W. A. Barrett, San Jose, CA
For kicks, I tuned into Fox news radio, AM 1180, out of Fresno, while driving up I5 from Pasadena last Sunday (6/26). Came in loud and clear, even next to the power lines -- most of the other stations had lots of static, or pop music. It also persisted to the San Jose border, and I first picked it up just north of LA. So it’s the kingpin talk radio station of the central valley.
This was a Sunday afternoon, starting about 4 pm. First came Bob Brinker, program called “Money Talks”. He spent the first half hour just repeating a slogan about the “Land of Critical Mass”, by which he apparently means having enough private assets to not have to “work” any more. Lots of blabber about how Warren Buffett reached that Land, and doesn’t have to work anymore, but he chooses to. Never really explained what that meant in fiscal or numerical terms -- like saving while young, curbing your spending, preparing for a career through education, avoiding credit card debt, etc. Or the nature of “work”, which is usually “fun” for the wealthy, not so much fun for an underpaid waitress.
Then he took some callers. The first was a woman who had a real job, knew she was slipping behind, could get fired, how to get out of her rat race into some level of retirement? Brinker gave her no particular advice, didn’t even ask what she did or whether she consulted a financial manager, etc. Just echoed his “Land of Critical Mass” theory some more, sprinkling in some digs at the Obama administration for its fiscal policies. She was clearly seeking some advice, got nothing from this “expert”, and eventually hung up. I sensed she was both disappointed and confused by her hero’s response.
At 6 pm, someone named Doc Thompson came on the air to discuss the recent NY decision to legalize gay marriage. He was filling in for Bill Cunningham. Never clear why he calls himself “Doc”, since his general tone and ignorant attitudes showed no particular educational level beyond cretin. He was clearly against gay marriage, on some vague religious and “moral” grounds, and questioned why the NY legislature could take it on themselves to determine the “people’s will” in such a matter.
His first caller pointed out that recent and past polls are showing more public acceptance of gay marriage. Doc poo-poohed those, insisting that various state measures re gay marriage, including prop 8 in California, showed a public against it. The caller responded by pointing out that other polls show general support for gay rights, and that a poll result (or a proposition) depends very much on how the question is framed. Caller also pointed out that the legislature was elected by the public and was expected to decide much matters through their deliberations. Well, he was bullied by Doc, by repeating that single argument about those proposition votes several times, then cut off.
A second caller seemed in favor of nuking all those “bad guys” in Iraq and Afghanistan, to end the wars there. Just do them in. Why should the US put up with that nonsense when we have the power to do them in? General agreement from “Doc”, not a word about how the people who live there might feel about being obliterated, or the reaction of the civilized world, etc. Or what this had to do with the stated theme of the program. I may have missed some gay slurs slipped in by this caller, but Doc never challenged anything he had to say on the air.
Doc later apparently realized he was coming off as a bigot, so he changed his theme to one of being “non discriminatory” toward gays. His solution was “just don’t discriminate” -- it’s “that simple”. But also more about “morality” -- when something’s going on that’s “immoral”, we have to do something about it. But we don’t need all these liberal laws and legislation, etc.
Doc was on the air for two hours, taking a few more calls around the country. His program (and Brinker’s) is broadcast through dozens of other stations in the US and Canada -- when he took a call, he knew the local station, gave its call letters and frequency, praised the station, of course, and knew the caller’s name. So there’s an elaborate apparatus behind the Fox system of call screeners, who intercept every call, check out the caller, probably sending “Doc” a prompt for him to select someone who’s probably OK and “on message”. I’m sure most calls were “live” in the sense that there was an interaction between Doc and his caller, rather than just a question raised. (Also Brinker and his callers were clearly ‘live’). So Doc’s first caller was clearly a renegade, and he’ll never be selected again. The system obviously notices who the “safe” callers are and will push up their priority for selection next time. All this is invisible to the listener, of course. And -- this is mostly my conjecture about how Fox handles their callers, but it’s an easy thing to organize, and maintains the illusion that ordinary folks are just chosen at random.
Several of the callers started out with effusive praise for Doc and Cunningham -- “doing just a wonderful job”, “spreading the real truth”, etc. I sensed that if you tried calling in and actually reached a “handler”, you should have lots of effusive praise for the program ready to unload. Don’t sound critical. But Doc’s first caller clearly went off script with his factual challenge, and Doc had to deal with it in the usual Fox News way -- by shoving out more misinformation, ignoring the real issue, then bullying when all else failed. I would give that caller a snowball’s chance in Hell of being chosen again by the screeners.
Brinker has a web site, http://www.bobbrinker.com/radio.asp, listing several hundred stations around the country, mostly AM, some FM. He seems much more interested in commenting on national and global fiscal policy than on caller’s financial interests. The sheer number of stations should suggest that he would get several thousand callers on each broadcast, hoping to break through -- but only a chosen few make it. You can also download his stuff or listen to recent broadcasts, including the one I mentioned above, through his web site. But -- he wants $5/month by credit card for the privilege of downloading his airtime stuff. He probably makes a lot more money from those subscriptions than from anything Fox pays him.
After listening to all this, I’m in despair about what to do about this behemoth media giant. Several years ago, George Soros got Air American Radio going with a major grant. AAR ran out of New York, with Al Franken providing funny bits. Launched Rachel Maddow (now on MSNBC) and several other liberal commentators. Insisted on fact checking everything -- there was actually someone in the studio listening to the commentator, then interrupting about some claim that wasn’t quite right. The ads were frequent and awful, but it was well worth listening to, and sort of fun to hear all the contradictions and hypocrisy of the right wing pundits and politicians exposed. Not something you get on the PBS News Hour, which is always so careful not to offend anyone. I think the News Hour would have given Adolf Hitler air time to explain his Jewish pogroms and death camps.
But AA Radio died about a year ago, and no one has picked up the slack. One of its problems was its inability to raise enough advertising money, another getting more local AM/FM stations tied into its small network. Fox appears to have pre-empted most of that by buying up all the lead radio stations. The small independent ones don’t have a chance.
So where can we go from here? Will Twitter or Facebook fill the gap (unlikely)? Any ideas out there?
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