couldn't find a babysitter, and so left her child in a car in a parking deck, checking it during her breaks. The child died of heat stroke. Talk radio hosts and callers had been calling for her head, but I argued in her favor, saying she was exhibiting the "personal responsibility" that Republicans were always calling for, it had just turned out badly. The host told his audience, "This man is in favor of leaving children in hot cars!" But when the mic was off he said actually his personal feeling was that the woman had been through enough, which was my point. If he felt that way, why not say so?, I naively thought.

On my next appearance the topic was the Iraq invasion. I was introduced as a "liberal loser" who was against the fine efforts America was making to free the Iraqi people. After that intro, whatever I had to say was pointless, because the water had been chummed and the callers came fast and furious like sharks for their chance to slap a "liberal loser" anonymously over the phone. It started occurring to me that at least this particular show had more in common with professional wrestling than a real discussion.

I think it was Alison Rosen who once wrote an essay about her appearances as a talking head on TV, which I can't find now. In any event, she said the producers and directors will tell you to take on a more extreme viewpoint than you may actually have, and the counterpoint person will do the same. This way your positions can easily be told apart. Remove the details of your argument so that it can be quickly grasped by a channel flipper. And now -- be loud!

Simple viewpoints, served as emotional red meat to the listener. Cartoonishly simplistic viewpoints that no reasonable person would have. Volume and invective designed to entertain the masses.

So we turn on talk radio, or a "news" program on TV, and watch and watch, vainly hoping some sort of real enlightenment will emerge. We may as well turn on WCW and look for the meaning of life. Talk radio is no place to discuss serious ideas.

Posted by Art | 9:19 PM EST | 0 comments |

 Friday, January 09, 2015

How Can a Tank Stop an Idea?


Islamic extremists are now so bold they enter Western media buildings and off whomever they please. The mood in America following the Charlie Hebdo executions in France is almost like that in the days immediately following 9/11. Shocked and angered, some Americans are calling for boots on the ground. But are these Americans' memories so shortened by video games and Twitter that they forget we just tried that in Iraq and Afghanistan? And how can a tank stop an idea?

People are saying maybe this Charlie Hebdo incident will finally wake the Western world up -- as though 9/11, the Boston Marathon bombing, the first World Trade Center bombing, the London subway bombing, the Madrid train bombing, the attack on the USS Cole, the stabbing of Theo Van Gogh, the beheading of Daniel Pearl, the assassination of Anwar Sadat, and too many plane hijackings to list -- didn't get our attention.

"If the U.S. doesn't lead a worldwide coalition to stamp this ideology out, who will?," an Atlanta radio host asked on Facebook. That it's an ideology we're fighting is the very reason military action won't work. Unlike Nazism in World War II, this ideologies' adherents don't bear uniforms, flags, and emblems to make themselves conspicuous. Instead, they hide amid moderate Muslims who disavow them. But some Westerners claim even those who disavow the terrorists with their lips support them in their minds and hearts. How can we know what ideology anyone follows, until they're blowing themselves up in our supermarket, or executing our favorite cartoonist?

Deciding the solution is to stamp out Islam itself is akin to the soldiers in Vietnam who executed entire villages. Maybe understandably, after you see a nine-year-old with a shoeshine box blow up your friends half a dozen times, the "Kill `em all, let God sort `em out" mentality arises. While we can understand the frustration, we must not condone painting an entire people with a broad, deadly brush.

This is not a war that will be won with fighter planes and paratroopers. The battlefield is not that clear, the enemy is not that obvious. This is a war that will require reconnaissance, intelligence gathering, special forces -- the things we've been doing since at least the 1970's.

The brothers behind the Charlie Hebdo attacks were already well known to French authorities, and were on the American no-fly list, just as many of the 9/11 hijackers were also known quantities. No one needed to pick up a machine gun and board an aircraft carrier to stop the threat, they only needed to act on what they already knew.

Boots on the ground is a red meat slogan that gets everyone yeehawing and flicking their Bic lighters, but this two-millennium-old problem requires modern solutions, one's that are already in motion. We just need to give them time to work.


Posted by Art | 9:24 PM EST | 0 comments |

 Friday, July 18, 2014

About This Series of Posts on California

In hindsight, I think this last series of posts about my trip to California should've been titled "My Fall from the Turnip Truck."

Posted by Art | 5:25 PM EST | 0 comments |

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