The man who does my parents' taxes in Green Bay seemed nice enough. He shook our hands and greeted us with small talk as we sat down to go over papers.
But the acrid sounds coming from a stereo tuner near his ancient desk filled the office like dirty smoke. It was right-wing radio, an angry white man on his afternoon shift. I was amazed that this accountant was taking my parents' money and making us listen to this to boot, but I reminded myself I was there to help them.
On this day, the topic was poor Dick Cheney and how the liberal media wouldn't leave him alone after his little hunting mishap.
Soon the accountant was trying to wrench my 80-year-old mother into this angry world. He asked her if she thought such a trifling matter was grounds for Cheney's resignation. She snapped back, saying that she didn't think the hunting incident merited Cheney's resignation but that there were plenty of other reasons for it. She added that the two men with her felt just as she did. The accountant curled his lip in Cheney-esque fashion and went back to work.
My skinny little mother won that battle, but the drone of the angry white men goes on day after day, and they still cling to the myth of the liberal media as some sort of overpowering beast. Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who spoke at last year's Fighting Bob Fest in Baraboo, has been keeping a close watch on this. In a speech in San Francisco late last year, he noted that the notion of a liberal media is a right-wing ruse.
"There is a right-wing media, and if you look where most Americans are now getting their news, that's where they're getting it. According to Pew (Research Center), 30 percent of Americans now say that their primary news source is talk radio, which is 90 percent dominated by the right."
Unshackled by any meaningful oversight from the Federal Communications Commission or any sense of fairness, the right has elbowed its way into the mainstream, backed by big bucks. As Kennedy noted, "Twenty-two percent of Americans say their primary news source is Fox News, MSNBC or CNBC, all dominated by the right, and another 10 percent, Sinclair network, which is the most right wing of all." Sinclair also happens to be primarily Midwestern, a broadcast company whose owner makes news employees swear they won't criticize the war in Iraq or the Bush administration.
Right-wing radio may be the most pernicious of all in the way that it sneaks its way into the workplace day after day. If one person listens, then all in earshot must, too. You hear it everywhere, in the places where people work hard for a living.
There's good reason for these people to worry, but not about poor Dick Cheney. We are about one Supreme Court decision away from an end to collective bargaining for working men and women. Anyone concerned? Nearly 50 million Americans lack health care insurance, and many times that face shrinking benefits and growing premiums. Now there's something to worry about. Higher education? It's slipping out of reach for many.
But on it drones, this electronic flatulence. Call it the great distraction. It makes little distinction between Muslim extremists and loyal but liberal Americans. When Al Gore recently criticized the Bush administration for trampling on civil rights, right-wing radio accused him of treason. One can only hope that they didn't sentence him to a hunting trip with Dick Cheney.
The message on a daily basis seems to be that it's OK to hate, to shout other people down, to go about one's life in an angry mood.
Perhaps more frightening is this: If this brand of thinking is now mainstream, what is next? What supplants the right at the far end of the spectrum? What will feed the monster in coming years?
Bill Berry of Stevens Point writes a semimonthly column for The Capital Times. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
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