Hate fills the airwaves.
CONDITIONS around the world lead to the belief that hate is everywhere: ethnic cleansing and aimless killing in Bosnia, Africa, and Russia; rebels and insurgents in South America and other parts of the globe; the rise of neo-Nazis in Germany and other countries--race against race, color against color, religion against religion. Increasingly, many of the same problems plague the U.S. as small extremist groups direct hate against Jews and blacks; extremist religious groups spread hate against abortionists and homosexuals; and the most extreme of the extremists advocate stockpiling arms to protect themselves against a government they hate and want to overthrow. Much of the hate is transmitted over radio and television.
The April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building drastically brought to consciousness the threat of hate and violence in the U.S. After the bombing, Pres. Clinton castigated the media's "loud and angry voices" for "spreading hate and leaving the impression by their very words that violence is acceptable." In an interview with the Detroit Free Press, Clinton urged radio talk show hosts and their callers to reject on-air statements "fostering hate and division and encouraging violence."
Conservative radio talk show hosts objected strenuously and vociferously against Clinton's implication that such programs had anything to do with the bombing. Rush Limbaugh, whose talk show is carried by more than 600 stations, maintained that the President was playing the "blame game" and that such a suggestion is "irresponsible and vacuous to ... suggest that this 200-plus-year-old debate caused the explosion of a building in Oklahoma City." Chuck Harder, a talk show host on The People's Radio Network in White Springs, Fla., said, "the irresponsible way the national media and the President are casting blame for the tragedy is breathtaking.... This drumbeat of blame has been increased by Clinton's accusations that talk radio somehow triggered the awful events in Oklahoma."
Clinton consistently refused to defend the right to air "some of the things some of these more extreme talk show hosts have said." Specifically, he objected to a number of G. Gordon Liddy's remarks. Liddy, who broadcasts over WJFK-FM in Fairfax, Va., admitted he used handmade drawings of the President and his wife for target practice and discussed shooting Federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms in the head and groin "in legally justified self-defense." By implication, if agents of the ATF or other Federal officers were to go to private homes or compounds as they did to the Branch Davidians, who considered AFT actions to be illegal, shooting and killing agents in self-defense would be justified.
Liddy told the media that he did not believe his controversial comments had fueled the "lunatic fringe." However, station owners and managers, who thought he had, imposed their own kind of censorship. A week after the Oklahoma City bombing, the Oklahoma State Senate voted 39-0 to adopt a resolution "urging sponsors of the G. Gordon Liddy show and other radio talk shows encouraging violence against public officials, law officers, or the private citizenry to withdraw financial sponsorship."
On April 25, Bill McNulty, general manager of KCKC-AM in San Bernardino, Calif., stopped airing the show because "the opinion and views of Liddy have the potential to foster and encourage extremist action." (Emphasis added.) Nevertheless, Liddy's Oklahoma City affiliate WKY-AM decided to keep him on the air after a call-in vote demonstrated strong listener support. Liberal talk show host Diane Rehm, whose nationally syndicated morning program originates over WAMU-FM in Washington, argues that "the notion that words don't have power is crazy. If you are G. Gordon Liddy and you are talking about ... killing ATF agents in self-defense, who knows whether or not someone on the extreme, extreme, extreme, isn't going to use that as a reason to go out and kill public officials?"
The First Amendment and freedom of speech issue really came to prominence when the board of the National Association of Talk Show Hosts voted 16-4 to give the 1995 Freedom of Speech award to Liddy during its annual convention in Houston, June 22-25, 1995. Rep. Richard Gephardt (D.-Mo.) denounced Liddy's remarks about shooting at Federal officials as "not only wrong, but outrageous." Gephardt, determined to "keep free speech from becoming an incitement to violence," urged board members and convention attendees to boycott the awards ceremony.
Jerry Williams, who founded the association and opposed Liddy for the award, defended Liddy's right to say anything and accused Gephardt of trying to "manipulate and use talk radio." He also termed Gephardt's suggestion to boycott the ceremony as outrageous as anything Liddy had said. In defense of giving the award to Liddy, president and board chairman Gene Burns declared that the board and the organization were uncompromising in their belief that Liddy had a right to say what he said: "Speech is in desperate need of defenders even when it is confrontational, outrageous, annoying, or irritating."
Gloria Allred, an attorney and Los Angeles talk show host over KABC-AM, acknowledged Liddy's right to free speech, but emphasized that rights also carry responsibilities. "If he uses speech that inflames and that may encourage some extremists to rationalize confronting or harming law enforcement, that is not speech that should receive an award." Convention chairman and publisher of Talkers Magazine Michael Harrison said, "the spirit of the award was not for honoring G. Gordon Liddy's ideology. We saw our role to protect the image of talk radio and the right of its people to free speech." Three board members resigned after the convention.
