Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Radio Rush

Via Crooks and Liars, I came across this thoughtful essay by Jeffrey Feldman, who I had not heard of before, but whose book Outright Barbarous: How the Violent Language of the Right Poisons American Democracy I now will be sure to read. In the essay, Feldman examines the rhetoric of Rush Limbaugh's "Operation Chaos" and compares and contrasts it to the way Radio Rwanda was used to incite Hutu genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda.

Feldman notes the difference in that Limbaugh is not calling for direct violence as did Radio Rwanda, but that he is intead hoping to create the conditions that lead to violence. Another key difference is that although the ultimate goal shared by the RR propagandists and Limbaugh is political violence, in the case of Limbaugh he is hoping for Democrats to perpetrate violence against other Democrats.

Now we get to the core of Limbaugh's purpose: to demonize Democrats as violent thugs who are a threat to the nation. In this respect, Limbaugh is acting very much as did Radio Rwanda

Namely, while Limbaugh defines the American Left as a clear, violent threat to the well being of his listeners. The broadcasts, in other words, are framed as an effort to incite violence amongst the Left as a larger strategy for preventing that so-called Left from committing acts of violence on his listeners (emphasis mine):

We don't burn our cars. We don't burn down our houses. We don't kill our children. We don't do half the things the American left does. We need the American left -- and this is another great thing about Operation Chaos; nothing to do with my ego. We need as many ignorant Americans to wake up and find out exactly who the modern-day Democrat Party is as dominated by the far left in this country. We need that to be seen. Now, I am not inspiring or inciting riots. I'm dreaming. (singing to the tune of White Christmas) "I'm dreaming of riots in Denver." Remember 1968? And which party did that? It was the radicals in that party, the anti-war radicals, the same bunch of clowns that are running around defining the Democrat Party today.
(from "Screw the World! Riot in Denver!")
The violence in Limbaugh's broadcasts, in other words, is not just the attempt to incite riots, but also a way of defining the Left as destructive murderers of children--as a violent threat to the American people.

In Rwanda, the radio broadcasts did not just invoke Hutu to kill Tutsi's, but did so by claiming falsely that Tutsi's had killed large numbers of Hutu and that, therefore, Hutu must form self-defense groups to prevent Tutsi from killing again. Defining Tutsi as murderers, in other words, was a crucial part of violent Hutu broadcasts that led to the genocide of Tutsi.
Finally, Feldman touches upon the nationalism of Limbaugh's Civil War rhetoric and how he "suggests that Liberal ideas have led to the destruction of American institutions and mass starvation--an situation his listener might naturally interpret as a pretext for civil war."

I would add that Feldman has not even mentioned that Limbaugh has equated Democrats with al Qaeda (see here and here), which has implications that are fairly obvious. Namely, if we're at war with al Qaeda, then we're at war with Democrats. Of course, Limbaugh again uses a Radio Rwanda tactic: I've never heard him say that Republicans are at war with Democrats, but I have heard him say that Democrats are at war with America. Again, presumably his listeners will find in this justification to defend America from the Democrats - Democrats whom Limbaugh has fantasized about deporting. And then there is Limbaugh equating "liberals" with cockroaches, which is the same way that the Hutu thought of the Tutsi.

But who am I kidding? There is no need to presume the reaction of Limbaugh's audience. We already know that some of them - at least those who write letters to critics of Limbaugh - think that "liberals" are traitorous enemies of America who may need to be dealt with violently.

Feldman ends his essay by stating plainly that he is not calling for censorship of Limbaugh. What he does expect, however, is for journalists to take seriously and examine Limbaugh's rhetoric. I must say that I find it perverse and disturbing that an individual such as Limbaugh who is such a disgusting propagandist, who says things that are demonstrably false on a literally sentence to sentence basis and who holds views that if can't be described as racist can certainly be described as absolutely disgusting can maintain such a place of high esteem in our political discourse.

Key members of our political class, including the Vice President, routinely appear on his program. Brian Williams is an admirer of his. Katie Couric made sure Limbaugh was one of the first guests she had on when she took over the evening news at CBS. There is something profoundly wrong here. Limbaugh's career is based on promoting hatred of "liberals" which parallels traditional sectarian and ethnic forms of hate-mongering.

His right to speak should be respected. But the content of said speech deserves no such respect. Our "fair and balanced" news class needs to recognize this distinction.

1 comment:

Spocko said...

HG: As you know, I've long held this view about right wing radio. And I'm with him all the way to the end and then you see how the right uses OUR values to beat us.

Feldman ends his essay by stating plainly that he is not calling for censorship of Limbaugh.

They know we believe in the first amendment, but the first amendment talks about Government censorship.
Rush is carried on commercially sponsored broadcast radio. And we can and should point out to the people who pay for his salary what he is saying that they pay for.

Now we know that when the rightwing wants to get a message out they are happy to throw cash at money losing things like The Washington Times, think tanks and Fox News. Rush's message will get out if Rush didn't exist. His "right to speak" on BROADCAST radio was given to him by the people. His continued speech is supported by management and advertisers.

Management of broadcast radio already know that they have some obligations, (no swearing) and they accept them. So they could suggest to Rush that he stop talking about going to war on Democrats.

I've got third tier right-wing talk radio hosts on tape saying horrible things which no advertiser wants to be associated with. I fight them because Rush is too well protected and clever because he is a money MAKER for the stations. And since they have positioned to America that they are journalists and any disagreement with them is some sort of censorship the media has a tendency to want to protect "it's own" because they think that people will come after them.

That is one reason that they don't want to denounce what Limbaugh has to say on the public air waves.
Heck M elanie M organ talked about hanging journalists and she was kept on. The station had the misguided idea that she an asset and not a liability.