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The Right's Talkers Shift the Blame

By Rory O'Connor
January 10, 2011

Editor’s Note: Though right-wing hate radio is everywhere in America, it has put down roots deeply in Arizona, the site of Saturday’s massacre during a Democratic congresswoman’s outreach meeting with constituents at a Tucson shopping center.

Yet, the powerful right-wing media simply won’t accept any blame for the bloodshed, trying to flip the responsibility instead onto the targets of the Right’s attacks and those who criticize the violent and intemperate rhetoric filling the airwaves, as Rory O’Connor notes in this guest essay:

“It is our right and our duty to criticize the people who have put the fate of our country in peril,” Rush Limbaugh said this week on his syndicated radio show.

Although our country’s leading shock jock spoke in the aftermath of the massacre that left a federal judge and five others dead and Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords critically injured, he was not referring to Jared Loughner or any of the many other well-armed gunmen who increasingly try to hold our democracy hostage.

Instead, Limbaugh typically assured his massive audience of self-described “ditto-heads” that the country is most imperiled by anyone who dares suggest that the daily hate-fest on leading right-wing radio talk shows such as Limbaugh’s might have any connection with the violent acts that sometimes follow.

Rush is right … sort of. It is our duty to speak out! But Limbaugh’s assessment of who “has put the fate of our country in peril” is cockeyed.

He says Democrats and progressives, who are trying to silence conservative voices, are to blame – but I say it’s El Rushbo and his fellow purveyors of hate speech on America’s public airwaves who are America’s real enemy. In fact, I wrote a whole book about it…

Limbaugh was among the shock jocks who “pushed back against arguments that their heated political rhetoric had played a role in the tragedy,” the New York Times reported in an article headlined “Talk Radio Hosts Reject Blame in Shooting.”

“Jon Justice,” Rush’s local equivalent, was another. Justice plies his talk trade at KQTH 104.1 FM, which calls itself “The Truth.”

“There isn’t any correlation,” Justice told the Times. “It’s like blaming Jodie Foster for the individual who shot Ronald Reagan.”

Justice and other local hosts “struck a defensive, even embattled tone” in response to remarks by Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik, who said at a news conference that Arizona had become “the mecca for prejudice and bigotry” and that local TV and radio hosts should do some “soul-searching,” the Times reported.

“They [the talk-show hosts] said Saturday’s shooting had nothing to do with either their broadcasts or the state’s tense political environment,” according to the Times.

Some callers disagreed and “made it clear” they think the radio hosts bear some responsibility. “You ought to be ashamed,” one told Justice. “You are part of the problem.”

“People need to go and point fingers,” Justice responded. “It’s unfortunate, but some people do. They have to find somebody to demonize.”

Judge for yourself whether or not “Jon Justice” is being “demonized” – or if instead he is part of the problem. I profiled him back in August 2008 in a blog post called “The Truth, Jon Justice… and the American Way?”

In that post, I chronicled how Tucson’s bush-league Limbaugh (who reportedly lost a previous on-air slot when he pretended to drown a dog on-air) made anti-immigrant, racist and homophobic remarks on-air – and then posted sexist and racist videos on YouTube attacking Isabel Garcia, a well-known Arizona-based immigrant rights advocate.

“We’ve been facing down the forces of hate for years,” Garcia told me. “But it has never been like this before – until Jon Justice and hate radio 104.1 FM came around and began making derogatory comments and using hateful language while regularly fomenting lies, fear and misinformation about immigrants.”

Garcia’s associate Kat Rodriguez said she “would usually shrug this off as idiotic, but it has actually gained traction. This right-wing jerk, whose show is a constant stream of anti-immigrant, racist, and homophobic rhetoric, is leading the charge, even commenting the other day that we need ‘bloodshed in the polling places.’ Nobody outside of Arizona knows what is going on, and the madness continues,” concluded Rodriguez.

Having been branded a lesbian, a communist and a terrorist, and likened to Al Qaeda, Garcia was then targeted by a local anti-Mexican immigration activist named Roy Warden.

After threatening those he terms “Left Wing activists and Pendejo Thugs” that he will “draw my weapon and blow your freaking heads off,” Warden warned that he might “turn their skulls into red mush” in an attack that “will make the Shootout at the OK Corral look like a Sunday school picnic.”

Given that more people were killed in the recent Tucson shooting than died in the actual OK Corral episode, it seems fair to ask: Who is really putting the fate of our country in peril – hate-speaking shock jocks, or those who criticize them?

Don’t be a dittohead– make up your own mind! Here’s how my post from two-and-a half-years ago about on-air hate speech in Tucson ended:

“It’s not a stretch to ponder whether on-air remarks such as Jon Justice’s call for ‘bloodshed in the polling places’ could one day prove to be the spark that turns such ominous hate speech into real-life acts of hatred – and real people’s skulls into – yes — real red mush…”

Rory O’Connor is a journalist and filmmaker, and co-founder of the media firm Globalvision. He is author of Shock Jocks: Hate Speech and Talk Radio. [This story appeared at]

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