God Bless Al Franken

Uncle AndrewUncle Andrew
Filed under: @ 2:51 pm

Wait, that’s probably a little strong, particularly for an agnostic leftie such as myself. How about, “May The Higher Power(s) That May Or May Not Actually Exist Gaze With Favor Upon Al Franken….If Indeed They Do Exist.”

There, that’s sufficiently weasely and non-committal. 😉

For those in the Great Northwest who may not already be aware of it, The Al Franken Show is now on the air in Seattle—has been for some time, in fact—on local radio station AM 1090 (hyperlink omitted because they have yet to put up a real Web site) from nine to noon every weekday. The appearance of AM 1090 came at a truly fortuitous time in my life, as my other favorite Talk Radio host, 710 KIRO’s Dave Ross, had temporarily gone off the air in order to pursue an ultimately unsuccessful run for Congress. He’s now back on the air, but in the Afternoon Commute airtime slot of three to six pm rather than his previous morning show—a change that was instigated in part, I am quite sure, to keep him from losing listeners to Franken.

In case there’s anyone reading this who is not already familiar with me (yeah, right; one person named Googlebot), though I am an employee of Fungi Perfecti, LLC, I work at home about 80 percent of the time. This leaves me in something of a sociocultural vacuum: no discussions at the water cooler, no political debates over the cubicle wall or lunchroom table, etc. I chose to fill this void as so many other rogue toilers—truck drivers, night watchmen, etc.—do; with Talk Radio.

I spent my four years opening the sandwich shop I managed in Pullman, Washington listening to Rash Windbagh, which was quite enough for me. Not that I agreed with a word he said, mind you; it’s just that he was the only voice on the radio from nine to eleven in the morning ’round those parts. Moving back to the Puget Sound area opened me up to a veritable cornucopia of Talk Radio opinions and personalities: I could tune in Dave Ross for moderate opinion and dry wit, I could spin over to Michael Medved for questionable opinions delivered in immaculate, erudite prose, and just for a laugh I could take in a little of “Dr.” Laura’s spiteful, self-righteous inidignation. And if I needed to stay awake on a long afternoon drive and NPR’s calm, measured tones just weren’t doing the job, I could hop up the dial a few notches and tune into Tom Leykis for twenty minutes or so of Date Rapist Training Camp….guaranteed to keep a Sensitive New Age Guy like myself alert and agitated for hours.

Anyway, what was this post about again? Oh yeah, Al Franken. It’s not simply that Franken is funny and shares many of my views. Left-wing Talk Radio fills more than a mere cultural void on the airwaves, which are pretty much pwn3d (hyperlink omitted; would you believe I couldn’t find a decent online definition? For the uninitiated, it’s hacker speech for “owned”) by the Right. Good progressive Talk Radio fills a factual void that, if left unattended, tends to get totally polluted with right-wing demagoguery. The stuff I’m talking about isn’t simply stuff I don’t agree with, like a Constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage, or the necessity of our war in Iraq. It’s the full-blown factual shortfalls that are used as the underpinnings of many of their arguments. Knock these pillars of lies out from under them, and if the whole argument doesn’t tumble to the ground, at least you have to ask yourself what the hell is keeping it up.

Talk Radio likes to present itself as the great open forum of the 21st Century, a vast agora where everyone can gather to speak their minds and come away enriched and enlightened, but really, it’s a very one-sided, push-only medium. You have your host at the furthest upstream point, broadcasting opinion. Said host has had hours to assemble his/her thoughts, gather data, prepare counter-arguments. The listeners being presented these pre-packaged opinions must process them in real time. If they agree and wish to call in and give the host an “attaboy!”, they are free to do so and are rewarded verbally for their sound judgment and obvious moral character. If on the other hand they do not agree and wish to do so publicly, they must get past the inevitable call screener, and then argue their case from a more or less cold start, almost certainly without a prepared sheet of references or a computer with a Lexis Nexis account. If a disagreeing caller happens to have considerable knowledge on the subject under debate, the host has the option to not accept the call at all, or to cut it short, or otherwise use the tools and power at his/her disposal to undermine the caller’s credibility.

Because of the massive power imbalance between host and audience, the purveyors of opinion on Talk Radio almost always, by the very design of the medium, come out on top. This applies to Talk Radio from every point of the political spectrum, but because the airwaves are saturated by the Right, their unchallenged opinion prevails.

