Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Respect in Radio

I know I'm getting older. One reason? I spend more time listening to AM radio these days than FM. I'm not even sure why; it's not like they aren't making any good music these days or anything. I just find myself wanting to listen to talk more than music. The problem is, most of it infuriates me. Especially on the political shows (most of 'em), the host has little respect for opposing viewpoints-- the best you can hope for these days seems to be a host who will at least let callers with different viewpoints get their opinions out (a few hosts even help their less coherent opponents, though I doubt the callers would view it that way).

The goal is always to prove one's own position, and demolish one's opponents'. Most radio personalities will admit this, if asked-- they resort to the theory of the Hegelian Dialectic. "Our job is to present our point of view," they might say. "It's our opponents' jobs to present theirs." And that's true enough, as far as it goes. The problem is, it doesn't always work that way. Sometimes both "right" and "left" are wrong, and the end result is that the truth gets sacrified for the sake of making a point. Most often, I hope, this isn't a conscious decision, but that doesn't make it any better.

These shows, both radio and tv, are less interested in uncovering the truth, as subjective and difficult as that concept is, and more in theater. Jon Stewart made that point, ironically, in a very dramatic way when he appeared on Crossfire, but nothing has really changed.

I don't just blame the hosts here-- most of the listeners are equally unwilling to listen to dissenting or contrarian viewpoints. A lady called up a local Denver show a few weeks ago insisting that the entire Iraq war was a front so that the US Army could test biological weapons, and used as her proof the number of babies born with birth defects after the war. Never mind that in most wars, you want to kill the opposing army, not cause them to have miscarriages, or that she didn't actually have any support (or even any idea of a source) for her claim of birth defects and miscarriages, she believed it, and wasn't going to be dissuaded by the host's surprisingly patient explanation of the relative uselessness of such a weapon.

This was really all meant to be a setup for me to whine about the passing of my favourite radio show on KHOW a month or two ago. Redmond and Newman was a show with a vaguely left-leaning guy (Scott Redmond) and a fairly right-leaning guy (Bob Newman). The difference between them and most shows is that they were friends, or at least faked it extremely well on the radio. There was a distinction on that show between things which were facts (the number of troops in Iraq, how much money was spent on the Whitewater investigation), and which weren't (should we be in Iraq, was Whitewater worthwhile). They disagreed on a number of topics, but they nearly always managed to convey that they respected the other person's opinion, and that it was a reasonable opinion to hold. The other nice thing about the show was that each of them would restrain their counterpart from going too overboard in their opinions, which kept the tone of the show a bit higher than most of talk radio.

Contrast that with their replacements, Dan Caplis and Craig Silverman. Both of those guys are lawyers, and argue their points like it. They ignore or gloss over points which counter their arguments, and generally act as if their counterpart's opinion is stupid or indefensible, instead of examining their own position and deciding that it doesn't hold up in some respect or other. Plus, and I know it's shallow of me, but listening to Craig Silverman is like listening to fingernails scraping on a blackboard. Caplis' voice is more palatable to the ear, but alas, his attitude isn't.

And the sad part is that Bob Newman now has his own show, and without Scott Redmond to ameliorate his more aggresive tendencies, he comes across as a great deal more hardcore right-wing than he used to, and I regret that, because the two of them really had something special and unusal going on on the radio, and now we won't get to hear it anymore. Sic transit gloria mundi and all that, I suppose-- but I don't have to like it.

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