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:
TALKING WITH THE ENEMY
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?