How many times have we heard the following assertion: liberals don’t think with their intellects at all; rather, they do what their emotions tell them, they do and say what they think will make them feel good. Only conservatives have the common sense and force of will to seriously consider the facts, weigh the issues and come to decisions that are actually right, rather than merely politically correct. (And oh, how I do loathe that term, for all its misdirection and meaningless poison. That which is politically correct would, by definition, adhere to the popular politics of the day. Therefore, in the South in 1865, General Nathan Bedford Forrest, founder of the Ku Klux Klan, was “politically correct”. Hard to imagine him rubbing crystals and lobbying to have masculine pronouns removed from the language, now, isn’t it?)

Well here, in my assessment, is how that all-too-common opinion has come to the fore. Let me take you to the studio of a generic right-wing Talk Radio host:

HOST: Anyone with any sense knows that [ridiculous right wing opinion]! Now to to your calls. Hello [Caller], you’re on the air.
CALLER: Hey, [Host], I just can’t agree with you on [ridiculous right wing opinion].
HOST: Well, [Caller], were you aware that recent government studies show that [factually questionable combination of two unrelated studies’ data, one by the government, one by an acknowledged conservative think tank]?
CALLER: No, but—
HOST: And were you also aware that even [prominent government figure] recently said that [blatant misquotation]?
CALLER: Oh, now I don’t think that’s—
HOST: Allow me to set you straight here, [Caller]: the most recent studies of [topic in question] conducted by [high-toned educational or scentific institution] have demonstrated, without a doubt, that [“fact” pulled fresh and mewling out of Host’s ass]!
CALLER: I don’t believe you!
HOST: Facts don’t lie, my friend: you give me some real data that contradicts [Host’s incredible orchestra of bullshit], I’ll eat my words right here on the air.
CALLER: Well, I don’t have anything in front of me, but I just know that’s not true.
HOST: Right, right, of course you do. Well, thanks for calling. You be sure to get back to me when you have something more than your “feelings” to go on.

And suppose [Caller] gets off the air and happens to dig up the data that proves [Host] was spinning a web of lies the whole time; do you think they will let him on the air to restate his case?

I’m not formulating this opinion in a vacuum, by the way. I had a very formative experience along these lines in Pullman, while Magraret was getting her DVM. I’d been listening to Rush one morning when I heard him make the following assertion: the ban against use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) as spray propellant was ridiculous, another liberal witch hunt for no good reason. His reasoning: the oceans and volcanoes of the world release millions of time the amount of chlorine and fluorine into the atmosphere that are generated by human activities. Therefore the depletion of the ozone layer, if it’s really happening at all, has nothing to to with CFCs. Just another opportunity for envronmentalist wackos to extend the reach of their power by scaring good honest citizens.

Now, I knew that this was just wrong, but I couldn’t say why at that particular minute. I talked to Margaret about it when I got off work and she got out of class, and she agreed. “There’s something about the way a chlorinated hydrocarbon reacts to ultraviolet light that’s different,” she said. I don’t recall where we researched it, but we came up with the answer: CFCs, of course, react in a completely different manner than regular cholrine and fluorine when exposed to ultraviolet light. CFCs bind with and destroy ozone; chlorine and fluorine don’t.

Our discovery turned out to be most timely. We had fallen in with a group of friends who were all connected to one of Margaret’s classmates with whom she’d really hit it off. This was a batch of grad students, primarily environmental scientists: geologists, planners, soil specialists, that sort of thing. Among them was one die-hard conservative, a Rush Limabugh fan among other things (though I don’t think I’d go so far as to call him a “Dittohead”). I will withold his name, not because I think he’d give a tin turd, just out of courtesy.

We were over at his apartment that weekend with a small group of other friends and hangers-on when the topic somehow got around to the ozone layer. Said friend promptly repeated Limbaugh’s assertion about how the whole thing was a cheap scare tactic, and why. This really got to me. If there’s one human being on the face of the planet who you’d think would take the time to look into such an obviously fallacious statement, it would be a graduate student in environmental science.

