Free at last, free at last.
Or maybe not, with newborn Air America radio last week tripping over its own umbilical cord by getting flushed, at least temporarily, from the airwaves in Los Angeles and Chicago in a murky dispute over money.
Although there's no good side to the prospect of radio crib death in major markets and the dispute seemed headed toward a solution by late last week, I'm one liberal listener who isn't grieving its brief absence.
For years, we lefties have dreamed of throwing off the yoke of reactionary talk radio. We prayed for deliverance from its monolith of right-wing fat lips, from Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Bill O'Reilly to radio's equally dogmatic lesser hair triggers. We've suffered their insults and buckled under the tonnage of their leaden rhetoric and demagoguery on the airwaves.
But no more. Before us, at last, is the enlightened alternative radio of our dreams, right? Throw open the window, air out the room, and inhale the bracing aroma of fresh insights. Time for the witty truth patrol, the trumpets of wisdom, the silver tongues of knowledge and reason. Instead of knee-jerk conservatives, make way for … knee-jerk liberals.
Since its March 31 debut, I've been monitoring much of the new Bush-clobbering, hit-'em-hard-with-yucks Air America, whose liberal poster child Al Franken has made himself The Anti-O'Reilly with a show titled The O'Franken Factor.
Here's what I can say about this Motel 6 of enlightenment, from Morning Sedition
to evening's The Majority Report
hosted by actress Janeane Garofalo: My bags are packed, and I'm out the door.
The fundamental problem is talk radio as a concept in an age when what passes for news often careens wildly out of control. Along with cable's 24-hour news channels, talk radio puts information—and disinformation—on a perilous, rain-slick fast track with blind hairpin curves and crashes waiting to happen.
If President Bush were rumored to have awakened with the hiccups, an hour later the news channels would be going live and hashing it over with experts on involuntary contractions. The rumor would assume a life of its own by dinnertime, when much of talk radio would have weighed in, with the likes of Limbaugh and Hannity blaming the president's hiccups on a liberal conspiracy. Their listeners would nod in unison.
That's because talk radio of all colorations is primarily feelgood
radio, with most listeners tuning in solely to have their biases validated by people who think as they do. This amounts to one hand giving the other high fives. Those behind the mike and those listening are interchangeable, much as visiting day went long ago for scraggly, scratchy Spook, the lifetime jailbird in The Wizard of Id
cartoon strip. When they sat him in front of a tall mirror in his dungeon cell, he crossed his legs and asked himself, "So, how's the family?"
Despite my reservations about talk radio, the partisan liberal in me wanted Air America to kick butt. Yet I swiftly grew as weary of its Bushphobic rants as I did the nightly pounding that Bill Clinton took from Letterman and especially Leno late in his presidency. Enough already.
When Air America wasn't available on Los Angeles airwaves the day after President Bush's press conference last week, I wasn't missing the predictable denunciations by carrion birds.
Now, Bush's butchered Spanish has become a Morning Sedition
punch line. "Liberal media," a favorite target of the right, gives way to a different foil. It's "corporate media," on Garofalo's show, where one night the U.S. was tagged a "police state." If that were so, of course, Air America would be history faster than you could say "O'Franken."
Speaking of whom, I'm up to here with him, too. The darts he aims at conservative talkers are probably flicked away like lint from a lapel.
Randi Rhodes, a rare liberal talker before she left her West Palm Beach radio show to join Air America, is funnier than Franken—if she's not hyperventilating. When technical snafus blocked call-ins to her show one afternoon, she filled time unleashing a 45-minute lashing of the Bush crowd that could have been directed by Mel Gibson.
I checked in on her a week later, and it was like no time had passed. She was still saying: "This guy has got to go." I left and returned 10 minutes later to find she still hadn't taken a breath: "The reason why Bush won has nothing to do with Gore. It has to do with Bush and the Supreme Court."
Talk about beating a dead horse, this one is in full rigor mortis.
It was Rhodes, also, who earlier had cautioned listeners: "Don't believe anything you hear on talk radio, not even me." Good advice.