Finding the Forgotten Majority
Jan 13, 2011
“There is a
need for some reflection here: What is too far now? What
was too far when Oklahoma City happened is accepted now.
There’s been a desensitizing. These town halls and cable
TV and talk radio, everybody’s trying to outdo each
the words of an unnamed Republican senator after
America’s latest shooting rampage, this one a political
assassination attempt in Tucson, Ariz. How sad—and
telling—that the lawmaker refused to attach his or her
name to such an important truism.
But that is
the larger story of the slaughter’s aftermath. As
conservative pundits spent the week insisting that their
violent political rhetoric is somehow unrelated to
political violence; as Sarah “Don’t Retreat, Reload”
Palin scrubbed her website of rifle-sight graphics
targeting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords; as right-wing radio
hosts sanitized the Tucson shooter as a “lone gunman”
rather than a “terrorist”—in the midst of all this
obfuscation, few public figures found the courage to
acknowledge truths that so desperately need to be aired.
those truths is that media can set societal norms and,
thus, can help create conditions for violence—whether a
mass murder in Tucson, an IRS bombing in Austin or any
other future massacre. Another less obvious truth is
that the new media economy encourages ever more violent
vitriol because that’s now become the most reliable way
to build a following and, thus, generate profit.
sensationalists like Rupert Murdoch, media owners today
aren’t deliberately manufacturing this dangerous
dynamic—for the most part, it reflects a
convergence of market forces. In this brave new
world of infinite information conduits, the audience is
more fragmented than ever. That has made the pursuit of
audience share more intense, ultimately rewarding the
loudest violence-glorifying demagogues in the noisy
rabble. And remember: The situation is being further
exacerbated as many media outlets transform their
business models from mass broadcast to niche
narrowcast—a shift that allows relatively small fringe
mobs to sustain the most vituperative voices of hate.
Add to this a recession that is reducing resources for
real journalism, sprinkle in our dehumanizing politics
of vilification, and America has built a media economy
that incentivizes violent bombast. Indeed, rather than
nurturing the talent and intellect necessary to build a
following through solid reporting and analysis, the
system makes it far more efficient to generate viewers,
listeners and Web clicks by simply screaming, “If
ballots don’t work, bullets will,” as one Florida radio
host recently thundered.
who still cling to journalistic ideals and democratic
principles, I’ve grappled with the pressures of this
alarming change in the media landscape. As a radio host,
I feel the constant pull of the pack mentality—that
temptation to follow the path of least ratings
resistance and use the public airwaves as a “blowtorch”
(as the saying goes in the industry). Oh, how easy
that would be—I could just add my voice to the now
ubiquitous hatefest that polarizes issues and too often
suggests violence is a legitimate form of political
done my best to avoid this sadistic melee. I’m sure I
haven’t been perfect, but I’ve tried to find an
alternative route that circumvents the pitchforks,
torches and Glocks. And thankfully, I’ve found support.
My Colorado radio station has unabashedly backed my
attempt to create a different kind of programming, and
I’ve found a diverse and growing listenership that
values something more than violent invective.
what still gives me hope in such dark times. For if
there is an audience in my state that wants something
more—something substantive and nonviolent—then there are
audiences everywhere that want something more, too. It’s
the media’s responsibility to start finding that
forgotten majority before more blood is spilled.
Sirota is the author of the best-selling books “Hostile
Takeover” and “The Uprising.” He hosts the morning show
on AM760 in Colorado.