Blame it on Talk Radio

Old radioOne of my Facebook friends asked a question yesterday.  He said, “Somebody help me here. Didn’t Reagan and H.W. Bush make speeches at the outset of school years? Why the uproar over Obama doing the same thing?” 

The first few responses were positive.  People said things like, “Good question” or, “Yes, that’s true” or, “I don’t know what the uproar is about.”  But very quickly a fight broke out on Facebook, with some people affirming the President’s right to speak to children in our country’s public schools while others made comparisons to George Orwell’s “1984” and the educational policies of Adolf Hitler and Chairman Mao.  26 comments later my friend wrote, “I think I’m going to wait a while before I ask another political question.” 

It seems to be that way these days, that you can’t ask a political question without starting a political fight, and the fights that break out seem to break out along party lines. It’s as if we’ve chosen up sides, put on our red and blue uniforms, and gone to war with each other.  It’s a civil war, but there is nothing civil about it.

The rhetorical attacks against our current president have been especially vicious, but long before Barack Obama people were ridiculing the person and policies of George W. Bush.   When did we get like this?  And how?  Who told us it was OK to disrespect the office of the president of the United States? 

Talk radio, that’s who. 

I don’t listen to talk radio as a rule, but the few times I’ve tuned in I have been shocked by the vitriol ( vit-ri-ol, noun: something highly caustic or severe in effect, as criticism) that pours out of my speakers.  And every attack leads to a counterattack, so that even without touching the dial on my radio the volume and intensity of the debate goes up, whether there is someone actually there in the studio or the talk show host is only reacting to what he has read and heard from “the other side.”  I feel my blood pressure going up when I listen to talk radio, my grip tightening on the steering wheel, and I wonder how it would affect me if I listened all the time.* 

What if we treated our brains like we treated our stomachs, and tried to put only good things in there?  What if we did “touch that dial,” and tuned in to a classical music station or listened to a good book on tape (maybe even the Good Book)?  It’s there, in the Good Book, that you find Paul saying, “Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things” (Phil. 4:8). 

I wonder how our public discourse might change if we did that.

*Incidentally, my dad had a fender-bender a few years ago, and when I asked him how it happened he confessed, sheepishly, that he had been listening to talk radio at the time.

23 thoughts on “Blame it on Talk Radio

  1. HOW TRUE! My husband and I followed the Presidential Election closely every night for almost the entire last year. It was a very scary eye opener!

    For one thing, we are mixed race people ( too many races to mention) with 3 sons studying in the USA.

    What a shock it was to us to realize that there was so much animosity toward people based solely on skin color! I can tell you, it caused us some sleepless nights…did we send our children into a den of lions?

    And what about the church? There we were, listening to all the cable pastors spouting love of GOD, and in the next breath, there were pastors making the most cruel comments about the black candidate. What a WITNESS to the world! All of this on CNN, FOX. MSNBC – from which we garnered snippets of Rush Limbaugh…

    Shock and AWE! THIS was happening in AMERICA??? AMERICA????? Yes it was, and everyday I thank GOD I live on a small, poor third world island.

    There are worse things than being poor. And that’s a fact.

    We have stopped watching Cable TV.

  2. A good thought about wholesome listening. I too am troubled by the hate that comes through the radio. I’m equally troubled by the political partisanship I see in the church. My conservative preacher friends put “voter guides” in their church bulletins while my liberal colleagues gush about President Obama on their blogs. We need to recall Jesus’ words: “My kingdom is not of this world.”

  3. “I can no more disown (Jeremiah Wright) than I can disown the black community.” -Barack Obama

    “The government gives them the drugs, builds bigger prisons, passes a three-strike law and then wants us to sing ‘God Bless America.’ No, no, no, God d*mn America, that’s in the Bible for killing innocent people.” – Jeremiah Wright

    “America is still the No. 1 killer in the world.” – Jeremiah Wright

    “In the 21st century, white America got a wake-up call after 9/11/01. White America and the western world came to realize that people of color had not gone away, faded into the woodwork or just ‘disappeared’ as the Great White West kept on its merry way of ignoring black concerns.” – Jeremiah Wright

    “We started the AIDS virus. …We are only able to maintain our level of living by making sure that Third World people live in grinding poverty.” – Jeremiah Wright

    “The government lied about inventing the HIV virus as a means of genocide against people of color. The government lied.” – Jeremiah Wright

    I totally agree with you on this one. Talk radio is causing nothing but hate. We should all go to church and cool down.

