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Tuesday 18 January 2011

Turn Down The Rhetoric? Some Chance

It is now more than a week since the shootings in Tucson, AZ. So has the tone of political discourse mellowed in the meantime? Well, not if you’re talk radio host Bob Durgin of Harrisburg, PA. Durgin was so distressed by the New York Times’ take on the shootings that, on his Monday 10 January show, he told listeners “Somebody ought to burn that paper down. Just go to New York and blow that sucker right out of the water”.

And with that comment, normal service was resumed, at least from the right leaning part of the media. Even the appearance of Barack Obama at the Tucson memorial service last Wednesday set the critics off: the next morning, Fox and Friends’ co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Steve Doocey sank so low that they took to picking apart the seating arrangements, causing Daily Show host Jon Stewart to call them out [video not generally available in the UK].

Then, the same day that Bob Durgin was proposing violence on the NYT, Bill O’Reilly, top rating host on Fox News Channel (fair and balanced my arse) went over the top at the end of his show, denouncing rival network MSNBC and telling of “vicious personal attacks on anyone who doesn’t toe the far left MSNBC line”.

What Bill-O didn’t say was that the most vicious thing coming out of MSNBC since the shootings had been a call by their top host Keith Olbermann to renounce violent rhetoric, as I noted at the time. But then, O’Reilly never mentions Olbermann, at least not on air, so he was actually saying “ignore Olbermann” without mentioning the O-word. Thus the egotism of broadcast news.

And from there, the name calling has gone on more or less as before, so when Olbermann came to make a follow-up “Special Comment” on Monday’s Countdown, he conceded that only one commentator or politician had joined his call to renounce violent rhetoric: John McCain, the senior Senator from Arizona, who had been at the previous week’s memorial service in Tucson.

After considering some of the routine unpleasantness and dishonesty that has come from the right since the shootings, Olbermann concluded with a line that will strike a chord on this side of the North Atlantic: “the right lives in a perpetual state of victimhood”. Many mainstream Tory politicians may be of moderate stance, but their cheerleaders across the various parts of the Fourth Estate fit Olbermann’s description all too well.

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