Sunday, March 25, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Off the Air...

The nightmare of broadcasters is "dead air." A gap in the program. Silence.

It literally is a nightmare. Although I've only had the dream perhaps twice in the nearly two decades since I left radio, many broadcasters tell of a recurring dream where a song being broadcast is ending or a program is running out and the broadcaster is either locked out of the studio, mucking through mud unable to get to the microphone, or is kidnapped by gangsters or some other weird thing.

For me, there were two memorable off-air instances while I was doing a radio talk show in Colorado. The first involved an interview which was going nowhere. For some reason -- I guess as sort of a human interest thing -- I had in the studio two teenage girls who were exchange students from Ireland. I don't remember much about the interview other than it was bad. Whether the girls gave lame answers, were unable to say more than a few words in response to my questions, or I exhausted every angle I could think of and had nothing more to talk about, I don't recall. About all I remember is the stench of showbiz death as I looked at the clock and saw that I still had perhaps eight minutes to fill on the Interview to Nowhere.

At this time our station had an old AM transmitter that was on its last legs. Every once in a while for no reason the old beast would just shut itself down. And we'd be off the air. Someone from the on-air staff would have to then run into the transmitter room and turn it back on. This was a big nuisance, but the old transmitter was scheduled for soon replacement.

It was during my poor interview with the Irish girls that the transmitter chose another one of its times to fail. And, as I recall, I and/or my producer could not get old thing back on the air. Minutes ticked by. The station was dead in the water. Memory is hazy on this, but I believe it took the entire rest of the time of the allotted to the Irish girls' interview to get the station back on the air. I do remember that I was grateful that the radio station decided to crash just then and give me a reprieve from an awful broadcast experience.

The next memorable off-air experience happened after we had replaced the sick old transmitter. Things were running smoothly now and no longer were we having those dreaded dead air experiences. Again, I was conducting an in-studio interview and it was with a Christian man who described how God had overcome his addiction to pornography. I don't remember the details of the interview (it might have been related to a book he had written on his experiences) but I do recall that in the course of our conversation the unthinkable happened: the transmitter failed. I was shocked. The producer ran to the transmitter room to get us back on the air. While we're waiting to continue broadcasting, my guest said to me: "That happens all the time when I go on the radio." What? This man regularly goes on radio to speak of being freed from his addiction and the stations regularly get knocked off the air? I looked at him and realized what he was saying: there was a dark spiritual element to his addiction and an apparent unseen force attempting to stop his message from going out.

The experience was beyond coincidence. If it had been just our station, I wouldn't have thought much about it. But the transmitter taking a dive occured not just in our case but had occured elsewhere when this man would go on the radio.

To what do I attribute it? Satanic forces worked against this man, I believe. He had escaped the clutches of an incredibly destructive addiction and demonic powers worked to disrupt his attempt to explain that escape.

Finally, on a lighter note, years ago there was an old broadcaster story drifting around which, for the sake of the man involved, I hope wasn't true.

The story went something like this: there was a neophyte radio announcer who was faced with a situation in which his radio station had unexpectedly gone off the air. Speaking into the microphone, the man said:

"Pardon us, ladies and gentlemen, but we are off the air."


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Invisible Toxic Air

Liberal journalists like to say their news coverage is “unbiased” and “objective.”

Nonsense. Everyone is biased. No one is objective. If you write a grocery list, your biases will cause you to put ice cream at the top of the list.

People often read news stories and know there’s something not quite right. Or as the old journalism movie Absence of Malice defined it: the story is not true, but it’s accurate. And when we read a news story about something with which we are familiar, we are often disturbed at the reporter’s ignorance of the overall topic, and/or the subtle but deliberate distortions.

I used to feel that way sometimes reading a newspaper story until I went back to the top of the story and realized it had come from the New York Times or the Associated Press. That's how I learned not to trust those guys.

A great example appeared recently on Page One of Arkansas’ statewide newspaper, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The story – about former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee going up against Rush Limbaugh in a daily radio talk show -- is not the focus of what I’m going to say; rather, I want to look at how the story is presented. Because the story relates to topics about which I have familiarity: 1) radio broadcasting, in which I worked for about a dozen years; 2) Rush Limbaugh, to whom I’ve regularly listened for most of his 23-year national career, and 3) journalism, where I spent some time in radio, television, and newspapers.