    I know you’re not going to put this online but please refrain from getting involved in political debates. If I wanted to read what you just put up, I’d read the new york times.

  4. Our country has become increasingly polarized, and the progression continues. For a brief period following the events of September 11, 2001 we united in prayer, but that was short-lived. Reading the quotes from Jeremiah Wright, I am reminded that prophetic voices seldom say things that make us feel all warm and fuzzy. Instead, they make us intensely uncomfortable.

    I am also reminded that I was taught in elementary school that it is important for ALL speech, even (and perhaps most importantly) objectionable speech, to be protected. That is why I have a problem with identifying certain words as “hate speech” and censoring them in the name of sensitivity. We need not silence the voices with which we disagree. We simply choose not to listen to them.

    Better yet, perhaps we can show them a more loving way. Imagine the impact on public discourse if all professing Christians chose to express themselves in ways that clearly state their positions and simultaneously honor God. We just might see a return to courtesy in civil discourse.

    As to the initiating question, our president is uniquely positioned to say things that need to be said to students but could not be effectively communicated by anyone else, not even by another president. As a parent himself, he has a keen understanding of the importance of education. He is also a walking example of the results of hard work, faith and perseverance. If I had a child, I might be tempted to keep her at home on that first day to ensure that she would hear what he has to say.

    As for talk radio, I listen to it on my drive home each day because I get a traffic update every ten minutes. I pay little attention to anything else except my fellow commuters.

  5. In 1858, Abraham Lincoln made an oft-quoted speech in which he said “a house divided against itself cannot stand.” His reference, of course, was the Civil War. It strikes me that the state of American politics today is every bit as fierce as was that war. We seem to be ruled by hate, obstinacy, and an inability to form a “more perfect union.” How can we, then, in our nation, in our churches, in our families hope to achieve the greatness or the peace to which we aspire? How can we bring the kingdom of heaven to earth in Richmond or in any other place if we can’t let go of our prejudices and, yes, vitriol and try to see another person’s point of view?

  6. I’m not a big talk radio fan (much rather listen to music!) but not all talk radio is bad. How about Focus on the Family or Dave Ramsey?

  7. This is to my brothers who find themselves devout
    disciples of Rush or any other talk radio host:

    “Be self controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of suffering. I Peter 5: 8-9

  8. I think it is too simplistic to just blame it on talk radio. Surf the internet for a while and read comments people leave after various articles and you’ll think that talk radio is actually a Sunday school class. It goes beyond those as well. Newspapers, magazines and beyond all contribute. We have become a deeply divided nation and it only appears to be getting worse. Why? Could it be that in our modern age when we can find out about events happening on the other side of the world just as fast or faster than what is happening down the street, that we are on information overload. Are we wired to handle the constant barage of information that we are exposed to? Could it be fear, because we can’t process everything coming at us fast enough, that causes us to recoil and lock into our safety zones? Zones where know and are known, places that we still have a grasp of understanding about. Touchstone places where we can process and understand without feeling threatened. Might not the church be a good place to begin the healing of the division?

  9. ‘!00 years ago’ when I was in lower education I would have been thrilled to have the President of These United States visit our school! Squeese me? Let us encourage one another onto love and good deeds:) You are the best Jim. Steve

  10. I am a talk radio listener and have often pondered its role in the decline in political discourse. The hosts are in the entertainment business; however, they pass on important information as well.

    It is up to the listener to properly process this information and that can be challenging. I have noticed that between talk radio and web surfing that it is easy to become angry, especially when you strongly disagree with the direction of a presidential administration.

    I have noticed that I do spend more time thinking about politics than serving The Lord. I confess. Is this an idol? Perhaps this Christian is “too political”.

    I always get this way right before football season. Thank God it is now upon us.

  11. All the president wants to do, in his speech to the school children of the United States, is to encourage children to stay in school and to take advantage of the opportunity to get an education. What better role model is there for this type of behavior than our current President of the United States. Yet many are accusing him of wanting to push a socialist agenda during his speech. President Reagan and the first President Bush spoke to American school children at the start of the school year and I do not remember them being attacked in this manner. Maybe it is because they were white and our current president is black. No matter how much we pat ourselves on the back about being a more tolerant society here in the United States, there is still a very strong strain of racism that run through our country and I would think that this is not very pleasing to the God that many of those who are attacking the president profess to believe in and follow.