Donning my most courteous deadpan expression, I explained to him in detail why Rush’s argument was nothing but a big, steaming load. He took it quite well, actually, admitting that our version seemed to make more sense than what he’d heard on the radio. Irrespective of our political differences, he’s a great guy and we both like him quite a lot. To which he’d undoubtedly reply, “Ditto!” 😛

This isn’t my only experience along these lines, either. It was with some small amount of rueful joy that I informed my extremely conservative uncle (who also happens to be a recently retired prominent research veterinarian) that one of his heroes, Michael Medved, thinks that the detrimental effects of DDT on wildlife—the “Silent Spring” effect—are a complete fabrication. My uncle, a very intelligent, wonderful human being whom I love very much, was caught flat-footed. “That can’t be right,” he said. “There’s no question that DDT thinned the egg shells of a variety of birds.” I promised to send him a hyperlink if I could find one. Sadly, Medved does not seem to have repeated this opinion in print or on the Web, just live on his radio program. Can anyone point me to a link?

The point of all this woolgathering is that, unless there is someone out there actively challenging the weird and fallacious assertions of the Radio Right, they are left to stand, and with sufficient repetition they are woven into the fabric of commonly-acknowledged “reality”. (Witness poor Al Gore: he went from “I was on the panel that approved the budget appropriations for ARPANet, which helped lay the groundwork for what later became the Internet” to “Lookame! I invented the Internet!”, all with help of relentless repetition by the Right of misquotes generated by the Right.) Enter Al Franken and Air America. Franken’s book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them was a brilliant stab at just these sorts of fabrications, but a book is static and does not remain relevant to the public, suffering as we do from cultural ADD, over time. The glorious Interweb certainly does its part, but the human voice brings with it a kind of connection that has yet to be achieved with words on a computer screen. That, and comparatively few of us are able to surf the Web during the demographically crucial Morning Commute airtime slot….at least not yet (shudder). What Franken does on his radio program, what is so desperately needed, is to parse and correct these misstatements and outright lies as they are presented for public consumption.

A truly classic recent example is the widely-disseminated assertion that FDR favored the replacement of Social Security with private accounts. This began popping up all over the airwaves both audio and visual, and on the Web in blogs, in forums, in people’s ferchrissakes signatures. Is it true? Not in the least. Did that affect whether or not folks believed it? Apparently not. It took the leftie community—such as it is—to bring the lie to light, and The Al Franken Show among a select few to bring it to the ears of the listening audience.

Like most folks out there, I have a job, a spouse, a mortgage….in other words, what passes for a life these days. I don’t have the time to wage full-time war against someone else’s propaganda machine. I’ve been waiting a long time for someone to stand up and call “shenanigans” on these demagogues on my behalf. For that, [Higher Power of your choice] bless you, Al Franken.

2 Responses to “God Bless Al Franken”

  1. Joe Says:

    I had heard about the Al Franken Show and the Air America Radio Network when it was first starting up and sought it out shortly after it launched in April. Since then I have often played their webcasts while I work.

    For those who do not know, I work for an ISP during the graveyard shift so I have access to lots of Internet bandwidth and sometimes, very little else to occupy my attention.

    My assessment of Al Franken’s show is it’s good but comes of as a bit spiteful. Franken focuses so heavily on the propaganda put forward by right wing talk radio and cable news networks that I am often left wondering if he has any politics beyond calling Limbaugh, Hannity and O’Rilley liars. This is not to say that his show is void in value. If you can, listen to his Feb. 7 interview with Michael Kinsley. It is hilarious and also perfectly describes the personality of George Bush.

    As somebody who works at night, however, I get to hear what I think is the best show on Air America, Morning Sedition (3 to 6 AM PST). This show is intelligent, irreverent, and not above being self-deprecating. It puts forward its liberal world view with humor and an ability to recognize that Liberalism is not always easy nor that liberals necessarily agree with their icons (see the liberal confessional and the Liberal Agenda, Marching Orders from the Streisand Compound). I don’t know if Morning Sedition is rebroadcast locally so people with lives and color to their skin can hear it, but if it is, check it out.

  2. Uncle Andrew Says:

    I think you have a good point regarding the tone of the Al Franken Show, but I think it might be an inevitable byproduct of the very function of the show: to call out the Right on every lie it publicizes. That will tend to narrow the focus of the show and make it seem less proactive and more reactive. On the other hand, Franken and Lanpher seem to have genuine fun doing what they do, and lend a lot of good humor to what could otherwise be a humorless crusade. Lord knows, there are other commentators doing their thing on Air America—Randi Rhoades comes to mind—that are much snipier (not snippier, snipier; snipe-like, only more so) and not nearly as amusing.

    Morning Sedition is on 3 to 6am ’round these parts. I’m not sufficiently dedicated to any cause to get up that early. 😉

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