By Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon

It's no secret that talk radio has long been dominated by conservative hosts--even in liberal cities. But most Americans are unaware of frightening new trends in radio talk shows.

Ask members of the public to describe the right edge of talk radio, and they're likely to mention Rush Limbaugh. Not even close. The spectrum has moved so far to the right that in many markets Limbaugh sounds like a moderate.

The shift is not just to the far right, but the armed right--with open conversation about doing away with "traitors."

And major media companies are behind some of the extremists.

Meet Chuck Baker, who follows Limbaugh for three hours on KVOR Radio in Colorado Springs. While Limbaugh speaks to the conservative movement, Baker speaks to the "patriot" movement about forming guerrilla squadrons and taking out the "slimeballs" in Congress.

"Patriots" rail against Bill Clinton and the plot toward global government known as the "New World Order"; they see gun control as a Big Brother conspiracy.

In Colorado, Baker has used his show to promote patriot militia groups. For months, he accompanied his rants against the government by mimicking the sound of a firing pin in action: "kching, kching." Attacking Senator Howard Metzenbaum over the Brady (gun control) Bill, he said that you wouldn't be rid of the senator until you could stand over his grave, "put the dirt on top of the box, and say, 'I'm pretty sure he's in there.'"

Baker has regularly interviewed leaders of the armed right, including Rev. Pete Peters, who believes that God wants gays dead and pontificates against race-mixing with Jews and minorities.

In August 1994, Linda Thompson of the Unorganized Militia of the United States came on Baker's show to advocate an armed march on Washington to remove the "traitors" in Congress: "We have two million US troops, half of them are out of the country. . . .All of the troops they could muster would be 500,000 people. They would be outnumbered five to one, if only 1 percent of the country went up against them."

Baker, broadcasting from a gun shop, responded positively--telling his guest that soldiers "would come over to our side."

A week later, a caller urged the formation of "an orchestrated militia," saying: "The problem we have right now is who do we shoot. Other than Kennedy, Foley and Mitchell, the others are borderline traitors. They're the kingpins right now, besides the Slick One [Clinton]. . . .You've got to get your ammo."

Baker's response was sympathetic: "Am I advocating the overthrow of this government?. . . .I'm advocating the cleansing." Citing the power of the "masses in rebellion," he asked: "Why are we sitting here?"

Later that day, a caller accused Baker of advocating "armed rebellion." The talk host corrected her: "An armed revolution."

Weeks later, in October, a Baker listener Francisco Martin Duran fired nearly 30 bullets at the White House. Nearby, Duran's abandoned pickup sported a bumper sticker: "Fire Butch Reno"--a favorite Baker nickname for Attorney General Janet Reno.

Inspired by Baker, Duran and scores of other listeners had called a local congressional office in August to oppose a ban on assault weapons. So many calls were irate or obscene that Duran's threat to "go to Washington and take someone out" went unnoticed.

As a talk-show host, Baker accepts no responsibility for Duran: "If he thinks I and Rush Limbaugh are the reasons he went there, then the man needs psychiatric counseling."

Is Baker an isolated, rogue element in the talk industry? Hardly. He remains on the air (toned down slightly) and on the advisory board of the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts.

Reporting for EXTRA!, the magazine of the media watch group Fairness in Accuracy and Reporting (FAIR), Colorado journalist Leslie Jorgensen interviewed the executive director of the talk show host association. Jorgensen was told: "You're trying to put a muzzle on free speech. . . .Chuck Baker is a good host and knows how to talk to people and calm them down."

No one muzzles nationally syndicated talk host G. Gordon Liddy, who has also expressed sympathy for right-wing militias. Three days before Baker's show touted an armed march on Washington, Liddy told listeners how to kill federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents: "They've got a big target on there, ATF. Don't shoot at that because they've got a vest on underneath that. Head shot, head shots." Later in the program, Liddy said: "Kill the sons of bitches." Liddy's show is distributed by Westwood One, the country's biggest syndicator of radio programming.

In many cities, right-talk is not enough; the new marketing device in radio is "hot talk"--but it might be renamed "hate talk." In Phoenix, KFYI "hot talk" host Bob Mohan declared that gun control advocate Sarah Brady "ought to be put down. A humane shot at a veterinarian's would be an easy way to do it."

In liberal San Francisco, KSFO--owned by the ABC/Capital Cities media giant--recently abandoned its diverse lineup of talk hosts, and switched to "hot talk": all right, all the time. Now San Franciscans can hear hosts who speak of "lynching a few liberals" and encourage listeners to "shoot illegal immigrants who come across the border" for reward money.

Let's face it: there's something wrong with the talk radio spectrum when Rush Limbaugh is starting to sound tolerant.

Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon are the authors of Adventures in Medialand: Behind the News, Beyond the Pundits (Munroe, Maine: Common Courage Press). Cohen is Executive Director of the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR), and Solomon is on FAIR's Board of Advisers. © 1995, Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon.

 

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This article is adapted from:
Eyes Right! Challenging the Right Wing Backlash
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