Saturday, January 26, 2008

Goodbye, Newman!

You were thinking about the pudgy mailman on Seinfeld, weren't you? No, as despicable as Larry David, et al., managed to make Wayne Knight look on the famed sitcom, that Newman had a sense of humor and some brains--however ill-employed. The one I am writing about here has neither. Enter "Gunny" Bob Newman.
In the AM wasteland of Denver, CO, which is littered with an endless litany of hatemongers of the right-wing conservative kind, from Limbaugh to Hannity, from Savage to Medved, from Ingraham to Rosen, people that make Jon Caldara seem like a fair-minded, unbiased individual, "Gunny" Bob Newman has the distinction of being the most hateful and one of the most inaccurate.

A retired marine with an endless reserve of venom and scorn for those who disagree with him, you can catch his fake laughter on 850 KOA, weeknights from 7 to 10 p.m.

On his radio show, the "Gunny" regularly accuses political opponents of being fascists or Nazis:
  • He refers to Keith Olbermann as "Olbermeinkampf". Olbermann declared him Worse (Bronze) Person in the World during the Sep 6, 2007, edition of Countdown and reminded him that "the guy who wrote Mein Kampf was a right-winger like yourself."
  • He hates Hillary Clinton with a passion, and routinely pours Nazi and fascist references on her. For example, he referred to her campaign staff as "the Third Reich insofar as its refusal to quit until there is simply no other choice". During the same rant, he asked his listeners to "Remember the Germans back in World War II. I mean, they fought down just about the last man in the middle, standing in the middle of Berlin! And the Clintons think the same way when it comes to givin' up."
  • He demeaned Democrats as wanting to establish a "socialist utopian state under the spiked boot heel of Hillary Rodham Clinton" (another not so veiled reference to Nazis).
  • He referred to Daily Kos and its Democratic supporters as "a demented, putrid segment of our society", and referred to the YearlyKos, the Daily Kos annual gathering, as "bigger than any KKK, Nazi, or Muslim terrorist gathering".

(The above examples are all documented by Mediamatters, which, no doubt, the "Gunny" would refer to as a liberal hate group.)

Notice the pattern of association and how he regularly demeans his opponents?

There's more in the Gunny's hall of shame:

  • His hatred for Democrats extends to Barak Obama, whom he has called Osama, just like Rush Limbaugh has done on a number of occasions, and whom he accused of wanting to introduce the subject of sexual intercourse to kindergartners.
  • He wanted all Muslim immigrants to wear "GPS tracking bracelets" and called for "a little moratorium on Muslim visas".
  • He suggested that "aborting such horrible people as Murtha, Pelosi, and Cindy Sheehan would be OK."
  • He called Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch "hate-filled, anti-freedom organizations".
  • He even managed to refer to a Quaker organization as a "hate-group".

The above examples are also all documented by Mediamatters, an organization that the "Gunny" would no doubt refer to as something like "a putrid segment of our society".

And then, to give you an example of Newman’s hypocrisy and bias, just the other night, he ranted for several minutes about the fact that the just-released study that counted the number of times the Bush administration had lied to link Iraq to WMDs and 9/11, is the work of by the Center for Public Integrity, which received funding from "liberal fascists" like Barbara Streisand, George Soros, and the Pew Charitable Trusts, therefore implying that the work is biased and untrue. You can judge for yourselves here. But that is only the beginning.

As soon as he was done, the "Gunny" took a phone call which sounded as if it had been set up as a follow-up to his rant (I am not saying it was, but it sure sounded like it.) Out of left field, the caller brought up Whitewater and implied that Hillary Clinton was implicated in some horrible things, leading to the murder of Vince Foster, among many unspoken crimes. Newman’s idiotic and forced laughter sounded as insincere as Hillary’s tears looked in that New Hampshire diner. (I am not joining Newman in Hillary-bashing, but my feelings on the diner incident are not a mystery).

Naturally, Newman failed to mention that the Whitewater investigation was part of the infamous Arkansas Project, funded in large part by Richard Mellon Scaife with the aim of destroying Clinton's presidency, or at least hampering it. Needless to say, the study by the Center for Public Integrity that Newman lambasted deserves much more credibility than the Whitewater investigation ever did.

It is likely, as it seemed to me, that the juxtaposition of the Whitewater investigation with the study by the Center for Public Integrity was meant to remind Gunny Bob's many biased listeners that studies like the one by CPI are meant to obfuscate the real issues and threats to America, like the alleged lies of the left and the danger of another Clinton in the White House. The only problem, of course, is that 4 years of investigations by special prosecutor Ken Starr, into Whitewater and other affairs, failed to implicate the President and the First Lady.

So why am I so seemingly obsessed with the obnoxious "Gunny" Bob Newman? Because, as much as I understand and respect First Amendment rights, I do not believe that the First Amendment confers absolute rights to free speech, either when the medium used to convey it is a limited resource or when the content of speech is so evidently false, hateful, or both.

Am I suggesting that we should deny "Gunny" Bob Newman his right to free speech? No. Like all of us, he has the right to his opinions and to voice them. This right is an ingredient of freedom, just as our airwaves are an essential resource for the public. Essential, does not mean without limits, though. Bandwidth is limited. The number of voices that can be heard is itself limited. What I propose is this: while diversity is a value that must be preserved and fostered, even on the airwaves, the limited availability of bandwidth makes it necessary to discriminate between what we allow and what we don't allow to be broadcast. In a civil society, civil differences of opinion must be encouraged and protected. Scorn, hatred, and falsehoods should have no place.

I’ll give you an example: While I do not agree with much of what Jon Caldara says, his viewpoints are far from hateful. They may be patronizing, biased, incorrect, or disagreeable, but, to the best of my knowledge, they are not hateful. He expresses his views, which have little or nothing to share with mine, harshly but respectfully. I can't stand David Brooks or Bill Kristol, but their presence on NPR, or PBS, or FOX only irks me, it does not offend me. Gunny Bob, on the other hand, is often hateful, scornful, and offensive, as he was tonight when he indulged a caller who refused to call gay soldiers "men" and joined him in ridiculing them as they prance in feathers in their little parade. He does not deserve a spot on the public airwaves. I am sure that there would be no lack of alternatives in the world of right-wing radio.

I can feel the criticism rising: doesn't that equate to censorship? It does not. If "Gunny" Bob wants to express his views, he can publish books, write articles for newspapers, or blog on his website. There is hardly a limit to his ability to publish his ideas in printed form. Books, newspapers, the Internet: all are viable means of broadcasting one's ideas to the public. And they have one thing in common: they are private and unlicensed, unlike airwaves, which belong to the public (and are licensed by the public, through the FCC). In addition to that, now that satellite radio has emerged with Sirius and XM, he can still find a spot on the air. You want to listen to "Gunny" Bob spewing hatred and falsehoods? You pay for it, and let the rest of us enjoy civil discourse.

The time has come to reclaim civility on the public airwaves. That the first amendment guarantees people the right to say what they want, even when it's hateful, does not imply that they have to be awarded a 50,000 watt public megaphone to help them. It’s time to clean up our air. Time to say "Goodbye, Newman!"

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