December 17, 2014

10 YEARS LATE (and 10 years later)

Ten years ago this week I was fired at WABC during the first weeks of the Iraq War. For months preceding the invasion I had been presenting real evidence exposing the flim-flam our government was perpetrating concerning Iraq’s danger to the US and its connection to 9/11. During the prior months I watched my fellow anti-war comrades at the station Lynn Samuels and Rev. Byron Schaefer get fired along with others on TV and on radio. A few weeks after my dismissal I wrote this as a letter to the editor or an op-ed…but I never sent it. A good friend in the business, who’s opinion I highly respected, suggested it was not a good time to do so. His words at the time were chilling: ‘Don’t send it if you ever want to work again in this business’ He may have been right, but it is one of the very few things I regret not doing during my broadcast career. I came across it the other day…It’s ten years too late, but interesting as a window on that strangest of times:


Last month I was knocked off the beacon of freedom in a troubled land. I was fired by the talkradio station where I worked. It is a station where a savage conservative voice follows an affable conservative voice which is preceded by a operatic conservative voice proceeded by a genteel conservative voice preceded by a streetwise conservative voice. In talk radio this is known as diversity. It seems to be a successful broadcasting model these days. In morning and late evening drive two dissenting gadflies buzz in dissent. Until last month I was one of them.

The morning anti-war gadfly conveniently disappeared for vacation on the very day the shock and awe bombs began to drop. This should have been enough time to keep him out of harms way but unfortunately, ‘the walk in the park’ became a slightly longer foray. The Iraqi’s did not collapse at ‘the first whiff of gunpowder’ but waited until a second or third sniff, so he was back on the air before the war ended. Though he is a very brave and passionate fellow he was a bit restrained in his commentary when he returned. I understand why.

The un-American police are on patrol.

It is un-American to show ‘Bull Durham’ at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Not because of any message in the movie but because its stars, Susan Saranden and Tim Robbins have been outspoken in opposition to war. It is un-American to point out that bombs kill mothers and children as well as enemy soldiers so Representative Charles Rangel, a decorated Korean War Veteran delivers a speech defending his patriotism and decrying intimidation. It is un-American to use a campaign slogan that reminds voters that regime change in America is their right at the ballot box so candidate John Kerry has to plead to be allowed to criticize the office holder he would like to replace at election time. It is un-American to listen to the Dixie Chicks, to praise Michael Moore‘s wit, to eat in a French restaurant. to drink Evian or Perrier. Even Tavern on the Green is purging its menu of French references (they cannot find an Anglified substitute for ‘filet mignon’ yet). There are so many things that are un-American these days that for a while it seemed that the only safely American past times were flag waving and yellow ribbon tying.

Now that the fever of war is cooling it is time to rediscover two real American traditions: Proud dissent and passionate debate. They should never have disappeared, even during a month of war.

Some dissenting media stars have faded away in the breaking of our new conservative dawn. MSNBC has a memo that warns the station it will be branded unAmerican if Phil Donahue is on the air once war begins. A major media consulting firm warns TV stations that their ratings will fall if they broadcast news of antiwar protests. Peter Arnett does something stupid and is banished from American airwaves while Geraldo Rivera does something even more stupid and remains a conservative star. War coverage on the airwaves that corresponds to the Pentagon playbook is the only ratings getter. The war has sealed what was a trend, the acceptance of monolithic conservative mass media.

Since my firing, colleagues in broadcasting have called me to commiserate. ‘What the heck is going on?’ they ask. But they ask it in a whisper, as if the phone is being tapped or some agent from a new TIPS program is eavesdropping.

Two weeks ago the Dixie Chicks were number one on the Billboard Charts, even after their music was banned on playlists and CD’s were smashed in protest. Toby Keith was number two with his song connecting Saddam Hussein to September 11th. Michael Savage‘s literary dream of a savage nation was number one on the NY Times best seller list but Michael Moore‘s premonition about the dangers of stupid white men was number two. This is still a nation where some people buy books or music for different political reasons and also because they like to read or listen to music. Broadcast mediums have far less diversity in their spectrum.

The media has a power to shape reality and that reality today finds dissonance of political opinion intolerable. Talkradio goes further. There is a bullying confidence in identifying the real Americans from those who are not. It is un-American to use the word ‘invasion’. Broadcasters must use ‘liberation’. Peace marchers are communists filled with hate although I was there along with many others carrying American flags. Democrats are a subversive group, untrustworthy and ready to undermine the benevolent efforts of the protective state though I have been a lifelong registered Democrat. ‘G-d Bless America’ used to be a plea. Today it is an order to the Almighty to fall in line.

Operation Iraqi Freedom is drawing to a close but Operation American Freedom is just beginning. The soldiers in that fight here at home must not whisper or cluster in fear.

Or is it unAmerican to make that comparison?

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  • Extended Stay In Miami

    10 years late and 10 years later…. good combination

  • john

    such a shame i honestly don’t agree much with what you say richard…but honestly you are my favorite liberal..miss ur show sooo much…used to watch ur tv show…honestly i really wish you didn’t get fired and had another show on the radio…it really was great listening to you…maybe you should go on tv again…way better than springer….but so much more to you…so intelligent and you have a way with words even tho i don’t agree with you

    • Richard Bey

      Its comments like yours, John, from those who disagree with my opinions but can still enjoy the experience of creative communication, that I cherish the most. Thank you…

  • Marie

    Richard, do you have any books that you have written?
    You are truly a very gifted writer and your
    energy and passion for what you believe in,
    and stand for, jumps out of the page.

    • Booky301

      I have a couple…but I never seem to finish them!! LOL Maybe your words will be an inspiration to my ambition…because I would certainly LIKE to finish them.
      Take care and thanks so much for the inspiration,
      Richard Bey

  • Martin Vogel

    You are my hero (one of them, anyway). You had the power of speech and you used it.

    • Booky301

      Thanks, Marty…although I would suggest ‘don’t have heroes’. Be one yourself! Still, your kind words are much appreciated….
      take care,
      Richard Bey

  • Jimmy L Aldrich

    Wow Richard!

  • J Fontaine

    Very impressive. I was a listener to your show on WABC and stopped listening to them completely after you left. Great story. Hope to see you on the airwaves again soon.

  • Mike

    There’s a Q in Al queda and a Q in Iraq that’s our cue to attack!

    I grew up listening to you on the WABC on Saturday mornings. I met you at an event for Lionel at Rosy O’Gradey’s just a few years after you left WOR. You have me your demo CD which I still have and remember. So much great commentary, and FANTASTIC SONGS!

    Hope all is well.

  • Beakerkin

    I never understood that firing because you were paired with Steve Malzberg and it was a quality show. Your dissent was never Anti American ala Ron Kuby who was not fired.

    A disagreement on Charlie Rangel. Although Rangel fought in the Korean War, he sees no problem with Castro or Daniel Ortega. It is one thing to disagree with a policy and quite another to throw parties for Marxist tyrants.

    On a personal note, I owe you a debt of thanks. I was working in a dying industry and took a leap of faith. There were weeks when the phone didn’t ring, Some of the jobs I worked were horrible and I got fired. There were times I wondered is I was washed up at thirty two. At my lowest day, you told your own experiences with being between jobs
    and waiting for the phone to ring or to get that letter.

    I am on the job now for ten years. I had to leave NYC for three years until I could return, but I now have a career and pension. THe great thing about my current job is it is one of the rare ones where I hear a heart felt thank you

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