  12. To blame talk radio for the way people feel about our president or the way people act is a little ridiculous. This is more of the same mentality in this country today. We want blame something else or someone for the things we do, say, and believe. Talk radio is there for those who want to listen to it just as is the television, Internet, and books. You don’t have to listen to talk radio if you don’t like it. I don’t listen to it that much because I am working during the day, and I am usually too busy during the evenings to sit and listen to the radio but I see nothing wrong with it. As for polarizing this country, if you want to start placing blame, how about the liberal tv media or the Internet? My point though is that we need to stop blaming others for our mistakes. As for the so-called disrespect shown our president, I don’t think that to disagree with him or not want to watch him on TV is a matter of disrespect but a choice we have the right to make. Besides, has everyone forgotten the way George Bush was treated by the Democrats when he spoke to students during his administration? So don’t blame talk radio.

  13. I am sure that there are some who oppose the President because of his color, but I would argue that it is a very small minority. Resorting to cries of racism is overly simplistic and fails to address the numerous root causes of frustration and anger directed toward the President.

    The furor over the President’s speech was not because of the speech itself but the White House’s proposed lesson plan that challenged the students to write themselves a letter about “how they can help the President”. Ask not what you can do for the President, ask what you can do for your country. They are not one in the same. Combining that with the prior history led us to an unnecessary political confrontation. The speech itself was very good.

    I recall the Speaker of the House comparing Health Care Reform protesters to Nazis and the mainstream media savaging Sarah Palin and Tea Party protesters as well. You would think that they would be above the vitriol.

    I applaud Dr. Somerville for challenging us to consider how we engage in political discourse. I will spend more time feeding my mind and heart with uplifting and Godly sources of inspiration, but will continue monitoring the government’s actions as well.

    I trust that God will deliver us through these difficult times. However, I do not trust our politicians. I will continue praying for them.

  14. I’ve appreciated these comments (most of them). I’d just like to clarify that the vitriol doesn’t only come from one side. You can balance the ranting and raving of talk radio with some of the smug, holier-than-thou comments that come from the liberal elite. What troubles me is the way we seem to lose our perspective in this war of words. We begin to attack people and not only their ideas. We feel justified in doing so, as if somehow we were standing up for the truth. But if I decide that either Barack Obama or Rush Limbaugh is my enemy, I have to hear Jesus telling me to love my enemy, and think about how I’m going to do that.

    Surely I can say, “Mr. Obama is wrong about that,” or “Mr. Limbaugh is mistaken about that,” without calling either of them stupid or evil.

    There’s a Kyle Matthews song that says “the way we go about it matters.” I can’t think of anywhere that’s more true than the way we talk to each other and about each other.

    Thanks again for writing.

  15. A brief comment… I read a few days ago that the George H. Bush speech to students in the earlys 90s actually did create quite a controversy. I will try to locate the link, but let’s try not to make assumptions about motives.

  16. In James Allen’s book, “As A Man Thinketh”, he states that as humans, “They themselves are makers of themselves.”. Also that we do not attract what we WANT but rather what we ARE. If we plant corn, we get corn. That seems so simple, so how could it be true. Perhaps that is why we humans put it to the test almost daily,expecting something else, but learning the hard way. So why don’t we hold the Lord’s hand along life’s pathways; he goes where we go. What’s that old hymn say…”What a friend we have in Jesus.” Yes, a personal relationship.

  17. What if we took the time we spent on talk radio and TV for that matter and had a civil conversation with someone with whom we we have honest disagreements?
    What if we spent the same amount of time (or more) loving someone who seems angry or even distraught?
    What if we took seriously the call to live and love as Jesus did, without conditions, without restraint, and without prejudices?
    I recommend the BBC News. Being outside of the the US they are less editorial and have the penchant for getting to the point quickly.
    Loving one’s neighbor is a full-time job. To do that faithfully and extravagantly would leave little time for talk radio, wouldn’t it? What little I remember about talk radio from many years ago is that it is likely one of the most self-aggrandizing exercises known to humankind. Perhaps the only ones who benefit are the sponsors and the myopic, and there are plenty of those across the political spectrum.

