Apr 5, 2009

Barbara Simpson is a radio talk show host on KSFO, a San Francisco radio station that features a complete line of conservative hosts, beginning with Rush Limbaugh and ending, you could say, with Ms. Simpson and Brian Sussman, who is actually the more outrageous of the two.

The other day Ms. Simpson, who describes herself as 'the babe in the bunker', railed against the Obamas in Europe, accusing them not least of showing bad manners with the Queen of England and other heads of state. I wrote an email criticizing her criticism and raising some questions about things Ms. Simpson has written. Here's part of what I wrote...

But do you ever question what you're doing or what the effect is? It was particularly troubling to read this, especially in the context of other things you've said and written (about President Obama)....

"In his political ivory tower he cannot see that by taking
American independence and love of freedom for granted,
he's sowing the seeds of a revolution against him and
his politics.

"Someone, somewhere, told him he was untouchable.

"That someone was wrong."

That sounds vaguely threatening. And again, political views aside, inappropriate. Why? Because you give comfort and encouragement to people of slim mind and scruple. I'm not for the fairness doctrine, but when you say these things and write these things, with no sense of how they become part of the steroid driving people these days,
then I'm beginning to think it is time to shut off the spigot.

Ms. Simpson answered, in part, by asking... "you're just full of questions. i have just one: why do you listen?"

I responded (Sunday, April 5).


Here's an AP portrait of Richard Poplawski who shot and killed three police officers yesterday....

— 23 years old, caucasian.

— Feared "the Obama gun ban that's on the way" and "didn't like our rights being infringed upon."

— had an Internet talk show but that wasn't successful.

— had an AK-47 rifle and several powerful handguns, including a .357 Magnum.

— had been laid off from his job at a glass factory earlier this year.

— had been upset about losing his job.

— lived in a neighborhood of well-kept single-family houses and manicured lawns is home to many police officers, firefighters, paramedics and other city workers.

Here's what little is known about Jiverly Wong....

— often mocked for his inability to speak English, was taking language classes at the association until dropping out in the first week of March.

— slipped into despair after recently losing his job at a local factory.

Here's the unemployment rate in California...

— 10.1% in January 2009; will march upward until at least the end of the year, economists predicted (March 9).

Here's an excerpt from an October 1991 New York Times article about mass murders in the U.S....

Dr. Fox, who defines mass murder as the killing of four or more people, said there were now an average of two mass murders a month in this country. Most are in Texas, California and Florida, heavily populated states with a large influx of migrants searching for new jobs or families after disappointments or frustrations elsewhere.

It is this kind of unhappy, angry people, almost always middle-aged white men in their 30's or 40's, who are most likely to become mass murderers, said Dr. Fox, the dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern and a co-author of "Mass Murder," (Plenum Publishing, 1985) widely considered the most authoritative study of this type of crime.

Typically mass murderers are men with no previous criminal record or history of mental illness, said Dr. Marvin E. Wolfgang, professor of criminology and law at the University of Pennsylvania, and their killings "are not really planned."

Like Mr. Hennard, they may be rude to their neighbors and have occasional outbursts that frighten people, but that is true of thousands of people around the country and offers no clue that they will become mass murderers, added Dr. Fox.

"What is really striking is our complete inability to predict this kind of violence," said Deborah Denno, a criminologist and an associate professor of law at Fordham University.

What seems to happen with men who become mass murderers, Dr. Fox said, is that after a prolonged period of being lonely, frustrated and filled with rage, "There is some precipitating event, often a catastrophe in their lives," which drives them over the edge. It may be getting divorced or losing their jobs, Dr. Fox said.

Here are my questions to you?

Forget Jiverly Wong for a moment, since I would guess you don't have a high percentage of immigrants listening to KSFO. Particularly those that have recently arrived and don't speak English well. I hope I'm right. Pray to Mary, mother of God, if I'm not. But how many of your listeners fit the profile of Richard Poplawski? And how many of those that fit the profile are close to a tipping point? And how many of those close to a tipping point get fed their mistrust and hatred from you, in large measure or small? Or any of the other people on 'hate radio'? And then put aside killings, how many domestic violence cases do you suppose go unreported that could be attributed to anger fanned by your program? How many women have been slapped or humiliated, or punched or God knows what, because of the emotions you keep on simmer? How many times is the proximate cause of domestic violence something people have heard on these shows?

Which leads to the question, what responsibility do you have to this community? You might say, 'well, we are the government in exile.' 'We're the loyal opposition.' But you're certainly not in the same league as say, George Will or William F. Buckley, who kept and keep a high standard of discourse. Or what about Marc Ambinder? Your intention is not to have a thoughtful, reasoned discussion. Your intention is not to help conservatives join in a genuine public dialogue... The intention is to accentuate differences, to rile up, to make money on people's anger and their baser instincts. The things that Poplawski told his friends were all things you hear on your show, they're ideas you've written about yourself. You give encouragement and license to these people.... You endorse their fear.

And then to throw gasoline on the fire — you oppose gun control. That's the real madness. Tell that to the wives and children of the seven police officers killed in the last two weeks in this country. What possible justification is there for anyone to own an AK-47?

And you don't deny these things.....

You said that you were ashamed and embarrassed by the Obamas in Europe, for their lack of manners. Which I found very amusing since they have come to represent the best of America — the smart, urbane, friendly, and confident people that we can be. People with "no side" as they say in the South. And people all over the world are responding. As opposed to the fearful, sneering, arrogant stupidity that became America's brand under W. Now, you can feel great about being an America again. Now, we're back in the driver's seat.

And then as you kept going on and on all I could think was, 'but you're so far off the mark; the truth is, you should be deeply ashamed and embarrassed for yourself." But then how could you? You don't have that kind of self-knowledge. It doesn't occur to you that you need to take responsibility for these things you're saying and that your friends and colleagues are saying.....

But how are you going to feel, how are any of you going to feel at KSFO, if some local Poplawski goes nuts?

Finally, an answer to your question? Why do I listen? If it's all so shameful, why do I listen? It's a good question and the answer is evolving. I began listening originally out of curiosity. Like watching the fat lady or some misshapened poor bastard at the county fair. More than that, the expression of hatred is compelling. Hitler knew that. The radio priest of the Great Depression, Fr. Charles Coughlin, knew that. You know that. And that you know and still do it is compelling. I suppose it's the intellectual equivalent of watching fake wrestling. But then you wonder, the audience may not always know the difference between entertainment and sincere political belief, but does the talk show host know?

Rush Limbaugh used to know the difference, but now he's lost his humor and meshed the two together. His imitators have done the same because the economic model is so successful.

In any case, now I've begun listening in earnest. Because it's time to challenge what you're doing. Think of it as a backlash to the backlash. And it's not about free speech anymore. That argument is void. It's about falsely shouting 'fire' in a crowded movie theater. It's the equivalent to drunk driving or gross negligence, or as I'm afraid we're going to find out one of these days, manslaughter. I can even see a day where in civil court a talk show host might be sued for promoting untruths or half-truths leading to a death. Or deaths.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You should have heard their Muslim-bashing show last week. Makes old Babs look tame...