March 2, 2004
As the Worm Turns: Stern, Sully and the Bush Backlash
by Maureen Farrell
Thirty-six years ago, Walter Cronkite returned from a visit to Vietnam and set the nation straight. "We've been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest clouds, " he said. "For it seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate."
"If I've lost Cronkite, I've lost the country," President Johnson remarked.
Anyone who hasn't been living under a rock for the past two years can see how fitting these remarks are today -- not only as they relate to this White House's determination to whitewash its blunders, but to the media's power to shape public opinion. And while Howard Stern is no Walter Cronkite, former EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman recently explained the extent of Stern's clout. "Eleven years ago, Howard Stern endorsed me for Governor," she told Bill Maher. "I want to tell you, in the closest races that I had, that made a difference."
Listed by FOX last March as one of the "pro-Bush celebs [missing] out on the limelight," [Fox News] Stern has since rethought his position. On Feb. 26 (the day Stern's program was suspended in half a dozen Clear Channel markets), he not only said that the Bush administration doesn't know what it is doing in Iraq, but within a ten minute span pointed out that:
While callers to the show repeatedly expressed dismay that Stern was taken off the air in certain cities, one fan expressed the overall mood by saying that the new FCC/Clear Channel tactics are reminiscent of Nazi book burnings. Never mind that the canaries in the proverbial coal mine were chirping a similar tune last year, back when radio stations were organizing Dixie Chick CD demolitions, the distant rumbling of goose-stepping is now being heard by former Bush supporters, too. Dubbing Clear Channel "fear channel," Stern warned that the "fascist right-wing" is "getting so much power."
The following day, Stern was even more forceful. "Get rid of George W. Bush," he said, adding that Bush is "dangerous" and has a "religious agenda." By Monday, March 1, Stern was circumspect. "There's a real good argument to be made that I stopped backing Bush and that's when I got kicked off Clear Channel," he said.
After Stern was pulled from six cities, including Orlando, Miami and Pittsburgh (which, coincidentally, are important markets in important swing states), John Hogan, president of 1,200-station Clear Channel, appeared before members of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and apologized for letting Stern say the things he's been saying for years. "I accept responsibility for our mistake, and my company will live with the consequences of its actions," Hogan said.
"I don't think what [Stern] said this week was different from things he's said before," Rep. Fred Upton said. "Why didn't you do this earlier? Has he actually changed his tune?"
"I don't think he's changed his tune, but we've changed ours. We're going in a different direction at Clear Channel Radio," Hogan responded. [The Hollywood Reporter]
While that's all fine and well, if quality programming really is a top priority, why did Clear Channel recently hire Michael Savage at Houston 's KPRC? Isn't Mr. Hogan aware that Savage was fired from MSNBC for referring to a caller as a "sodomite" who should "get AIDS and die"? And, if vulgarity truly is the issue, what was Clear Channel's complaint against disc jockey Charles Goyette?
In an article entitled "How to Lose Your Job in Talk Radio: Clear Channel Gags an Antiwar Conservative," Goyette discussed why he believes he was removed from his prime-time spot at KFYI in Phoenix. "Why did this happen? Why only a couple of months after my company picked up the option on my contract for another year in the fifth-largest city in the United States, did it suddenly decide to relegate me to radio Outer Darkness?" he asked. "The answer lies hidden in the oil-and-water incompatibility of these two seemingly disconnected phrases: 'Criticizing Bush' and 'Clear Channel.'"
Saying that badmouthing Bush and his fairy tale war was enough to derail his career, Goyette explained a policy that, from his vantage point, seemed to be company wide. "Criticism of Bush and his ever-shifting pretext for a first-strike war (what exactly was it we were pre-empting anyway?) has proved so serious a violation of Clear Channel's cultural taboo that only a good contract has kept me from being fired outright," he wrote. Fellow Clear Channel D.J. Roxanne Cordonier (Roxanne Walker), however, wasn't so lucky. "Her lawsuit against the company alleges that she was belittled on the air and reprimanded by her station for opposing the invasion of Iraq. Then she was fired," Goyette explained.
By now, ties between the Texas-based Clear Channel and the President of the United States are legendary. Clear Channel's vice chairman Tom Hicks "made Bush a millionaire," while Clear Channel stations were a staple at "'pro-troop rallies,' which, by many accounts, "were virtually indistinguishable from pro-Bush rallies." [AmConMag.com]
So, was Stern taken off the air because of the shock waves emanating from Janet Jackson's breast? Or is there, as Stern and others suggest, more to this story?
Oddly enough, Rush Limbaugh's twisted defense of Stern provides a clue. Though Limbaugh was somewhat brave and honorable to speak out, the spin Limbaugh placed on the incident speaks volumes. This was Limbaugh's take, courtesy of Matt Drudge:
John Kerry? Terry McAuliffe? Why not mention that the FCC is headed by Colin Powell's son, Michael? And what about Clear Channel's ample ties to Bush? This bit of spin ventures so deeply into the Land of Intellectual Dishonesty, it's easy to see why, given the value of propaganda, Limbaugh is said to have received a $35 million signing bonus when he signed his reported $250 million contract back in 2001.
