While the vast majority of Americans of both parties, no party, conservatives, liberals and moderates came together yesterday to breathe one huge sigh of relief that U.S. Navy Seals had rescued Capt. Richard Phillips from the hands of pirates in a lifeboat off the Somali coast — and feel a sense of national pride — one segment of Americans was going on the attack:
Some conservative radio talk show hosts.
I got to monitor nearly 9 hours of weekend talk radio yesterday in a drive from Las Vegas to my home in San Diego — a trip longer than usual due to snail-paced Easter traffic. And most of the shows were not pretty as hosts expressed joy at the rescue but were on the direct or indirect attack against President Barack Obama.
If it hasn’t become clear in recent weeks, the reaction of these hosts made it clear: conservative talk radio has not just jumped the shark, it has jumped the pirate’s mast.
According to the AP, Obama did have a little to do with the events that unfolded:
President Barack Obama twice authorized the military to rescue a U.S. captain who was being held by Somali pirates and whose life appeared to be at risk, administration officials said after Sunday’s rescue.
The Defense Department twice asked Obama for permission to use military force to rescue Capt. Richard Phillips from a lifeboat off the Somali coast. Obama first gave permission around 8 p.m. Friday, and upgraded it at 9:20 a.m. Saturday. Officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations said the second order was to encompass more military personnel and equipment that arrived in the Indian Ocean to engage the pirates.
But on several shows from various cities (some local talk show hosts and national ones) these are some of the things listeners were told:
*An L.A. host said Obama really had little or nothing to do with the Navy’s action. The host said his sources said the Navy captain had standing orders to do what he needed to to save Phillips. He told listeners to ignore “some reports” that were coming out. It was clearly a reference to the above AP report — the implication being that it was inaccurate, a lie or just the administration trying to grab credit.
*The Navy was decisive and all Obama was doing was getting bogged down in jurisdictional matters – -dithering, and the Navy, in effect, acted when he wouldn’t. (The full story is not out yet, but most reports suggest close coordination between the Navy and Marines in the field, the Defense Department, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Obama, with the White House solidly backing military contingency plans)
*Obama merely wants to bring the captured 16 year old pirate back to be tried in the U.S. so the ACLU and other groups will get the justice system to go easy on him.
*Obama dragged his heels on this issue for days and it was only the Navy that responded in a decisive way — in effect dragging Obama along as it took the initiative.
*It was a “great victory for the Navy” and “indirectly a victory for Barack Hussein Obama.” This national weekend host repeatedly referred to Obama’s middle name.
On Saturday, driving to Las Vegas before the rescue, I listened to about 6 hours of conservative talk. Some were live shows and some canned reruns from the previous week. Conservative talkers were then lambasting Obama for not doing anything about the crisis, not using the Navy and not using the Navy Seals. Obama was sending a signal to the world that he was weak, to pirates that he was a pushover, was seemingly afraid to use U.S. military might, was indecisive…
It’ll be most interesting to see how conservative talkers handle this story today. Question: Must EVERY, single issue be turned into a raging diatribe against the guy who beat their candidate for President?
Talk radio has had an explosive growth in the U.S. and still gets great ratings in most markets — that is, except for most progressive talk, which you can find if you hire a private detective (and then it’s iffy).
But now conservative talk has gone to a new level or, perhaps, a new depth. It’s no longer just predictable in the ideas but in its consistent TONE which is invariably angry, demonizing and dismissive of anyone who doesn’t totally agree with the talk radio political culture conventional wisdom. It is increasingly lacking idea content and becoming a seeming nonstop grudge fest.
Conservative talkers are heavily promoting the “Tea Parties” on Tax Day — parties patterned after the historical Boston Tea Party.
But conservative talk is becoming so predictable now in tone and content that if this trend continues, the event that may most represent today’s over caffeinated version of conservatism may not be a Tea Party — but Custard’s Last Stand.
Joe Gandelman is a former fulltime journalist who freelanced in India, Spain, Bangladesh and Cypress writing for publications such as the Christian Science Monitor and Newsweek. He also did radio reports from Madrid for NPR’s All Things Considered. He has worked on two U.S. newspapers and quit the news biz in 1990 to go into entertainment. He also has written for The Week and several online publications, did a column for Cagle Cartoons Syndicate and has appeared on CNN.