Drowned Out

Readers of The American Prospect don't need to hear that Donald Rumsfeld has been an awful defense secretary, that our actions in Iraq are fueling global terrorism, that George W. Bush's tax breaks for the rich are widening the gap between the rich and everyone else, that our government is now run by corporate America and right-wing evangelicals, and that these clowns and scoundrels have already imperiled our nation and the world for generations to come. You know these things.

Unfortunately, comparatively few Americans read The American Prospect. But tens of millions of Americans listen to right-wing radio and watch right-wing television. And they are being fed a stream of lies that parrot the untruths and distortions emanating from the White House. The public square is dominated by radical Republicans.

Recently I accepted an invitation to be on Sean Hannity's radio show, which is carried by nearly 400 stations around the country. I'm promoting a new book, Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America (Alfred A. Knopf). Hannity has been touring the country, broadcasting his right-wing screed in front of large crowds.

On this day, Hannity was broadcasting from Chicago. I phoned in at the appointed time. Hannity introduced me as a "liberal," and I heard the assembled crowd emit a loud boo. He then asked me if I thought Rumsfeld should resign. I said Rumsfeld should be fired. The crowd booed again. At this point Hannity played a tape, purporting to be the voice of John Kerry, who admitted to committing atrocities in Vietnam. Hannity then asked me how someone who had committed atrocities could call for Rumsfeld's resignation and run for president of the United States. The crowd cheered.

When I began to answer, Hannity cut me off. I tried to get a word in, but Hannity continued to rant about John Kerry and the liberals who want to destroy the country. I could hear the crowd roar its approval. I tried again to be heard, but Hannity talked over me. I decided to keep talking but my words seemed to make no difference. The crowd was cheering Hannity's diatribe. One listener e-mailed me later in the day to explain that Hannity's sound engineer had apparently turned down the volume on me, in order to ensure that Hannity's voice predominated.

All over talk radio and talk TV, liberal voices are being drowned out. Prior to 1987, when the Federal Communications Commission overturned the fairness doctrine, broadcasters had to air opposing views on controversial issues if they wanted to keep their licenses. Now, hosts of talk radio and talk television -- almost all of them right-wingers -- are interested in airing only one view: their own.

The problem runs deeper. Hannity is also the host of one of FOX News' most highly watched cable-television shows, and he and FOX promote each show on the other medium. Hannity also promotes his books on his radio and TV shows, which may help explain why his most recent screed, titled Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism, was at the top of The New York Times best-seller list for several weeks in March and April. Hannity's Midwest broadcast tour -- revving up crowds of right-wing faithful against liberals, Democrats, and John Kerry in particular -- is a logical extension of the other media enterprises.

Make no mistake: The entire effort is designed to get George W. Bush re-elected and install a permanent right-wing Republican majority in America. Bill O'Reilly, another FOX News TV host, also has a radio show, which is carried nationally on more than 400 stations. Like Hannity, O'Reilly uses these mouthpieces to promote his books and goes on broadcast tours to summon Republican crowds and stoke the passions of the right. MSNBC's Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman, is attempting to use the same formula.

The problem for liberals and Democrats is not just that we have nothing comparable to this widening empire of right-wing demagoguery (Air America Radio is trying, but it's in few markets so far). The real problem is that liberals refrain from demagoguery because we don't believe in it. Liberalism is the opposite of fanaticism. We cherish tolerance. We value deliberation. We respect rational argument. We oppose all forms of tyranny. We have faith -- and it is nothing but faith -- that, in the end, they won't be able to drown us out, because common sense and common decency are on our side. I hope we're right.

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