Below is part of the story in boldface type. Italics indicate what I believe the reporter is trying to say. My comments are in regular type.

WASHINGTON — The advertising exodus from Rush Limbaugh’s nationally syndicated radio show has fallen like a gift into the lap of former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee.

Starting April 9, Huckabee, who unsuccessfully ran for the Republican presidential nomination in 2008, will begin airing a three-hour radio show in the same afternoon time slot as Limbaugh, a revered figure among many conservatives.

Limbaugh’s ability to stir things up is his stock in trade.

He has routinely called women leaders “feminazis”... Women leaders? Would those women leaders be individuals like Michelle Malkin? Sarah Palin? Limbaugh has used the "feminazi" term only to describe militant feminists. Does the reporter believe that small strident group leads half the population?

...and has angered critics for comments deemed by them to be racially biased. These days anything representing conservative dissent is considered racist (ask those of us who’ve been involved in the Tea Party), so there's little to comment on here. But notice how the reporter can inject his opinion: "critics" call Limbaugh racially biased. Reporterspeak basically has said Limbaugh demeans prominent women and is racist. True? No. Accurate? As expressed in the reporter’s world view: yes.

Also, the reporter has managed to highlight his own distaste for Limbaugh by placing these comments in the opening paragraphs of the story. In reality, the story is supposed to be about Huckabee competing on-air with Limbaugh, but the reporter apparently believes it is important for you first to know how to think about Limbaugh before getting to the actual story. This, my friend, is the invisible toxic air of liberal media bias that we breathe all the time.

Earlier this month, Limbaugh referred to Georgetown University Law School student Sandra Fluke as a “prostitute”and a “slut” after she spoke out for government-mandated free contraceptive coverage. Truth, not accuracy, would say that Ms. Fluke is also a feminist operative who may have "forum shopped" for a school like Georgetown that does not provide free contraceptives so she could perhaps call them out on it. If anything, she’s not, as others have portrayed her, the innocent “civilian” unwittingly pulled into the culture wars. Also, the Democrat-Gazette story neglects to say why Georgetown resists the government mandate: it's a Catholic school and contraception is contrary to official Catholic doctrine.

Republican House members denied a request to let Fluke testify during recent hearings on the ability of religious institutions to opt out of covering birth control. Reporterspeak: Not only has Limbaugh mistreated Ms. Fluke, but so have evil Republican House members. Oh? Ms. Fluke's appearance was before a Democratic-called meeting. It apparently was a grandstanding event in favor of an Administration policy that many Republicans oppose. Why would Republicans want to give her the platform Democrats did?

Advertisers apparently have not been mollified by Limbaugh’s subsequent apology. At least 98 of them have pulled their ads from the show. Accurate but not entirely complete. Best I can tell is perhaps six or eight national sponsors pulled out of Limbaugh's show (with one asking for, but being refused, reinstatement). Others, according to Limbaugh, are local businesses that have asked local radio stations not to run their ads during Limbaugh's program. Happens in broadcasting all the time. Indeed, large consumer-oriented corporations (car companies, airlines, electronics manufacturers) tend to avoid conservative media outlets. Even the late William F. Buckley’s staid National Review tends to have lesser-known advertisers.

Huckabee, who has a weekly television show on Fox News and began his career in the radio business, is betting that a toned-down talk radio format will lure listeners. Did Huckabee actually say that, implying he will do the job better than Limbaugh? Or was Huckabee comparing and contrasting their on-air personalities? Which brings us to:

“It’s not my style to get in the face of a guest,” he said. “I’ll engage in conversation and not have a shouting match.”

These quotes imply Huckabee believes Limbaugh tends to "get in the face of a guest" and leans toward having a "shouting match." I question the context -- while I believe Huckabee said these things about himself and/or talk radio, these quotes may have been inserted here to make the reporter's case that Limbaugh abuses guests and engages in heated arguments. Huckabee, as a conservative and a broadcaster, would presumably know this is not true. First, Limbaugh rarely has guests and, secondly, when a person with an opinion different than his calls the program, Limbaugh is the gentleman. He will debate the individual, raise questions, provide differing comments, but is not rude. Sometimes he may get agitated, but often is careful to say his agitation is at the caller's thoughts, and explains that he is not personally upset with the caller. Again, we don't know the context of Huckabee's statement, but I'm suspicious.

[The story then goes into four paragraphs about the business and logistics aspects of the new Huckabee program.]

