How Many More Have to Die Before Big Media Stops Peddling Hate?

christina tucsonLast Saturday, when I saw the headlines blaring from Internet that a Democratic congresswoman from Arizona, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, had been nearly assassinated in Tucson, my blood ran cold. My initial shock turned to anger as I read that the suspect, Jared Lee Loughner, allegedly gunned down another 18 people, killing six of them, including a young child. I had been fearing this day ever since President Obama’s inauguration two years ago, when incidences of threats and actual political violence suddenly exploded, amid a noxious stew of violent right-wing rhetoric emanating from our public airwaves.

For years, I kept hoping that the President and Congress would do something to rein in the corporate media companies who continue to showcase hatemongering radio and TV commentators, and rake in millions of dollars at the expense of reasoned debate and civil public discourse. I wrote letters about my concerns to my congressional representatives. I blogged about it. I wanted our public officials to take this abuse of free speech on our public airwaves much more seriously.

I wasn’t as worried about President Obama’s safety, because of the fortress-like security apparatus afforded to American commanders-in-chief. No, I had a feeling that the first attempted political assassination of a government official in many years would be on a member of Congress. Now it’s happened. And so many other innocent lives were lost or ruined in the attack.

None of these extremist broadcast commentators told Loughner, or anybody else, to go and massacre people. But they and the companies who employ them have perpetuated an environment where violent rhetoric is deemed an acceptable form of entertainment, where media personalities steer close to or even commit incitement, and where alternative viewpoints are scarce.

Unfortunately, our public leaders – Democrats as well as Republicans – have acquiesced to the wishes of Big Media by allowing deregulation and corporate consolidation. Our government has also gotten rid of equal time rules, and declawed the Federal Communications Commission, which is supposed to oversee broadcast outlets and protect the public interest.

On top of that, the United States, unlike other Western countries, lacks a robust public broadcast system that can provide an antidote to corporate media’s worst programming. So we see large portions of the population whose only source of news and information comes from extremist radio figures and lightweight local TV news broadcasts.

Add to this large-scale ignorance, a toxic brew of massive income inequality, racism and bigotry, and easy access to guns. It took Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who oversees Tucson, to finally say to the mainstream what many of us in the media reform movement have been screaming about for years:

“When you look at unbalanced people, how they respond to the vitriol that comes out of certain mouths about tearing down the government,” he said. “The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on this country is getting to be outrageous and unfortunately Arizona has become sort of the capital. We have become the Mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

“It’s the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear day in and day out from people in the radio business and some people in the TV business. People tend to pooh-pooh this business about the vitriol that inflames American public opinion by the people who make a living off of that. That may be free speech but it’s not without consequences.”

roger ailes
Roger Ailes

Many are calling on the haters to tamp down the vitriol. Interestingly, Roger Ailes, CEO of Fox News, the cable network that is now synonymous with right-wing flamethrowing and propaganda, is asking “both sides” – meaning left and right – to tone it down. Other mainstream media outlets are also continuing to put out this false meme that liberals and conservatives are equally responsible for the venom polluting the public airwaves.

Ailes and his ilk know perfectly well that it is conservative leaders, media pundits, TV and radio personalities who are primarily the ones spreading hate speech and violent rhetoric. Liberals just don’t have the kind of money or access to as many broadcast stations as do conservatives. And what liberals have said in public, while provocative, just doesn’t reach the same level of bloodthirstiness that we’ve seen from conservatives.

But the real point here is that no amount of pleading for calm will stop the behavior. There may be a pause for a while, but I doubt it will last. The media conglomerates are just making too much money from hate speech. That has to change. Unless and until laws with teeth are put back on the books to regulate the media companies, the invective will escalate and more tragedies will happen. What should be done?

  • Break up the media monopolies: There are only a handful of companies that control almost everything Americans see and hear. That means only a handful of executives (typically white and male) are dictating what kind of information is available to an increasingly diverse public. This also means that a handful of executives are using toxic radio and TV personalities to sow divisions among the citizenry just so they can try to sell us their corporate propaganda. That must end. Allowing Comcast and NBC Universal to merge is taking American media in the wrong direction.
  • Give the FCC and the public more enforcement power: When President Clinton signed the Telecommunications Act in 1996, the interval between renewing broadcast licenses increased from five to eight years. That should be reversed. (FCC Commissioner Michael Copps wants to reduce the period to four) In addition, broadcasters whose media personalities routinely incite violence and threaten people or groups with bodily harm should have their licenses revoked. In addition, it should be just as easy to file a challenge against a station for hate speech as it is for profane speech. We may have free speech rights, but no one has the right to own or broadcast on a radio or TV station. Broadcasting on our limited public airwaves is a privilege, and broadcasters must be held to certain standards.
  • The United States must implement an independent, 100%-taxpayer-funded public broadcasting system with TV and radio stations available in every community – urban and rural. PBS and NPR, with their paltry taxpayer subsidies and commercial underwriters, just don’t cut it. We need something on par with the BBC. This new public system must have access to frequencies equally as powerful as the ones available to commercial stations. Public broadcasting systems in other Western countries have a much more expansive array of high-quality produced shows featuring culture, politics, science and documentaries. Citizens in countries with robust public broadcasting systems are exposed to a wider variety of political views and are therefore, more informed than Americans. Toxic speech must be counteracted with more diverse and better speech.
  • All Americans deserve equal access to fast, affordable and high-quality broadband that is free of corporate manipulation and control.

