The saying “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” has gone out of vogue, mostly because flies don’t support haute couture habits, nor will they finance a 100-acre estate. If you want to be rich, throw out the honey and the vinegar; invest in pepper spray. In America anyway, a good number of the wealthy and (in)famous scaled the economic pyramid because, not in spite of, their reputation as rabble-rousing malcontents, the mean boys and girls who are unafraid to inspire a little hatred and a lot of indigestion.
Before we go on, yes, I am specifically talking about Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, Sarah Palin, and their ilk. That list is clearly polarized to the right, and believe me, I would love to include some liberal media personalities just to prove I don’t believe the conservatives have a monopoly on hate speech or that any political group is exempt from prejudice, privilege, and just general bad apple-ry.
However, I can’t come up with a single successful liberal counterpart to Beck, et. al. Conservatives have a totalitarian stranglehold on talk radio (seven out of the 15 most popular radio programs are conservative talk shows–eight, if you count Dr. Laura–and zero are liberal). Additionally, the most widely viewed liberal television pundits are either scathing-but-polite (Rachel Maddow, who is also a real journalist, I should add) or comedians (Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert).
Keith Olbermann is the meanest of the liberal bunch, and he certainly proved his commitment to leftist dogma over decency during the #MooreandMe debacle, but I could not find any examples of him referring to John Edwards as a “faggot” (Ann Coulter did that) or saying that the women’s rights movement “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians” (Pat Robertson with the Best. Quote. Ever).
The most hateful thing I could find Olbermann guilty of saying is that Scott Brown is an:
irresponsible, homophobic, racist, reactionary, ex-nude model, tea-bagging supporter of violence against women and against politicians with whom he disagrees.
I’m not a fan of “tea bagging” as an insult, because it’s disrespectful, childish, and does nothing to up the ante of legitimate debate. As for “racist”–I’m honestly torn between believing we need to be vigilant about calling out prejudice, but also believing we have to be cautious about assigning those incendiary labels without a specific, personal offense to pin them to (otherwise, we just feed into the “race card” defense racist people are always whining about).
Olbermann has examples to support his other accusations, but in the case of “racism” he only cites Brown’s link to the Tea Party, which he called “perhaps the saddest collection of people, who do not want to admit why they really hate, since the racists of the South in the 60s insisted they were really just concerned about states rights.” Does claiming association with the Tea Party, where racist assumptions about Obama’s religion and birthplace thrive, make every individual member of that party racist?
Anyway, I don’t have a ready answer, and that tangent is an entire post in its own right–my main point is that, while Olbermann is often provocative, he doesn’t invoke slurs or truly hateful, violence-filled speech at the same level of intensity or as often as many conservative commentators.
Also, Olbermann’s annual salary of $7.5 million doesn’t even compare to the $32 million Glenn Beck’s company, Mercury Radio Arts, pulled in last year. Mercury is solely devoted to all things Beckian–publishing his books and magazine, airing his radio and television shows, and managing his digital empire, where, coincidentally, you can now take unaccredited courses at “Beck U.” Charity 101 is taught by Professor James R. Stoner, Jr., and no, I didn’t make a single word of that up.
Moving on: Rush Limbaugh, undoubtedly the High King Potentate of talk radio, signed an 8-year, $400 million contract with Clear Channel (you know, the crumbling empire that’s had massive layoffs) in 2008.
Estimating Sarah Palin’s earnings, which come from such diverse venues as The Discovery Channel and Tea Party speaking engagements, is more difficult, but the NY Daily News (via ABC News) pegged her payoff between July, 2009, (when she quit her day job as governor of Alaska) and April, 2010 at $12 million.
In short, it pays to say things like:
The America I know and love is not one in which my parents or my baby with Down Syndrome will have to stand in front of Obama’s ‘death panel’ so his bureaucrats can decide, based on a subjective judgment of their ‘level of productivity in society,’ whether they are worthy of health care. Such a system is downright evil. – Sarah Palin
Smallpox in a blanket, which the U.S. Army gave to the Cherokee Indians on their long march to the West, was nothing compared to what I’d like to see done to these people. – Michael Savage, referring to people from the Middle East, whom he also calls “non-humans”
We need somebody to put rat poisoning in Justice Stevens’ creme brulee … that’s just a joke, for those of you in the media. – That Wacky Ann Coulter
America has spoken clearly, consistently–we don’t want [government-paid healthcare] … We are–excuse this analogy, but I feel like it’s true–we’re the young girl saying “No, no–help me!” and the government is Roman Polanski. In the end, I think we’re all gonna be cowering in France. – Glenn Beck, whose rape analogy falls apart when he equates Americans to first the rape victim and then the rapist (?!)
I’m thinking about killing Michael Moore, and I’m wondering if I could kill him myself, or if I would need to hire somebody to do it. No, I think I could. I think he could be looking me in the eye, you know, and I could just be choking the life out. – Glenn Beck, again
What I find even more disturbing than the fact that so many people are willing to compromise their sense of decency to make a buck or even that so many talking heads don’t mind fantasizing out loud about killing people, is that American people lap this rhetoric up. They love it, or else Palin & Co. wouldn’t be popular enough to earn seven/eight-figure salaries.
Most people aren’t immediately comfortable with this disgusting talk, but they accrue a tolerance for it over time. Why? Simple–everyone wants to be on the winning team, especially when the two sides are so diametrically opposed that the winners get a trophy that reads “My Worldview Kicked Your Worldview’s Hiney.” No one wants to open up the Pandora’s box of gray-area ideology (let alone reality), so they close off all channels of communication but those sponsoring their own brand of heavily partisan pundits.
The thicker the comforting cocoon of righteousness is woven, the harder for its inhabitants to admit that an opposing view might have credence or that their personal idol might be–gasp–in the wrong, or–double gasp–a loghorrea-spewing hack.
And so people tune out when they hear Glenn Beck say he wants to murder someone, they let Ann Coulter’s homophobic slurs slide, they ignore Palin’s insinuation that our black President isn’t a “real American,” and in time, the hate just washes right through them, unimpeded. Eventually, every criticism of their idol becomes a personal affront, something to further strengthen their cocoon with a healthy dose of persecution complex.
This is how people get trapped in a mindset of hate, and we shouldn’t think it can’t (or doesn’t already) happen to liberals. It’s not nearly at the scale of conservative rhetoric, but we still have radio program host Mike Malloy saying he wishes Rush Limbaugh would choke on his own neck fat, we still have Michael Moore calling rape charges “a bunch of hooey”–in short, we have our own row to hoe over in the left wing.
The current preponderance of right-wing fear-mongering and opponent-baiting must be taken as a warning for us to distance ourselves even further from their type of hateful speech. The last thing we want is to wake up some days and realize Keith Olbermann’s latest invective-filled rant just put Pat Robertson to shame.