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Bill Press's Toxic Talk


by Charles Marowitz


Book Review



Press, Bill: Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America's Airwaves, Thomas Dunne Books/St Martin's Press, May 2010, ISBN 978-0-312-60629-9, 310 pages.


(Swans - August 23, 2010)   Although there is diversity to be found in all the performing arts, there is one medium that is almost exclusively dominated by right-wing orators and demagogues and that is talk radio, viz. Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, Michael Savage, Lou Dobbs, Laura Ingraham, etc. What virtually unites all of these commentators is a simplistic, ornery, destructive conservatism. They are the vigilantes of the Republican Party, the Ku Klux Klan of the Toxic Right who employ prevarication, innuendo, and verbal abuse in order to threaten their enemies and consolidate their political base.

The recognized Grand Mufti of the group is the pompous and vituperative Rush Limbaugh -- now being threatened to be overthrown by his lachrymose rival Glenn Beck. Together they constitute a kind of sinister Punch and Judy Show in which the more their diatribes abuse their enemies, the more they increase their voltage. They play to their base as outrageously as they know how. There is a kind of tendon that unites them with the more extreme members of the Tea Party sects. The collective myth is that they are trying to take back "the true America," which Obama and his crowd have sullied and disgraced. Ironic when you think back to the criminality of the robber barons, Teapot Dome, the disgraced Richard Nixon, the catastrophes of the Bush years, the thievery of Bernie Madoff, and the recent corruptions of Wall Street that initiated the worst economic crisis in recent memory. The past, no matter how venal, always induces a certain sentimentality.

Bill Press, an articulate and savvy liberal radio commentator, knows the world of "toxic talk" better than most. He has been fighting it for some thirty years. He makes the salient point that what enables the radio blowhards to bamboozle the American public are the Rupert Murdochs and Roger Ailes of this world who, on large chunks of the airwaves, turn them into a bully pulpit for the men and women who regularly obfuscate the truth and are only rarely called out for disseminating propaganda disguised as news. Many of these commentators did -- or still do -- double duty on both radio and TV and, as we trace the toxicity into both media, we find a certain warped consistency -- although the full vigor of meanness is more often found on the airwaves.

Ninety-one percent of the airtime in America is dominated by right-wing zealots who shovel lies and innuendos down the throats of Americans who dutifully tune them in day after day. Unlike straightforward paper journalism, which conscientiously checks its facts and permits dissenting voices to be published when they have valid points to make, the toxic talkers thrive on bias, mockery, and prevarications. They perpetuate lies so successfully, and so continually, that listeners can be forgiven for believing that Obama's deficit spending is wrecking the US Treasury, that universal health care is a totalitarian hoax dreamt up by people whose American nationality have never been proven, and that allowing gays to marry would totally corrupt the institution of marriage.

Bill Press, in conjunction with Media Matters For America, has revealed the falsehoods perpetrated by these pseudo-journalists who never met a truth they couldn't twist into a menace. It is a blistering indictment of talk radio in America -- despite the fact that there is a small cadre of straight shooters such as Ed Schultz, Rachel Maddow, Ron Reagan, etc. trying to maintain an honest dialogue between themselves and their listeners, but compared to the sins of the toxic talkers, they are pretty much lost in the shuffle. The hatchet men and women of the right virtually monopolize the air-waves and everyone else is drowned out.

Press believes the restoration of the Fairness Doctrine is not the answer to this dilemma; that it is up to well-healed, enlightened liberal moguls to buy up more airtime and give the conservatives a run for their money. But if the Fairness Doctrine were reinstated (i.e., the requirement that both liberals and conservatives were given an even playing field), it would certainly provide some kind of counterforce to the meretricious likes of people like Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck, and O'Reilly. It was abolished from the air waves during Reagan's presidency and Democrats haven't raised a fuss about having it restored. But if a new more cavalier version of it were to be created, it could help to correct the balance between right-wing deceptions and moderate left-wing rebuttals. As things stand at the moment, when Limbaugh or Beck ram a falsehood down their listeners' throats, our only recourse for enlightenment is someone like Keith Olbermann or a late-night joke floated by the likes of Jon Stewart. Nor can fairness ever be provided by Rupert Murdoch in TV programs such as the short-lived Hannity & Colmes in which the former played Edgar Bergen and the latter, Charlie McCarthy.

Press has been involved with talk radio for most of his mature life and Toxic Talk which analyses the evils of the medium, is a bold, fact-filled diagnosis of the horrific shortcomings of modern-day radio. It will make you angry as it spells out the deceitful power of the right, and then frustrated with the way democracy continues to be usurped by a small clan of partisan spoilers. We need more wake-up calls like Toxic Talk and more reporters like Bill Press if we are ever going to correct the balance between tight and left in America.


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Swans -- ISSN: 1554-4915
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Published August 23, 2010