Thanks to our First Amendment, Americans probably enjoy the most permissive free speech rights of any modern democracy. But this right is not absolute. Some are abusing the First Amendment by using the public’s airwaves to stir up hatred and division. They are profiting off the public trough and giving out only garbage in return.

Sylvia MooreExtremist radio and TV commentators are not directly responsible for the political violence plaguing America today, but they have contributed to the creation of an environment of nastiness in our public discourse that can influence disturbed individuals like Jared Loughner. If this extremist speech isn’t soon ostracized from public life in the U.S., the lone, crazed gunman will morph into organized mobs hell bent on murdering political opponents and even committing genocide.

Sylvia Moore

LA Media Reform

Comments

  1. Dr. Wayne Gautreau says

    We don’t know at this time how much if any the hatred and fear being broadcast on primarily right wing media influenced Jared Loughner but there are many other cases out there where the person stated that the there actions where a direct result of what they heard or read. Example, was the young man going to San Francisco to blow up the headquarters of a corporation that was evil and the reason for Americas plight.

    Your article was very well written. There are consequences to what we say and how we say it. The 1st Amendment of the Constitution gives us the freedom of free speech. But with this freedom comes responsibility and accountability for our speech. Even though the 1st Amendment gives me the freedom to walk into a crowed building and yell “fire” I will be held accountable for the results. This concept needs to be applied to all especially those individuals that are on the public stage. I am not saying that the statements by conservatives such as “if don’t win at the ballot box then we will win at the bullet box” are not responsible for what happened in Tucson but a rational person would pass this statement off rhetoric not condoning this type action but many with the mental problems that Jared had could interpret this as condoning this type of action. For me in the seclusion of my home to tell my wife that some one need to be take out does not have the impact that an individual that has a national audience that says the same thing. The greater our audience the greater due diligence we must adhere to. It may not be fair, but that is the nature of the beast.

    I totally agree with the way to you out lined to achieve this. But, I also agree that any civility will disappear within a short time and it will be business as usual. Then some else will be the target and we will be asking these same questions. How many must be injured or die before this is rectified? My answer is, “when 25% of the American population stop being good little authoritarians and question the statements and unsupported conclusions found on right wing media shows.

  2. hwood007 says

    Dallas said it better. Until each person can look and know themselves, you will never get it. Even as you wrote about all of us needing to get “well” you found one group that needed to get more “well” than your group. In the end, your article did nothing to help the circumstances.

  3. says

    You of all people should know that loud talk sells. When there are no blood stories, hate will do. People, for some reason–probably evolutionary–gravitate toward accidents knowing it could be enough to make them loose sleep. Before TV, disaster and distruction is what sold newspapers and increased circulation; it still does to some extent, but with the FCC being neutered hate is the new disaster for the intelligence challenged. Network viewers have been dropping yearly and now it is the news reporting on the news, which in effect is literally opinion television as real journalism was a casualty of neoconservatism and the “Southern Strategy.” look no further than the Reagan administration that effectively muzzled the FCC making it a lapdog like many journalist have become. The Fourth Estate or watchdogs now show the burglars where the loot is hidden. Star power killed it starting in 1980 and what substitutes as news on television is correctly labeled as entertainment. We now have the government and media that we deserve because no one wants the truth; certainly no one in politics wants it because it would kill the money. As long as Americans accept bellicosity as meaningful discourse, what happened in Arizona may become a regular event.

    • says

      Thank you DBDallas for this assessment of corporate media. Unfortunately, you’re probably right. Fortunately, there are plenty of people who are just as outraged about the current state of affairs in the media as you and I are. Couple the internet with the outraged people and we have a recipe for hope and an opportunity to do something about the sad state of affairs. The new technology could possibly be our answer to the neutered corporate media. Anyone reading this or any other publication online that is informative should ALWAYS forward, bookmark, share on Facebook, or Twitter. Please share these articles.

      Thank you

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