Radio DJs Seem To Think Free Speech Should Only Apply To Them

from the go-back-to-civics-class dept

Last week, Mike posted the tale of ABC/Disney trying to misuse copyright to stifle criticism of one of its radio stations. The company filed a takedown notice with the hosting provider of a blogger who was posting short clips of radio broadcasts as part of his campaign to discourage advertisers from buying airtime at the station. The clips were obviously fair use, but since the campaign was apparently successful in spooking some advertisers, the company sent the takedown notice. Now, the EFF notes that the radio station will spend three hours discussing the controversy, adding that it's the right response to respond to critical speech with more speech, rather than resorting to legal action. However, the rhetoric the station's DJs are using to describe the situation is pretty ridiculous, as they try to paint the bloggers' actions as censorship, and that he's trying to "take away [the DJs'] free speech rights." While hyperbole is a key tool of radio talk-show hosts, this is simply preposterous. Free speech isn't a zero-sum game; when somebody with whom you disagree makes a more convincing argument than you can, that doesn't mean you're being censored or your rights are being trampled. Also, as the EFF further points out, the Constitution makes no guarantee about advertiser-subsidized speech. The blogger simply illustrated to the stations' advertisers behavior by its DJs that he didn't think they'd want to be associated with -- that's hardly akin to censorship, which is only something a government or official body can do in any case. If anybody's stifling free speech here, it's the station, its corporate parent and its lawyers.


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  1.  
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    misanthropic humanist, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 10:38am

    talk radio

    Nobody on this planet is more guilty of literally muting free speech than talk radio DJs. They have one on their gun the whole time and shoot any dissenters dead. It is called a fader.

    I've met plenty in real life and I can tell you that off-air, when they don't have an absolute advantage over their debating opponent, they are utter cowards in conversation.

    All callers are screened too. Nobody goes straight through to air. Each caller is selected to remove anyone who might offer a genuinely intelligent point of view that threatens the stations line or the egos of the "shock jocks". The best callers to let through are those that are already angry and making a fool of themselves. And if that is not enough then the callers comments are mercilessly edited to ensure that their words are taken out of context.

    When they run out of real callers there is a pool of stooges that pretend to be genuine listeners to plant themes which the jocks can use to make themselves look good. Talk radio is medieval glatatorial theatre and only a fool would call a talk radio station and hope to get a fair hearing.

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 10:41am

    Congress shall make no law ...; or abridging the freedom of speech,...

    congress can't make laws to restrict. i would think that congress can create a body to regulate speech (FCC, although the FCC was brough about as a standards for radio/telephone/telegraph/television technologies) thus bypassing the fact that congress actually made a law.

    this being said, you can say what you want, however a controlling body has the ability fo fine you for such actions. is this what the founders wanted? proabbly not. i'm sure they expcected some ways of limiting "harmful" speech (i.e. speech were people die via riots and whatnot, but you see where i'm going with this)

    next, i believe most state constitutions have the "this state will not prohibit free speech" somewhere in their charter/constitution. thus the state can't do anything. but i doubt many cities have free speech laws, thus why you have to register for rallies, parades, demonstrations and such.

    all that being said as the post points out, it has nothing to do with congressional limitation. it is priavetly funded speech. and when people pay you to talk, they can control what you say.

     

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  3.  
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    scribble, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 10:51am

    Talk Radio

    I agree with misanthropic humanist -- especially his comments regarding "stooges" that talk show hosts quietly invite to call into these shows. Talk show hosts on this local station are not debating anything in good faith and never will. The US AM Broadcast Band has hundreds of local stations like this across the country. All of them should be nervous about what happened last week in San Francisco, because it has backfired.

    I want to add that this particular controversy is so clear-cut, that it offers EFF or some other activist internat organiztion a clear opportunity to establish free speech rights for internet users, against ANY commercial enterprise, like Disney or ABC. We have the chance to stop companies like Disney from filing lawsuits in order to chill free speech, and to establish the responsibility of media outlets (like Disney's) to mitigate speech that they know to be inflammatory or positively untrue.

    It is also obvious that this blogger's boycott was successful. The station is obviously clearing fewer ads today than it has in the recent past, and has had to go public with the controversy in order to make amends. We have lessons to learn about how successful boycotts work from this event, and from this blogger.

