Johns Hopkins Magazine -- February 2000
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Air Pollution
By "Guido Veloce"
Illustration by Charles Beyl

We must protect our children from violent, misogynist, rude, and mind-numbing noises riding the radio airwaves all across America. Rap music? Well, yes, that too. I actually meant talk radio. What bothers me is not the conservative politics of the most popular shows--if we ran the tape backward to the 1960s we would hear language every bit as venomous coming from the left, including a lot of the same anti-government, anti-bureaucratic rhetoric. It is the how of talk radio, as much as the what, that disturbs me. After several years of listening, I think I have figured out the tricks of the trade. So I've put together a little handbook, complete with actual examples from four different hosts, two local and two national, and their callers. It is available for any reader looking for a second career or for ways to bully friends, family members, and co-workers. Keep it out of your kids' hands.

How to Be a Talk Show Host

Proclaim your infallibility: Assert that you are always right or represent "the voice of reason." Acknowledge your greatness and the wisdom of listeners who proclaim it.

Disrespect people you don't like: Imitate President Clinton in a mocking voice; adopt a whiny one when speaking for Liberals. Don't use correct names for opponents: Al Gore becomes Algore, a character in a monster movie. The National Organization for Women (NOW) becomes the National Organization for Gals (NAG).

Claim to know what other people think, even if they deny it: No matter what they say, Liberals really want to raise taxes and have big government, and they're "still crying about the fall of the Berlin Wall" because they mourn the death of Communism.

Make clear distinctions: Schools improve with less money; the military improves with more.

Only listen to people who agree with you: Screen callers, ignore whoever is speaking, or put fingers in ears.

Never grant that your opponents might have a good idea or a shred of human decency: Use vivid adjectives and demeaning nouns. Speak of "femi-Nazis" and call the vice president "an incompetent rag-doll."

Have a catchy term to mark your followers as deep thinkers: "Ditto" and "dittohead" are already taken.

Don't worry about larger contexts: Announce that Jesse Jackson's involvement in a local school controversy shows he couldn't find racism anywhere in America. Do so on the day of a guilty verdict in a racially motivated killing of a black man in Texas.

Don't be paralyzed by consistency: Affirm that "the American people are not honorable or principled" but that they should be trusted to make decisions for themselves. Announce that thanks to Liberals, American schools are "too lax" and that also thanks to Liberals, American schools "are being turned into prisons."

Don't leave science to scientists: The idea that "secondhand smoke kills" is false, and only Liberals and "wacko pointy-heads" believe global warming is occurring.

Don't believe in a loyal opposition: The Democratic Party is "so dangerous this country cannot stand four or eight more years" of a Democratic presidency. Declare that "we've got to get rid of all this liberalism that's ruining the country right now." (Means unspecified)

Ignore history..: Take the position that patrons in bars in California ought to "beat the crap out of" any "anti-smoking Nazis" who try to enforce smoking bans. (This from an African American old enough to remember the white South's response to the Civil Rights Movement).

...unless history is useful: Homosexuality is a sure sign that a republic is in decline.

Two things continue to mystify me about talk show rhetoric. The first is its dehumanizing hatred. Why are well-to-do Americans directing so much anger against fellow Americans whose wacko, pointy-headed, femi-Nazi, Liberal numbers must include friends, neighbors, colleagues, and loved ones? The second thing that puzzles me is why most talk shows don't discuss ideas and issues. They are about arguing by authority--believe me because I am right and my opponents are stupid, dangerous, and venal. Those words bring me back to the children of America.

What is a child who ridicules people, makes rude noises, and only hears what he wants to hear? A spoiled brat.

What is an adult who ridicules people, makes rude noises, and only hears what he wants to hear? A talk show host.

"Guido Veloce" is a Johns Hopkins University professor.