Talk Radio Is Becoming Big Brother's Voice

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Some books
are considered classics for their ability to provide us with insight
into human nature. Recently, while studying George Orwell’s 1984,
I had the epiphany that talk radio is, in many ways, becoming a
modern-day Ministry of Truth.

But I’m probably
not the only one to notice that what once was a voice for limited
government and free speech has taken on a clear authoritarian tone.

In Orwell’s
novel, the Ministry of Truth was tasked with spinning the facts
to make them fit the party line, and keeping the public in a mindset
of never-ending war. It was Big Brother’s chief means of controlling
the information available to the people of Oceania.

One of its
handiest tools was the infamous “two minutes hate” broadcast daily
for the purpose of whipping the people’s emotions into frenzied
hatred for the regime’s enemies and critics and into adoration of
Big Brother. Dissent was effectively curtailed.

Much of national
talk radio today serves the same purpose as Big Brother’s Ministry
of Truth by endlessly spinning coverage of the issues in a light
favorable to the chosen party line. Narrowly constructed arguments
attempt to define issues with the false choices of liberal vs. conservative,
Republican vs. Democrat, etc. Airwaves bristle with constant agitation
for war and the demonizing of those who are designated as enemies.

Even the “two
minutes hate” has its place wherein those who refuse to toe the
party line can expect to be labeled, denounced and berated by the
ministry’s defenders. And, as in Orwell’s novel, the audience screams
its approval.

Talk radio
was once a place where disagreement was actually encouraged in contrast
to the more sedate National Public Radio programs that consisted
primarily of folks sitting around politely agreeing with one another.
Disagreement provided the catalyst for wide-ranging discussions.
Though the politics of talk radio ran hard to the political right,
many listeners found that it tended to stimulate independent thought.
If nothing else, it made for compelling exchanges and vigorous dialogue.

Throughout
the Clinton years, talk radio was a rallying point for the political
right while engaging in a boisterous and vigorous resistance to
the left. It was highly ideological, but provided a counter to the
political left’s mainstream media juggernaut. Where the major media
was more likely to embrace a collectivist viewpoint, talk radio
for the most part still held to traditional beliefs in constitutional
government, personal liberty, religious freedom, and strong national
defense.

But the 9/11
attacks were the watershed moment from which the new voice of talk
radio would emerge.

With a nominal
conservative in the White House, talk radio donned a cloak of nationalism
thinly disguised as patriotism and became the unwavering mouthpiece
of the administration. The same voices which once decried governmental
intrusion under the Clinton administration instead became the prime
defenders of exactly such policies by the current administration.
Now, as a tool to stifle dissent, talk radio is actually working
to limit the debate on issues that profoundly affect all of us.

The days in
which opinions could be exchanged and the truth could stand on its
own merits are fading. Perhaps it’s still possible in some circles,
but talk radio is increasingly becoming a medium where the polarization
is nearly absolute. When we’ve reached the point where we can no
longer talk to one another, we’re setting the stage for real conflict
such as we’ve seen in the Balkans and Middle East.

Some will
certainly counter that talk radio is only giving the audience what
it wants. I understand perfectly how the game is played and I’ve
successfully thrown red meat to the crowd to generate ratings and
can testify that it does work. But if it’s just about the ratings
and doing whatever it takes to create them, then let’s at least
be honest and admit that talk radio now has more in common with
Jerry Springer or pro wrestling.

Though it’s
never been perfect, there was a time when talk radio provided an
accessible forum in which free speech thrived. Now it loves Big
Brother.

Given the
choice to inspire instead of tear down or to inform instead of propagandize,
isn’t it obvious where the greater value lies?

August
31, 2006

Bryan Hyde
[send him mail] has been
a talk radio host and program director for the past 12 years. He
is a student at George Wythe College in Cedar City, UT.

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