     

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  4.  
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    Geoff, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 11:47am

    Talk Radio

    To "misanthropic humanist " and the like....Not sure where you get your facts. Having spent 12 years working in radio (talk and Rock) I disagree with the comment about stooges. The "pool" as you describe it are lifeless varmin who have nothing better to do than sit around a house with phone in hand and call endlessly. The jocks HATE these people as much as you do, but because they DON'T screen calls in the manner you suggest they are pretty much unable to avoid the "stooges". The screening is to avoid morons and ensure that people have comments on-topic - you'd be surprised how many people call into a political talk show wanting to talk about cats and plants.

    I also agree with everyone that radio does at times feel above the laws of free speech. There have been times when someone has published negative comments about my words and comments and the station has issued cease and desist's on the publisher, something for which I have vehemently disapproved of, but I, afterall, am nothing but a peon.

    As far as who I am, and how I act off-air - well I am fairly boring off the air, and people probably would tune me out in 5 seconds or less at a cocktail party; on-air, thousands say I am the most interesting person they know - is that wrong?

     

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  5.  
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    citizenj, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 12:01pm

    you know,

    I quit listening to anything but NPR about two years ago, and even then that's only one or two days a week. Let's hear it for books on cd! If you don't think the airwaves are the tool of the corporate oligarchy, you're more deluded than Ann Coulter.

     

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  6.  
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    Stephen, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 12:45pm

    Free Speech

    This isn't really about free speech or even fair use.

    It's important to differentiate to right to say what you want versus the effects that it will have.

    For example, it's like yelling "Fire" in a crowded theater. Just because you have a right to say it, doesn't mean you're immune from being prosecuted for it's effects.

    ABC/Disney is just pissy that their rhetoric is costing them advertisers.

    Well duh. What did they expect to happen?

     

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  7.  
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    cmon' now, be realistic, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 1:02pm

    Re: talk radio

    Nobody? Have you ever heard of a place called North Korea? Even with this kind of bullshit going on in the U.S. I'd still rather be here than the DPRK.

     

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  8.  
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    Dam, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 1:11pm

    That's Entertainment...or ratings

    Talk or music radio is entertainment. Nothing more or less. If the ratings aren't there, the show goes away. Why do you think so many Top 40 FM stations have switched to a DJ-less format?

    Screeners keep the morons off the air, not censor free speech and that's to keep the show enteraining so people will keep listening.

    NPR listeners always have a problem with Big Corporate Radio, but here's a clue for you: except for min-wattage local stations, ALL radio is Big Corporate Radio and they're only interested in one thing - ratings, so they can charge advertisers so they can pay the bills and show a profit. Nothing more, nothing less.

     

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  9.  
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    misanthropic humanist, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 1:25pm

    Re: Talk Radio

    "To "misanthropic humanist " and the like....Not sure where you get your facts.

    From much the same source as yourself, having worked in media related industries for some part of my technical career.

    I disagree with the comment about stooges. The "pool" as you describe it are lifeless varmin who have nothing better to do than sit around a house with phone in hand and call endlessly.

    Nonsense. Those "varmin"(sic) are the lifeblood of the show. Without Mr Angry of Fulchester there would be no show. In many cases they become quasi-stars themselves often upstaging the hosts. In one very humorous incident on Capitol in London some years ago a jock made a remark something like "Well if you think you could do better then why don't you take my place?", which the caller immediately siezed upon, and backed up by dozens of other callers egging him on forced the DJ to let him run the entire show in caller-caller style. Hilarity ensued (because he did such a bloody good job of it - the DJ had to carefully defuse the joke from going too far when callers asked for the guy to be given his own show).

    The "pool" to which I refer are pre-recorded calls kept on cart or RCS that are selected for the specific reasons of refuting a point, moving the topic onto something else or whatever. If you really have any experience beyond small local radio you must surely conceed that talk radio is staged/manipulated in this manner.

    "you'd be surprised how many people call into a political talk show wanting to talk about cats and plants.

    Not at all, I absolutely agree. It's a miracle that some callers are able to dial the station despite the webbing between their fingers.

    "but I, afterall, am nothing but a peon.

    Much as myself, so you know how it's handed down. Presumably this amounts to an admission that the direction and form of the dialogue is handed down to you - that beyond your voice talent, charm and DJ skills you are basically controlled and told what to say, what issues to force and effectively censored much like your callers are. That is commercial showbiz and we both know it.

