May 27, 2017

MY BREAKFAST WITH MITT

Downstairs from Kyle’s apartment is a tiny greasy spoon, the kind of shoebox fast food place where all the workers are immigrants, the eggs are grilled fast and customers are in and out in less than a minute. The man and his wife on the line ahead of me looked familiar.

“Aren’t you Mitt Romney?” I asked in disbelief.

“I sure look like him, don’t I…” he replied not turning from the counter.

“Wait a minute: You ARE Mitt Romney,” I insisted. Not one person in the place recognized him. Even after I said his name quite loudly. “I’ll have to talk about this on the radio tomorrow…”

Now I had his attention.

“Oh, you’re a radio guy?” He said quickly, finally turning. “Well, okay, we, uh, forgive you…”

His wife tried to cover quickly for the lame joke. “Oh, thank you for your good work.” She complimented. There are so few LIBERAL radio hosts I’m sure she assumed I was a conservative.

“Well, I AM surprised…I certainly will mention that you were eating in a greasy spoon like ordinary people and not having a power breakfast at the St. Regis!”

I asked if they had seen the tree yet and they said ‘No, they hadn’t had time ’ asking when it had been lit. I told them the tree lighting was Wednesday and it was also the day President Obama had come to NYC for three fundraisers. (I made certain to refer to him as PRESIDENT Obama and not ‘Obama’.)

“Now, THAT must have created some traffic problems!” said Mitt, now more interested. I told him that the papers had predicted gridlock of historical proportions and that I had been stuck on a bus for hours Wednesday night. “Oh, dear, that’s terrible…” he sympathized.

“Regardless of the gridlock, I don’t think you’re going to be carrying THIS state…” I said as pleasantly as I could.

“We have hopes we will carry New York…” he answered.

“Yeah, well we’ve learned a lot about the promise and the realities of hope over the last few years, haven’t we?”

He chuckled. His wife smiled. A third man with them seemed to be a campaign official.

As he got his breakfast bag I shook his hand and finally told him I was a Democrat but that he and John Huntsman seemed to me to be the only Republican candidates capable of being President. His wife shook my hand as well. They were gracious and friendly. As assuredly as he will not get my vote, I was thrilled to have met him and appreciative of his accessibility and friendliness.

There was no security detail, no Secret Service. And perhaps it was not necessary. When they left I asked the workers: “Do you know who that was?’ Even after I told them he was one of the leading Republican candidates for president they still shrugged and shook their heads. I looked behind me on the line and to the three small tables of customers. “Did you see that was Mitt Romney?” I asked exitedly. NOT ONE PERSON IN THE ENTIRE PLACE, NOT ONE RECOGNIZED THE MAN, LET ALONE THE NAME…

Jumping to Conclusions

In the last 24 hours the push back exonerating the connection between incendiary, vitriolic speech and the tragedy in Arizona has escalated.

And on the other hand, the focus primarily on Sarah Palin‘s target graphic has reached a point of obsession that I’m starting to feel she has almost become a scapegoat for the shooting. So let me make this clear: Sarah Palin is not responsible for the murders. She is, however, a principle in heightening angry discourse creating an atmosphere where violence is more easily ignited. And that does make her irresponsible. If her rifle scope graphic stood alone, independent of other reckless expressions of shrill antagonism it would have garnered almost no notice. But it does not.

Some things are facts. Others are opinions.

We do know as fact that Congressman Giffords was the focus of other threats and that she herself saw a connection between the apparent shooting-trashing of her campaign office after the healthcare vote and such displays:

“We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list, but the way she has it depicted she has the cross hairs of a gun site over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there are consequences to that action.” …..Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

Is anyone going to tell her today that she was wrong? Was Giffords jumping to conclusions when she linked reckless imagery with the attack on her office?

In 2009 U.S. District Judge John Roll who was murdered on Saturday presided over a $32 million civil-rights lawsuit filed by illegal immigrants against an Arizona rancher, the Marshals Service was anticipating the fallout. When Roll ruled the case could go forward, U.S. Marshal David Gonzales said talk-radio shows cranked up the controversy and spurred audiences into making threats. In one afternoon, Roll logged more than 200 phone calls. Callers threatened the judge and his family. They posted personal information about Roll online. “They said, ‘We should kill him. He should be dead,’ ” Gonzales said. Roll, who is the chief federal judge in Arizona, said both he and his wife were given a protection detail for about a month.

Those are direct quotes from a local newspaper account. Is anyone going to deny that “right-wing talk radio cranks up controversy and spurs its audience into making threats?”

This wasn’t the first time Representative Giffords faced an angry constituent with a gun. At a previous meeting with constituents one angry protester dropped his concealed and loaded gun. The staff thought it an incident serious enough to call the police.

