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Community Voices: Conservative talk radio the ‘Echo Chamber of Hate’

Neil Zolot

A study released last month by the UCLA Chicano Studies Research Center investigated how conservative talk radio has spun a storyline that reverberates what has become commonly known as the “echo chamber of hate.”

Aptly described, it’s a political discussion in which no real debate occurs, but  storylines are rabidly reinforced by conservative talk show hosts and FOX News,  who parrot the assumptions of their audiences, often cherry-picking arguments to fit a singular point of view.

The format’s most popular practitioners are Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity. However, they do not, as they claim, lead discussions. They uniformly adhere to the right-wing script of misinformation and fear-mongering.

Jon Stewart calls Beck’s show a place to find out what people who don’t think think. It’s a showcase for staged ignorance. Perceived  or real slights are blown out of proportion and resound, like an echo chamber, from program to program. President Obama’s connection to William Ayers became proof of Obama’s connection to terrorists. Negotiating with the Palestinians became proof that Obama hates Israel.

Conservative politicians prey on their audiences to exploit fear as they did with the ‘Southern Strategy’ during the civil rights movement, when fear of black equal rights was exploited. The same strategy has been used in regard to women’s rights and gay rights. Last summer, former Alaskan Governor Sarah Palin contributed her own spin to health care reform by citing non-existent death panels. This tactic successfully derailed a meaningful debate on senior health care.

This willful ignorance has roots in the opinions of political activist Lyndon LaRouche, who accused both the Pope and the Queen of England of being agents of evil.

Misinformation is also heard in discussions about the Trilateral Commission, the Masons and the September 11 terrorist attacks.

 Not surprisingly, there is also an anti-Semitic element. A major bogeyman is the financier and philanthropist, George Soros, a Jewish-born Hungarian immigrant, who founded the Open Society Foundation and is known for championing liberal causes. Although not singled out for being Jewish, Soros has nonetheless been described by Beck as a “puppet master” because of  Soros’ support of  liberal, like-minded politicians, and for what Beck describes as actively working to undermine the “American way of life.”  Soros has also been accused of  manipulating world finances. It’s classic anti-Semitism, the Jewish banker who is “in control.” Would a non-Jewish liberal be accused of collaborating with Nazis as Soros has been? Probably not, and certainly without the same vicious intent.

 Also cited often as enemies of the United States and “the American way of life” is the New York media and the Hollywood establishment. Sound familiar? Over the years, anti-Semites have consistently accused Jews of controlling the media. Barbra Streisand and Steven Spielberg, both Jewish, are often attacked.  The vilification of Streisand was so prevalent that Air America, the liberal talk radio network, spoofed Streisand’s accusers with briefings they ‘received from the Streisand Complex.’

Conservatives claim that challenges to white male privilege by women, African Americans, gays and others is oppressive.  Gay marriage is classified not as a right for everyone but a threat to straight marriage. It is little wonder that Minnesota Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, a Republican presidential contender and darling of the ultra-right, says she receives instructions from God and has a husband who is trying to re-educate gays. How does one verify instructions from God?

The Houston Chronicle reported that Texas Governor Rick Perry attended a conference which the Mississippi-based American Family Association sponsored. The group condemns homosexuality, opposes abortion rights and argues the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom applies only to Christians. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled the organization a hate group for spreading misinformation about homosexuals.

The “echo chamber” also attacks Obama. They brand him as a Muslim and as an agent of anti-Christian forces. His blackness brands him as anti-white, which can be read as anti-American. Bachmann’s complaints about Arab Muslim infiltration in the State Department is a reference to Obama being perceived as a Muslim. Attorney General Eric Holder, also African American, is accused of running the “Fast and Furious” gun program to take guns away from Americans. These are really irrational fears about an armed insurrection by African Americans. It’s about the black guys running guns.

Of course, right-wing talk radio isn’t about meaningful discussion, but entertainment and profit. It’s a radio format designed to appeal to an audience of ultraconservatives; it’s narrowcasting. Media professionals know this. Sympathetic listeners don’t.

The “Echo Chamber of Hate” draws attention away from real problems, like corporate greed and bigotry, and replaces it with appeals to prejudice and fear of change and the unknown. In doing so, talk radio and  conservative politicians are marshaling the working class to defend the rich.