    "As far as who I am, and how I act off-air - well I am fairly boring off the air"

    I hope so, that would make you normal and sane. It's certainly not wrong or duplicitous. Let's face it, it's an acting job, on-air you are an actor in character. No talk show DJ I ever met would dare say the things they say on-air to a total stranger in real life, they'd risk getting the shit kicked out of them. The problem is that many listeners do believe that the hosts really hold the opinions they espouse on the radio.

     

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  10.  
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    mmichaels, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 1:53pm

    I didn't vote for ABC

    Congress shall make no law ...; or abridging the freedom of speech,...

    So who voted ABC/Disney to Congress and when did they pass this law?

    I assume the talk radio personalities we are slamming were also elected to Congress?

     

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  11.  
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    Not so Mindless American, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 2:44pm

    RE: #2

    next, i believe most state constitutions have the "this state will not prohibit free speech" somewhere in their charter/constitution. thus the state can't do anything. but i doubt many cities have free speech laws, thus why you have to register for rallies, parades, demonstrations and such.

    You have to register to show what your doing, and to provide the city with sufficient notice that a big event is happening, so they have the nessasary forces on hand and available to deal with the possibility of a riot or criminal behavior. Would you host a demonstration without the support of the city? Because without the support of the city, you dont have the support of the Police, Fire, Ambulance, or any of the Public Works (water, electricity, gas, etc)

    all that being said as the post points out, it has nothing to do with congressional limitation. it is priavetly funded speech. and when people pay you to talk, they can control what you say.

    That being said, yes.. private orginazitions do have the right to censor, but only on "turf" they own.. Shopping Malls can evict you for attempting to demonstrate and have you arrested if you refuse. The same goes for Radio. That radio has control over that particular bandwidth, and thus, decides what goes on the air or not..

    If you dont like it, dont listen to the radio. I quit listening to "Talk Radio" many many years ago, because there was never anything intelligent being said. (still isn't imho) So, now I listen to a station that plays nothing but music (Classical at that) and any "talk" is done by the DJ's.

     

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  12.  
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    misanthropic humanist, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 3:50pm

    Re: RE: #2

    "yes.. private orginazitions do have the right to censor, but only on "turf" they own.. ... radio has control over that particular bandwidth, and thus, decides what goes on the air or not..

    Quite so. There is arguably no free speech on private property. If you don't like my views you can kick me out of your house. The station owes you no right to respond and can and does limit speech to its own agenda.

    "Would you host a demonstration without the support of the city?"

    Absolutely yes. Demonstrations are not "hosted" like some nice little teaparty with the blessing of the politicos. That would defeat the point of demonstrations. I do not have to ask permission to demonstrate, in fact if I were an American that would be granted to me as a constitutional right (despite the recent anti-constitutional and illegal claims to the contrary). In Europe we simply assert that right.

    Because without the support of the city, you dont have the support of the Police, Fire, Ambulance

    No. The sensible reasons that city authorities ask (they can do more than ask, and most reasonable protesters are happy to cooperate) is to put those services on alert. The city has no grounds to deny those services regardless of whether a gathering has its blessing, in fact it would be criminally negligent if it attempted to stop the police, fire service and ambulances from maintaining order and safety.

     

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  13.  
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    Avid listener, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 6:50pm

    Talk Radio

    Despite the fact that so many people claim to have quit listening to Talk radio, the fact of the matter is that TR is the number one format in the nation in nearly every major market. Now, I'm willing to admit that there is a good percentage of the listening population that listens solely because they whole-heartedly disagree with the largely consertavie viewpoints that they know is coming, and an equal number listen because they take what they hear as gosphel. Somewhere in there is a pretty good sized group that's somewhere in the middle and that group appears to at least be interested in provocative discussions-whether they agree or not. Regardless, its still entertainment. The fact that some choose to take that entertainment and regurgitate it as their own political dogma is just happenstance.

    Libertarian Radio host Neil Boortz is a good example. He's both loved and hated by many for his views. I personally think he's a riot and love to hear him make fools out of the ignorant. What's interesting is that he came out on the air and said what I believe to be the most honest thing about talk radio that has ever been aired. Boortz stated something to the effect that 'contrary to what you listeners might wish to believe, the simple truth is that we (the radio hosts) view you (the callers) as records, as cd's, in short, as the entertainment. We let you on the air until we feel you have little entertainment value and then dump you for someone else that does. The more entertaining we can make the show through provocative commentary and whatever else is neccesary, the more we can charge advertisers for the time they spend trying to sell you stuff.'