And, given the evidence (particularly since Howard Stern himself is now openly asking if his censorship woes didn't begin with his criticism of Bush) one wonders if Stern's political change of heart didn't have something to do with Clear Channel's preemptive strike. "Maybe they did it as a favor to Bush?" Stern asked.
Of course, a year ago, in the midst of war fever, things were even worse. Last March, for example, when John Kerry said "we need a regime change in the United States,'' RNC Chairman Marc Racicot started frothing at the mouth. "Senator Kerry crossed a grave line when he dared to suggest the replacement of America 's commander-in- chief at a time when America is at war," Racicot said, as if presidential elections were a plot in the mind of traitorous renegades. [BuzzFlash.com]
These days, however, former Bush loyalist Howard Stern isn't the only one openly calling for Bush's ouster, as another of the President's most ardent (and at times, embarrassingly fawning) supporters is now seeing things more clearly. Though Andrew Sullivan has been described as falling "to his own knees before President Bush" [Salon.com]), last week, following Bush's call for a Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, Andrew Sullivan.com was abuzz with a flurry of anti-Bush commentary from people who are also beginning to awaken to the dangers we face. How striking is this turn of events? Imagine Charlton Heston suddenly expressing a distaste for firearms.
Explaining his shift in perspective, Sullivan wrote: "It was because I believed in the Constitution of the United States that I felt no qualms in backing this president and in fighting rhetorical wars on his behalf - because that Constitution was under attack. . . So you can see, perhaps, why the bid to write anti-gay discrimination into this very Constitution provokes such a strong response from me - and so many other people, gay and straight, and their families. It robs us of something no one in this country should be robbed of - equality and inclusion in the founding document itself. When people tell me that, in weighing the political choices, the war on terror should trump the sanctity of the Constitution, my response is therefore a simple one. The sanctity of the Constitution is what we are fighting for. We're not fighting just to defend ourselves. We are fighting to defend a way of life: pluralism, freedom, equality under the law."
Sullivan received more than a thousand e-mails regarding "the president's shocking embrace of discrimination in the Constitution," and as one e-mailer explained, "I have voted for every Republican nominee since Nixon and without regrets. Until now. I wish I could take back my 2000 vote. But, in any case, I will work to get out the vote for Kerry or Edwards. I will not vote for a President who secures the basest elements of his base by dividing Americans. And you know what: he is going to lose. That gay marriage announcement was the desperate act of a desperate man."
An independent voter who was planning to vote for Bush wrote that the President's "disgraceful support for altering the nation's constitution, in order to enshrine bigotry, division and scorn is the last straw," while a Special Ops solider put it this way:
While the new anti-Bush attitude takes some getting used to, Sullivan's observation about the hidden agenda behind the Federal Marriage Amendment is especially jarring -- given that he's openly dismissed Bush-related concerns as "conspiracy theories" in the past. Citing an email from a Republican lawyer who explained why he hasn't "been sleeping well since Tuesday," Sullivan wrote that the proposed Constitutional amendment banning gay marriage "is just the beginning of the religious right agenda."
"[With] one amendment the religious right could wipe out access to birth control, abortion, and even non-procreative sex (as Senator Santorum so eagerly wants to do)," the anonymous lawyer wrote. "This debate isn't only about federalism, it's about the reversal of two hundred years of liberal democracy that respects individuals." [AndrewSullivan.com] Or, as Sullivan put it, "Memo to straights: you're next."
Given how long Stern and Sullivan sang Bush's praises (and how frequently those who warned about threats to Americans' civil liberties were ridiculed) it's comforting to know that they, and others, finally see it, too. "I have to say, I feel like a spoiled brat [voting for Nader] last time," Bill Maher recently told Hardball's Chris Matthews. "It just showed me, people do not have the indulgence in most places in the world to vote for the lesser of two evils. . . They see evil, they got to get rid of it. Not that George Bush is evil incarnate, but he does have to be gotten rid of." [MSNBC.com]
Of course, now that polls show that Kerry/Edwards ticket would beat Bush/Cheney by a margin of 50 percent to 42 percent (and a growing number of Republicans and independents say they won't back Bush in 2004) perhaps our long national nightmare is finally coming to an end. Unless, of course, Bush really does "hit a trifecta" and Osama "October Surprise" bin Laden is caught and paraded around the Republican National Convention; more voter roll shenanigans and Diebold glitches deliver another GOP "victory;" and a second terrorist attack leads, as Gen. Tommy Franks warned, to the suspension of the Constitution.
Yes, at this point, it seems that for Bush to win the presidential election, something wicked this way will have to come. And though there are those who have predicted that the future holds more wars, more crackdowns, a return to the draft and another terrorist attack [BuzzFlash.com], the fact that America's lazy Stepford pundits are no longer asking, "Can anyone beat Bush?" is a promising sign.
"None of [the media] are alarmed as broadcasters that our rights are being taken away. It's weird what's going on," Stern mused on March 1.
Yep, Howard, we've been stuck in a seemingly never-ending episode of the Twilight Zone for quite some time now. But as more people awaken to the dangers lurking from within, perhaps there will be silver linings -- even in the darkest clouds.
Maureen Farrell is a writer and media consultant who specializes in helping other writers get television and radio exposure.
© Copyright 2004, Maureen Farrell
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