While Liddy's comments were categorically outrageous and might have encouraged extremists, they did not justify censorship. Whether they qualified Liddy for an award or not is another question. His comments--which could be construed as hate or at least distrust of government officials--were confrontational, outrageous, annoying, and irritating, but he had a right to state what he thought.
What about programs that go beyond confrontational, outrageous, annoying, and irritating comments--programs that really are hate-oriented and preach hate of others because of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs? Should they be allowed on radio and television?
Following the Oklahoma City bombing, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) began an investigation of a shortwave licensee that airs the messages of several hate groups and other extremists. Mark Hoernke, host of the "Intelligence Report," a shortwave radio program over station WWCR (World Wide Christian Radio) based in Nashville and rebroadcast on some commercial radio stations, is a Dexter, Mich., anti-government militiaman who suggests that the Oklahoma City bombing was a plot concocted by the U.S. government. The station, owned by New Orleans-based F.W. Roberts Broadcasting, has carried programs hosted by white supremacist Kurt Saxon, who once told listeners how to build a bomb. Religious/talk-formatted KDNO-AM in Delano, Calif., is one of several commercial stations that carry Hoernke's program. KDNO is run by Richard Palquist, who considers the Clinton Administration and Congress to be a "renegade government" responsible for the bombing. Palquist wrote a letter in April, 1995, to the President suggesting that Clinton was the "real thought leader" behind the bombing and that ATF and FBI "terrorists" also were responsible for the Branch Davidian tragedy in Waco.
In Bellevue, Wash., Alan Gottlieb heads both the Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms and the Second Amendment Foundation. In collaboration, the two organizations have a controlling interest in KBNP-AM in Portland, Ore.; are acquiring a second station, KSBN-AM, in Spokane, Wash.; and have a 50% ownership of the Canton, Mass., Talk America Radio Network. Gottlieb, who is a gun rights activist, says much of the airtime is programmed by satellite feeds from the Business Radio Network, Bloomberg Business News, and Talk America Radio. KBNP carries "Gun Talk with Tom Gresham," a two-hour weekly show originating from Talk America Radio. Gun rights messages appear on the station in the form of spot ads paid for by the Citizens Committee and the Second Amendment Foundation. Gottlieb's position allows him to "fight the media bias" with other broadcasters in annual meetings of the National Association of Broadcasters and over the NAB radio show. The Citizens Committee group and the Second Amendment Foundation own stock in ABC, NBC, CBS, Gannett, and Turner Broadcasting.
Bo Gritz, a talk show host on Talk America Radio Network over KHNC-AM in Johnstown, Colo., has aired anti-government and possibly anti-Semitic remarks. Gritz stated that, since the bombing was such a "masterpiece of science and art," the Federal government may have been behind it. Such remarks have been picked up by "20/20" and News-week. The Anti-Defamation League has termed Gritz anti-Semitic for alleging that Jewish families control the Federal Reserve System. To prove Gritz's idea was not an allegation, but "a fact," Tom Starr, vice president of Talk America Radio, cited the Rothschilds as one of the controlling families.
Bob Grant has a daily talk show over WABC-AM in New York. Some of the comments he has made on the air have been alleged to be racist. Jesse Jackson took exception to some of Grant's comments and led a campaign in 1994 to get sponsors to withdraw their support. Boycotting products or writing to the board of directors of the advertisers often is an effective method of trying to influence program content. Despite Jackson's campaign, the major national sponsors continued to advertise on Grant's show.
Hate and TV
Invoking First Amendment protection, fringe extremist groups are using local cable stations in their war against the Federal government as well as racial and ethnic groups. These extremist groups have used cable access channels to take advantage of the fact that programming on public access cable is overseen by individual franchise operators who, under the amended Cable Act of 1984, can not edit public access program material prior to broadcast.
National Alliance, a white-supremacy group headquartered in Hillsboro, W.Va., is chaired by William Pierce, author of The Turner Diaries, a 1978 novel detailing the overthrow of the American government by a fictitious radical organization's blowing up Federal buildings. For several years, National Alliance has been broadcasting a syndicated radio program, "American Dissident Voices." Pierce, who has moved to cable for a television version of the show, distributes videocassettes of the program to public access channels upon request.
Out of Tampa, Fla., Anthony Ricca, a retired Vietnam War vet, produces "Race and Reason," a one-hour show broadcast three times weekly to nearly 150,000 subscribers via Jones Intercable and Time Warner-owned Paragon Cable. The program, produced on a studio set adorned with a Nazi swastika and a Confederate flag, presents racist and anti-Semitic programs advocating the emigration of African-Americans to Africa and Jews to Israel. Ricca estimates the show appears on public access channels in more than 20 cities, including New York.
Charles Stalnake produces "Eyes to See and Ears to Hear," a Florida-based program carried on Time Warner-owned Vision Cable for approximately 133,000 subscribers in the St. Petersburg area. Stalnake says the show also has aired on public access cable in Seattle and that it focuses on "the international Zionism threat" to the nation.