    How's that for honesty? For this reason, I continue to listen to talk radio a majority of the time, but do so knowing that whatever is being said contains some accuracy, some distortion and enough information for me to go out and invstigate the facts for myself should I hear anything that gets my shorts in a knot.

    As for free speech, say what you want so long as the words and ideas are yours or yours to use with permission. Do so on your property or that which you control. Lie if you wish for its your creadibility that will ultimately be damaged. Be prepared to accept the consequences.

     

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  14.  
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    Frank, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 6:59pm

    Congress can't abridge freedom of speech?

    Congress shall make no law ...; or abridging the freedom of speech,...
    congress can't make laws to restrict.

    Congress can't make a law limiting free speech? I guess you missed "campaign finance reform" that controls what you can and cannot say about politicans near election time. (And of course the astouding thing is that US Supreme Court upheld the restriction.)

     

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  15.  
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    Avid Listener, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 7:06pm

    The Fairness Doctrine

    One other thing that should get people in an uproar is the idea that a Democrat-controlled house and senate will attempt to pass what's known as the Fairness Doctrine in a backhanded effort to Kill talk radio (since Air America failed miserably at trying to beat conservatives at their own game). Essentially, the Fairness Doctrine would set forth standards that would call for equal time for opposing viewpoints. Of course, this would wreck havock on the programming schedules of talk radio stations around the country who would be forced to block out equal time for the liberal viewpoint on whatever subject the conservative radio host had discussed (or planned to discuss).

    Now, personally, I could care less if you love guys like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Boortz or whoever. The fact of the matter is that there is obviously a lot of people out there who have voted with their time and their wallets and made them #1 nationwide. It seems to me that forcing a commercial to carry any material or free up any airtime, of which there is a finite amount each day, would be a far greater suppression of speach rights than anything.

    Im interested in hearing what people think about this idea. Ok, I can understand how some might say, "Yeah, that's great. Lets give everyone a chance to view their ideas and let us, the public, make up our own mind." I think that's fine so long as that opposing viewpoint ponies up the dough for the new broadcast station, licenses, airtime, talent costs and whatever else goes into making these stations a viable business. Is forcing an opposing viewpoint under the guise of being fair really "Fair"? What about the advertisers? If people really wanted to hear the opposing viewpoint, Air America would still be alive and kicking (are they even on the air in NY and SF, or are they off completely?) Just wondering what everyone thought about the idea.

     

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  16.  
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    Frank, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 7:09pm

    Re: RE: #2

    I quit listening to "Talk Radio" many many years ago, because there was never anything intelligent being said. (still isn't imho)

    If you don't listen, how would you know?

     

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  17.  
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    Avid Listener, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 7:16pm

    Re: Congress can't abridge freedom of speech?

    Actually, campaign finance reform has more to do with where the money comes from to pay for the message than the message itself. Political speach is relatively wide open if only for the fact that these are public figures who have put themselves out there on full display for all to see. CFR was instituted to attempt to make it easier for those with fewer dollars to remain competitive in a political environment that has essentially become formulatic in determining who will win the next election based on the size of their warchest. Limiting the number of dollars that a candidate can accept from corporate and private donors alike, including those to his/her 501(c)(3) campaign groups (People for the American Way, Swift Boat Vets, MoveOn.org, etc) makes it necessary for all politicians to have to convince larger numbers of small donors to contribute. From there, let them way whatever they want so long as it isn't knowingly false and damaging to character and reputation.

     

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  18.  
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    Avid Listener, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 7:28pm

    Oops, Sorry, formulatic isn't a word. I believe its formulaic.

     

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  19.  
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    Frank, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 8:02pm

    Re: Re: Congress can't abridge freedom of speech?

    Actually, campaign finance reform has more to do with where the money comes

    That's the advertising that came with the bill ...

    CFR bars you from taking out an advertisment within a certain time of the election and denounce a candidate. This gives incredible power to established media outlets, but Joe Commoner is not allowed to speak ill of candidate just before the election.

    Political speach is now officially curtailed in the United States. It's not that hard to understand why the incumbents wanted such a bill.

     

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  20.  
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    Avid Listener, Jan 12th, 2007 @ 11:08pm

    Re: Re: Re: Congress can't abridge freedom of spee

    " This gives incredible power to established media outlets, but Joe Commoner is not allowed to speak ill of candidate just before the election."