Radio Host Joyce Kaufman tells her audience that “If ballots don’t work, bullets will, ” and proclaims that if her candidate loses “you need to be prepared to fight tyranny….I’ll put my microphone down on November 2nd and I mean it! Because at that point I’m going to go up in the hills of Kentucky, I’m going to go out into the mid-West, I’m going to go up in the New Hampshire outreaches and I’m gonna gather together men and women who understand some things are worth fighting for and some things are worth dying for.” She was then appointed Chief of Staff for her candidate, Alan West. She later declined the appointment after local threats of violence. Are those words incendiary or not? Is she just a hyperbolic entertainer on the radio or a real political force?

Kyle as you may know is an excitable boy. I discovered early on that if I lost control of my temper and shout at a driver who cut me off or argued with someone who pushed there way into line that it would set him off. He became agitated, shouting and losing control of himself. So I have a responsibility as his parent. I defuse antagonistic confrontations but also explain to him why such incidents are frustrating. Listeners and voters are not children…but not a tiny minority behave like children. Political figures and corporate media figures also have a special responsibility. They shouldn’t be censored. They should face remonstration when they don’t honor that responsibility. (G-d knows, I faced enough of that when I hosted my old TV show…but more of that another day).

I’m not calling for censorship of anybody or any group. What I am proposing is that words do have consequences, sometimes serious and tragic consequences. When I began working in talk radio I vowed to myself (and later to listeners) that I never wanted to be a conduit for hatred of either an individual American or a group of Americans. I hope I was true to my pledge and yet still a strong proponent of my ideas and opinions. My point is that manipulative politicians and mendacious media figures have found anger and hatred is an effective currency for their ends.

When millions listen to right wing talk radio stations every day shows linking one to the other in a continuous chain of virulence, hatred and extremism does anyone believe it has no effect on, not only listeners, but our society in general?

Unfortunately, today we can’t ask Judge Roll to answer that question. Hopefully, G-d willing, Gabrielle Giffords may one day have such an opportunity.

Don’t let the media meld with your mind…

In the eighties and nineties while I was hosting television talk we would book  guests from the left and the right.  What was important was that the personage was important and conveyed important thoughts.   In short, our objective was to create a good show, an entertaining and informative program.   Guests included President Jimmy Carter, candidate for mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Ed Koch, Alexander Haig, Frank Rizzo, Thomas Sowell,  Rev. Al Sharpton. Ross Perot, Jerry Brown, Vladamir Pozner, William Kunstler, Pat Buchanan among many others.

We would generally have a guest on for the forty minutes that make up a television hour minus commercials.  At the end of that time the guest not only had time to present and support his ideas but hopefully viewers learned something about the person.  I never received one complaint that I was either too conservative or liberal although I had my own political and social beliefs and was not shy about expressing them on air.  Surely, there was debate, but my paramount concern was to make the guest think on the air.  I tried to create unexpected questions in a comfortable environment so that a viewer could actually see the process of the guest THINKING and since the show was broadcast live  the viewer subliminally knew that the guest could say anything, that anything could happen.

My shows were broadcast live as they are (usually) on radio so from time to time I was asked to fill in for local radio hosts on vacation.  I sat in for Bob Grant manyl times.   Later my first extended gig on WABC was filling in for Sean Hannity.  No one asked for my personal political beliefs.  What was important was  competence  and my public visibility.  This would be unthinkable in today’s media environment.

Program Directors will not even place differing political narratives on the same station today!  THE BUZZ on WABC which I co-hosted with conservative Steve Malzberg was #4 out of all stations in the NY market in its time period when it was cancelled.   Curtis & Kuby was a hit morning show when it met its demise.

A  political bugaboo of the right is The Fairness Doctrine which they claim could censor conservative talk radio.   The doctrine requires media outlets  to air contrasting views  when presenting controversial matters of public interest.  The Fairness Doctrine was in effect from 1949 through 1987 and didn’t hinder the rise of Joe Pyne, Bob Grant, Paul Harvey and Barry Farber but it did help to foster an environment where listeners could hear a variety of opinions on the radio.

We live in bubbles where we no longer even want to listen to each other unless its in agreement or argument,  bubbles where facts are superfluous if they don’t fit the narrative.   It is  simple today to create our own ‘playlist’ when it comes to shaping perceptions of reality.

And as the following article cleverly espouses, Americans are more than ever susceptible to INCEPTION.  As I used to say everyday on my radio show:  Don’t let the media meld with your mind

http://www.salon.com/news/opinion/feature/2010/07/30/inception_media_messages/index.html