Friday, September 17, 2010

Listening to A.M. Talk Radio This Past Summer

This past summer our family spent time camping in West Texas and Eastern New Mexico. At times we were in really remote areas where there was no television or internet access. The local newspapers had only local news, and we felt out of touch with what was going on in the rest of the world.

We were in a part of the country with vast expanses of land and a very low population density. We kept trying, but couldn’t ever find an NPR or other news station. Frankly, there were only a few radio stations at all. Finally, my husband and I were so desperate for some non-local news, so we took a break from listening to our children’s audiobooks and music CDs to listen to right wing talk radio on A.M. stations. There were some local talk radio programs, as well as some national programs. Although there was a time in my life when I forced myself to listen to Rush on a regular basis, these days I don’t listen to such programs very much. I was shocked at the extreme and nasty nature of some of what was said in the radio programs we listened to. Particularly I was horrified at a reoccurring theme of hostility towards Muslims, Arabs and South Asians.

First of all I was appalled at the use of a particular term that I heard on these programs: r-- h---. I had never heard the term before, and I am not entirely sure what it is even supposed to mean. But I heard it several times on several different shows, mostly from listeners who called in to share their thoughts with the hosts. From the context, I gather the term is an epithet. Indeed, the hosts did not seem comfortable with its use. They tried to distance themselves from the term when listeners used it. I only heard one host use the term, but he made it clear that he was quoting someone else. That host was also quick to add he did not endorse the use of the term himself.

I found these attitudes of the hosts rather remarkable for two reasons. In other portions of their programs they attacked “political correctness” as a nefarious ploy of the left. The hosts also seemed quite comfortable with pretty vile bigotry against Muslims, Arabs and South Asians in other parts of their programs. The hosts just seemed to draw the line at name calling. I find that curious.

On one local West Texas program, the host was ranting about plans to build a “mosque” on the grounds where the World Trade Center once stood. My husband and I listened to this program months ago. Interestingly, that talk radio rant was actually the first either of us had heard of this proposed construction; it was not yet on the national news. In extremely bitter terms, the host described his utter disgust and deeply felt outrage over the proposed construction. He characterized the proposed “mosque” as an “insult,” a “kick in the gut,” and an “attack” on Americans. He expressed his anger that President Obama would not “stand up” to such Muslim insults. I was appalled when one of his callers later chimed in by stating: “Obama is not black, he is yellow.” The host of that particular program ended his rant by stating in a frankly scary tone that if he went to Manhattan and the “mosque” was there, he would spit on it. I was stunned, disappointed and generally rather creeped out to live in the same country with the folks who participated in this particular talk radio show.

While listening to another program, a listener called in to share insight from a recent experience. He explained he worked at a gas station in Florida, and a British tourist had just told him during his purchase of gas that a Pakistani engineer helped design the BP well that exploded in the Gulf of Mexico last April. The caller stated rather agitatedly that that connection needed to be explored because it was “evidence” that the BP oil spill was a terrorist attack. Oh, my. If I had been the host, I would not have even known where to start with such a comment. Sadly, the program’s host seemed to just encourage the listener’s paranoia and bigoted assumptions.

The hosts of several of the talk radio shows we listened to were really up in arms about Helen Thomas’s then-recent comments expressing hostility towards the state of Israel. Astonishingly, one host noted that her heritage as a Lebanese American was the reason for her attitude. He explained that “her people” hate Jews and it was natural to assume she was brought up in with that same mindset. Wow.

Listening to the bigotry, hostility and paranoia of the hosts and listeners of these A.M. talk radio shows was really eye-opening. Obviously, I live a sheltered life because previously I had never been exposed to such ugly and ignorant statements about Muslims, Arabs and South Asians. Since childhood, I have had friends and acquaintances who fell into these demographics; they are absolutely lovely individuals, for whom I have much admiration and affection.

Moreover, I just cannot fathom someone wanting to spit on a place of worship. Frankly, spitting is just a disgusting habit wherever one does it. But on a place of worship?! I can only imagine how hurt (and threatened) I might feel if someone came to my church and spit on it. I cannot comprehend doing that to another human being.

Finally, I am astounded that gossip from a gas station patron would be taken so seriously, and that the alleged existence of a Pakistani engineer’s involvement would be grounds for a conspiracy theory. There is a reason that hearsay is generally not permitted as evidence in a court of law.

Because our country does not produce enough engineers, we actually have a large number of foreign-born engineers who do important work in our country and make innumerable valuable contributions to our economy. Are we now supposed to assume such engineers are terrorists if they are from Pakistan? What if they are from the U.K.? What about all the doctors and nurses who come to work in the United States from other countries? Should we now fear going for our cholesterol screenings and flu shots due to the specter of foreign-born health workers? Next time I take my kids to the doctor, is it ok if the nurses are from Canada, but I’m supposed to get suspicious if they are from the Philippines? I really don’t follow the logic. Perhaps I need enlightening on this point.

Though bigotry against Muslims, Arabs and South Asians was apparently acceptable to the hosts and listeners of these talk radio shows, I found it interesting that one host and his listeners were so touchy about anti-Semitism. Maybe I’m being simplistic, but I would think if one is fine with bigotry against one group, then bigotry against another would also be viewed as acceptable. Apparently, it doesn’t work like that. The rules of bigotry are very confusing!

Finally, I am horrified that all Lebanese Americans are—at least in some quarters--labeled as anti-Semitic bigots simply because of their heritage. I know many white Southerners (like myself) do not appreciate stereotypes that we are all racist and sympathetic to the Klan. Assuming that anyone of a particular racial or ethnic group is bigoted by virtue of his/her heritage is simply unfair and un-American.

Luke 6:43-45 (New International Version)

No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.
Each tree is recognised by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn-bushes, or grapes from briers.
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

Mark 9:40 (New King James Version)

For he who is not against us is on our side.

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