Mike Hansen, founder of the National Socialist White Revolutionary Party, produces the "White Power Hour" in Fargo, N.D. Carried by Post-Newsweek-owned Cablecomm Fargo, the show has an audience of about 23,000 subscribers. Wearing a National Socialist uniform and framed by a Third Reich battle flag, Hansen tapes the show in his living room, and the cable company airs it at 9:00 p.m. on Monday. Hansen plans to proliferate his "white Aryan views" via public access cable in Salt Lake City.
These are just a few of the organizations and individuals preaching hate on radio and television. Countless others hope to gain access to radio and television to proliferate their hate messages. Should individuals and organizations be allowed to rant and rave against the Federal government and advocate its overthrow, promote racial ideologies, and/or preach religious intolerance? A great majority of American people acknowledge shock and hate as a form of perverse entertainment. Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo pointed out that many people in this country desire "what is disgusting and then [are] disgusted by what they desire." Even though the individuals producing the programs of hate have very small audiences and very few followers, there always will be a few who listen, believe, and think it may be necessary to act. It takes just one or two people and some fertilizer to blow up a building and kill hundreds of people.
The FCC has the potential to do something about broadcasting hate. Although it did investigate the hate broadcasting of one shortwave licensee, the investigation, conducted by the Commission's International Bureau, concerned only a technicality--a possible shortwave rules violation. In a January, 1995, answer to a listener's complaint against Infinity Broadcasting for airing G. Gordon Liddy's instructions on how to shoot Federal agents, the FCC wrote that "in the absence of evidence of clear and present danger of imminent violence . . . we are constrained to take any action." (Emphasis added.) In almost consistent dismissal of all complaints and comments concerning extremist views on radio or television, the FCC cites the First Amendment and the provisions of the 1934 Communications Act prohibiting censorship. The FCC bases its policy on its 1985 decision not to punish or prosecute KLLT-FM in Dodge City, Kans., for alleged attacks on Jews, blacks, and other minorities. Chuck Kelley, chief of the FCC's Mass Media Bureau's enforcement division, termed the 1985 decision a "touchstone" which the FCC has "religiously followed."
The FCC does draw the line in certain areas. Howard Stern and Infinity Broadcasting have been fined $1,700,000 for Stern's crude and thoughtless comments about women, blacks, and homosexuals. Broadcasting sex and violence has been limited to specific hours so that children will be less likely to see it. On June 30, 1995, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in Action for Children's TV v. FCC voted seven-four to uphold the FCC's "safe harbor" approach requiring indecent programs to be aired only between 10:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. Three weeks earlier, the same court upheld provisions of the 1992 Cable Act permitting cable operators to refuse to transmit indecent programs on cable leased-access channels. If the operators were to permit such programs, the law would require that indecent material be segregated, scrambled, and made available only to homes that requested it. The Children's Media Protection Act of 1995, sponsored by Representatives James Moran (D.-Va.) and John Spratt (D.-S.C.), proposed to establish an FCC advisory committee to create a ratings system identifying "sexual, violent, and vulgar TV programming clearly inappropriate for children."
At different periods in history, America has limited speech that advocated the overthrow of government, and hate speech frequently advocates attacks against the government or against racial and religious groups. Still, Americans are very touchy about freedom of speech--and they should be. Freedom of speech is fundamental to a democracy. Censorship is not the answer. The government should not force hate speakers off the air.
What can be done? Viewers can not campaign against sponsors of the programs because most hate programs are underwritten by the individuals or groups making the tapes, and there is no charge for playing them. To some extent, the American people are taking things into their own hands. Chad Milton, an attorney for Media Professional Insurance, points out that the shock and hate of these programs are the source of a majority of radio libel cases--" what works over the air ... does not work in the courtroom." The FCC could require labeling of hate programs and insist that they be played only during very early morning hours. However, education seems to be the best answer. Mario Cuomo pointed out that we should be addressing the American people, quoting cartoonist Walt Kelly's "Pogo": "We have met the enemy, and he is us." If young people first can be taught how to recognize propaganda, demagoguery, fallacies, and illogical reasoning and second to ask the right questions concerning what they hear, the problem would take care of itself.
The hate game is a dangerous one to play. The FCC should require more stringent rules to do so. However, it seems to be insensitive to the clear and present danger of imminent violence in the hate programs on radio and television. In response to the Oklahoma City bombing, more and more people acknowledge that there are people out there on the fringe willing to commit violent acts against the government and minorities. The least Americans can do is learn to recognize how and why the game is played. If fewer players show up, maybe the game of hate will be canceled.
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|Author:||Fischer, Raymond L.|
|Publication:||USA Today (Magazine)|
|Date:||May 1, 1996|
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