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Talk radio hosts generate anxiety to build anger, audience.

Byline: Timothy Forester

Reporter Randi Bjornstad's article in the Jan. 31 Register- Guard, "Get grip on anger," addressed anger as a transient emotion and described the synergy factors that can energize anger into violence.

Yet it avoided the most frequent propellant of anger in men: anxiety.

Why does the political mud wrestling on the airwaves primarily appeal to the older white male talk show listener? Men in particular have unrecognized anxiety that almost immediately morphs into anger and rage.

Men are very anxious about anxiety! They don't like the discomfort of helplessness, shame and vulnerability of anxiety, and as it turns into anger, they demonize the source. This cycle of anger-anxiety-anger is addictive, self-perpetuating and has the listener well-established as a "keeper" for talk shows.

What is the technique for generating anxiety and anger in males? The primary attraction of boisterous, angry, reckless and outrageous talk show hosts and politicians is the appeal of unventilated and displaced anxiety-generated anger.

The host unbundles one aspect or dimension of a topic and utilizes thinking errors to continue the "conversation." These distorted thinking techniques are not so much to do with a topic as with the aggressive tone of feeding the emotions of the affianced listener.

These distorted thinking errors include filtering (focus only on a negative or positive), polarized thinking (black-and-white distortions), overgeneralization (not speaking of a confluence of causes), catastrophizing (telling listeners to expect disaster), blaming (projecting anxiety), reformulating (using coded phrases that hide facts), labeling (for example, "socialist"), and reframing (Jesus wasn't a carpenter - he was a wealthy developer).

Such presentations are addictive, self-perpetuating in their construct, and lead to cynicism in the general public and violent acts from the disturbed. The tone of the discussion becomes hate ridden and toxic.

Such appeals usually are driven ideologically, rely on uncivilized comments and attack any person with divergent views without effectively offering solutions to society's challenges. It is entertaining to the anxious and angry - spanning the far right to the far left, including "religious" programming.

The techniques used by toxic hosts are behaviors used by children on the playground and embrace hostile teasing and rejection, snickering, marginalizing, verbally attacking and bullying. Note that the host is almost always smiling while snickering and attacking. As with defiant children who mock the teacher in the classroom, these folks become an unassigned leader of nihilism.

When any of these techniques are challenged, the defending responders say "it is only entertainment" - just as parents of disruptive or bullying children say "they're only children." The mantras are predictable and parallel.

The anger and toxic wastes that are smeared over every issue, person, goal or scientific fact that isn't in agreement with the host keep the listener focused ("entertained") and keeps the stream of advertising income flowing.

Toxic human hosts are similar to toxic weeds in nature - they kill kindness, generosity, reason and common sense, qualities that we admire.

Who are these talk show hosts? You know them by their words and deeds.

What can we do about toxic speech and programs? Don't listen. Ask the sponsors to support other programs, and tell your politicians what you want for America.

Timothy Forester has been a consulting psychologist for 30 years in Eugene, and was a consultant to the former Veterans Administration from 1991 to 1997.
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Title Annotation:Local Opinion
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Feb 14, 2011
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