Huckabee downplayed any competition with Limbaugh, calling him “the most successful voice in radio by leaps and bounds.” Very relevant comments about the Limbaugh-Huckabee matchup, which is supposed to be what the story is about. But it's buried deep in the text, lest we wade through the story without being told how to think about Limbaugh.

“Rush apologized,” Huckabee said. “He was right to apologize, and he was wrong to have said what he did.” Again, the apology is important information buried deep in the story, along with the next two sentences.

But Huckabee suggested that there was a double standard for judging remarks made by liberal commentators.

“I’m still waiting for Bill Maher and Chris Matthews to apologize for what they’ve said about conservative women,” he said.

[The story then at length conveys the thoughts of Rhode Island radio consultant Holland Cooke about business aspects of the Limbaugh and Huckabee shows].

The question remains whether Huckabee will be able to take advantage of the opportunity created by the Limbaugh controversy.

Cooke called Huckabee an “affable guy” who could succeed on radio nationally.

“Why must talk radio be snarling? Why can’t it be reasonable?” Cooke asked. “I think he’ll do real well.”
Now we're told "talk radio" -- read Rush Limbaugh -- is "snarling." Limbaugh does not snarl. He speaks boldly and with the brilliance of the accomplished lawyers from which he descends. And he is very effective and influential for conservative thought. That’s his crime

Again, I'm not focusing on what Limbaugh said. Elsewhere I've written that it was over the top and silly. But that’s not within the scope of what I’m writing about: media bias.

Of course, like the writer of the story we've looked at, I'm biased, too. It's part of being human. But I'm voicing opinion, not writing what is supposed to be a news story.

And ice cream would probably be at the top of my grocery list.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The Politics(?) of Contraception

Recently the Washington County Observer asked that I write about all the furor surrounding the politics of contraception. Here's what I wrote:

On a scale of 0 to 10, the political relevance of recent discussions of contraception is about minus 3.

It's not an issue, but rather is a link to other issues of varied importance.

Some history: at one time access to means of contraception was illegal in the United States. Eventually such laws went away; as a result, contraception is no longer a political issue. But a major religious organization, the Roman Catholic Church, has opposed all means of contraception. Despite the reported practice of contraception by the majority of American -- and probably the developed world's -- Catholics, the church's official doctrinal position is that such behavior is wrong.

That is the church's belief. Whether or not you or I agree with it or whether or not the Catholic laity adheres to it, such belief remains a sincerely held religious conviction protected under the First Amendment.

Comes now the Obama administration to say: "Too bad about your beliefs on contraception, Church, but our secular beliefs on contraception (and about abortion) trump your beliefs. Therefore you WILL pay for the contraception and abortions of your employees, understood?" This coming from guys who oppose the traditional role of religion in a pluralistic society.

That's the most important link regarding contraception to a larger issue: the issue of conscience and religious freedom. And that is a mega-issue with far-reaching consequences. The Bible and American tradition recognize the sanctity of conscience and Barack Obama is trampling it. The President in effect has elevated himself to the office of pope. And his administration threatens all religious beliefs whether Baptist church polity, Amish separatism, Jewish dietary observance, Muslim prayer practices and on and on and on. As Mike Huckabee has said: "We are all Catholics now."

Then there is a lesser issue, the attempt to resurrect the long-abandoned relevance of the legality of contraception and to try to hang it on the presidential campaign of Rick Santorum. Here’s the logic, such as it is: the Catholic Church resists Obama's directives on contraception. Rick Santorum is a devout Catholic. Rick Santorum doesn't believe in contraception. Therefore, Rick Santorum, wants to outlaw contraception!

The horror!

Mr. Santorum, unlike his critics, understands the earlier-mentioned role of religion in a pluralistic society. Nobody with the beliefs attributed to him could have politically made it this far, including serving in the United States Senate.

Finally, there is one more attempt to link contraception to contemporary politics: part of it silly, part of it important. The silly part is the recent testimony of Georgetown law student Sandra Fluke to the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee that another law student, who is married, cannot afford contraception.


Law students at a highly-rated school unable to buy condoms -- about $1.75 each at Wal-Mart – cheaper online.

But there is an important dimension of Ms. Fluke's testimony: just one more attempt to have fun while someone else pays.

Those are not the politics of contraception. Those are the politics of national financial ruin.