    While this may be true, it is not the message that's being censored or restricted, but the timing of the message. The fact that the timing is the same across the board and does not single out a particular candidate or party makes it much more difficult categorize as a abridgment of free speech.

    And to the distinction between "joe commoner" and the "established media", I'm not sure but it appears that you are distinguishing one from the other in terms of being able to put out a message either endorsing or detracting from a particular candidate. The owners of, say, the Atlanta Journal Constitution have the right to endorse any candidate they wish to regardless of the timing. Why not...they own the paper and can endorse and/or editorialize all they wish. Again, how this is percieved by the paper purchasing public will either help or hurt the paper itself in the long run despite the impact that making such a pronouncement has on a particular election outcome. Then again, I do see your point that "joe commoner" doesn't have the same ability to reach and influence as many people as the AJC, but that's a problem for Joe and his candidate. Nobody said life was fair.

     

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  21.  
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    Dennis Savage, Jan 13th, 2007 @ 2:40am

    Well, if the wonderful people at KSFO want to tell their listeners that:

    * the new Speaker of the House should be assassinated

    * a dead environmentalist (Rachel Carson, author of Silent Spring) should be dug up so she can be killed again

    * an editor of the New York Times should be slowly, painfully executed in the electric chair

    and agree with callers that the Middle East needs a nuclear Final Solution, then isn't it really in their best interests to make sure their voices have been heard far and wide and that their advertisers are familiar supporting them 1000%?

    If there isn't room for Melanie Morgan, Brian Sussman, Lee Rodgers and "Occifer Vic" (as he is known) on the airwaves that are licensed for the people by our government, then the terrorists have won.

     

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  22.  
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    wondering..., Jan 14th, 2007 @ 1:59pm

    Re:

    I fail to see anything but brilliance in anything you quoted from KSFO.

    Good for them for having the balls to push the envelope. Free speach doesn't have to be popular speach so long as it's someone's opinion. Obviously you were listening, so I guess their program director knows his job pretty well. They achieved their goal which was to get your attention. Provided they kept it long enough to air a commercial for you to listen to, they've executed their business plan to a T. Bully for them.

     

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  23.  
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    Captain X, Jan 16th, 2007 @ 9:17am

    Re: talk radio

    As a former talk radio host, it never ceases to amaze me the way people toss claims about all hosts.

    First, I got my first talk slot because the station manager heard me debating an issue with someone at a social event. Most hosts started that way -- so much for being "utter cowards in conversation."

    Second, hosts in smaller markets often answer their phones "cold" -- no screeners. Hosts in major markets or on network usually use screeners, not to keep opposing viewpoints off the air, but instead to A), keep people off the air who won't present well (mike fright, unable to express a coherent thought, etc) and B), to give the host some idea what the caller wants to talk about (after all, it's the host's job to be in control of the program).

    Some of my best calls were knock-down, drag-out arguments with callers. Not only do most hosts have no worry about such calls, but we ENJOY them. There is no ego boost like having someone intelligent, who thinks that you're WRONG, being one of your listeners anyhow. For them to call to CONTRIBUTE is even better. And I will always prize a letter from one such caller, who said that until his on-air fight with me, he hadn't fully understood the issue . . .and once he saw that there was more to it, he not only changed his mind but became an avid campaigner. He sent the letter on the day that he was inaugurated as head of a national organization that he had been fighting against just 5 years earlier.

    Likewise, one caller got ME thinking about an issue, and doing my research I discovered things which changed my viewpoint on the Dope War.

    Third, if you can "mercilessly edit" a call that's going to air on an 8-second delay, I'd like to know how you do it. For that matter, so would Al Franken, and his need is practical, not mere curiousity.

    Fourth, there is no "pool of stooges." We don't need it. When you have thousands of listeners at any given moment, there will be some of them calling in. Nearly all talk radio listeners are intelligent, and intelligent people ALWAYS have a point to make.

    Finally, about the only people who DON'T get a fair hearing on talk radio are the fools. So what does this say about your own (apparently bitter) experience?

    Captain X

     

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  24.  
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    Realist, Jan 31st, 2007 @ 11:57am

    So what you're saying is

    The problem is that many listeners do believe that the hosts really hold the opinions they espouse on the radio.

    "I'm not really a fuckwad - I just play one on the radio."

     

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