  18. When my children were young I implemented the following when faced with inappropriate tv shows, music, etc. I would ask them is this someone, or behavior, that I would welcome into my home? If not then they were not welcomed on my tv or radio. That is the way I feel about talk radio, etc. On the occasions that I listen in when it becomes more “hate” speaking than facts or ideas I turn them off. I choose not to surround myself with demeaning and hateful words and ideas no matter whether they come from the “right” or the “left”. I truly believe that if everyone would just turn them off and practice what Jim has said then that would go a long way to healing some of the divide in this country. I choose to believe that the people who revel in their caustic beliefs are in the minority but because we choose to step back and give them an audience it appears to be much more prevelant. What would happen if there were people who would call in to these shows no matter what and just asked the simple question, “What would Jesus do?” No other comment would be needed. I wonder how the Rush(s), either from the right or the left, would answer to that? Do you think it would take some of the “vitriol” out of the discussion? Just wondering…

  19. Phil nailed it: civility. I mourn the loss of civil discourse about as much as anything. Two things I am striving for: dialogue (as opposed to discussion) and appropriation (as opposed to toleration).

    When we have a “discussion” we come to the table intent on convincing each other that our view is right. We leave having “won” or “lost”, and go away to develop a more convincing argument. When we enter a true dialogue, we suspend judgments about right and wrong, and simply lay out the information each of us has, going away better informed, with new information, AND with no attempt to convince each other of anything. And we can pick up the dialogue again, perhaps having done a little more research, and thus move the ball a little further down court.

    If I tolerate you, I just sort of draw a line in the sand, put up with you, and hope you’ll do the same with me. However, if I move from toleration to appropriation, I scratch out that line and make room for you, your ideas, your way of being, etc. I may even appropriate some of your ideas, realizing that I certainly don’t have all the answers. And we both help move the ball down the court, albeit, inch by inch . . .

    BTW, there is apparently another “Mike H”. Hope we can tell each other apart! (Mike Harton)

  20. Blame it on Phil . . .he got me to think’n:

    In another day and age with challenges not unlike our own, Camus wrote:

    “There is merely bad luck in not being loved; there is tragedy in not loving. All of us, today, are dying of this tragedy. For violence and hatred dry up the heart itself; the long fight for justice exhausts the love that nevertheless gave birth to it. In the clamor in which we live, love is impossible and justice does not suffice.”

  21. I would like to respond to Fred James’ post of September 9th. You are probably right Mr. James when you say that racist in our country are a minority. Unfortunately, a minority can make a lot of noise and can cause a lot of trouble, whether it be the minority on the far right or the minority on the far left. But to bring this discussion back around to what it started out to be about, talk radio, I believe that some of the loudest voices on talk radio might be racist and they are pushing their own racist agenda. When Glenn Beck states that he believes that Barack Obama is a “racist” and that he hates white people, I believe that Mr. Beck might be projecting his own feelings about race and that he might be the racist. When Rush Limbaugh states that he hopes that the presidency of Barack Obama will “fail”, I would like to remind Mr. Limbaugh that if President Obama fails the whole country will fail. I find it bordering on treason for a person to say that he hopes that a president fails and, with that failure, takes his country down with him. For Rush Limbaugh to say such a thing leads me to suspect that Mr. Limbaugh might have racist tendencies himself. Yet these two men are some of the most popular voices on talk radio right now. During the recent dust up over President Obama’s address to the school children of the United States, it was thought that he would try and push a socialist agenda during the speech. Since the speech, I think that we have all found that this was not his intent at all. However, I am afraid that many of the biggest voices on talk radio are trying to push a racist agenda and unfortunately a lot of people are buying into their hate filled arguments. The racist in our country might be a minority, but I am afraid that, under the leadership of certain individuals that can be heard on talk radio, the minority may be getting bigger each day. I hope that the American people will use the brain that God gave them to think for themselves instead of letting others to do the thinking for them. God bless America. We need all the help we can get in dealing with the scoundrels that can be found on the extreme right and the extreme left of the political spectrum.

  22. Ron, thanks for your reply. You and I may disagree on some issues, but I actually disagree with the Beck and Limbaugh statements that you mentioned. I do find that they go for shock value sometimes, but I honestly don’t believe that they are motivated by racism but by genuine policy differences with the President and his party.

    It reminds me of conversations that I once had with a friend of mine in Baton Rouge, who used to work for the rapper Master P. I often asked him why hip-hop artists used so much profanity in their music and he would always reply, “because it sells.” While talk radio doesn’t use profanity, it can be argued that it has unfortunately contributed to the coarseness of our political discourse.

    I just so happened to catch a”Veggie Tales” cartoon in my son’s doctor’s office today and the verse that they highlighted was Proverbs 12:18, “Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

    I know that the public airwaves can use some more wisdom-inspired healing. If our country is to survive, we as Christians have to set the tone by the way that we settle these differences. I know that we can do it. God bless you, Ron and God bless America.

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