The Spirit of Radio

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

While the hurricanes in the Gulf Coast are winding down, my hackles are raising over a few comments made by the boisterous radio personality Rush Limbaugh (don’t take that to be an effort by your local media to boost sales in the dog breeding business). Much of the anger fluttering about Limbaugh’s comments center on the accusation that he called the hurricane a hoax. I will note, he did not use those words. He told his listeners he was not a meteorologist and then gave his interpretation of meteorological data. On a side note, if anyone’s interested, I’m not a CPA but I can give you my interpretation of your tax returns. Just kidding. That would be idiotic

But, like I said, to his credit, he didn’t go so far as to say hoax before he evacuated himself from the storm’s path. To his detriment, he did say local media was providing coverage aimed at creating panic to boost the sale of products like bottled water and batteries. (And you can follow the bouncing ball on his website: www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2017/09/05/my-analysis-of-the-hurricane-irma-panic/)

“There is symbiotic relationship between retailers and local media, and it’s related to money,” said the radio host, who I first became familiar with after his starring role in a Pizza Hut commercial. “It revolves around money. You have major, major industries and businesses which prosper during times of crisis and panic, such as a hurricane, which could destroy or greatly damage people’s homes, and it could interrupt the flow of water and electricity.”

He described the process as a vicious cycle between reporters and companies — inciting panic and collecting profit.

“The local media, in turn, reports in such a way as to create the panic way far out, which sends people into these stores to fill up with water and to fill up with batteries, and it becomes a never-ending repeated cycle,” he said. “And the two coexist. So the media benefits with the panic with increased eyeballs, and the retailers benefit from the panic with increased sales, and the TV companies benefit because they’re getting advertising dollars from the businesses that are seeing all this attention from customers.”

Say what you want about bias in mainstream media (and I hate using that term), he’s saying local media can’t be trusted to tell the truth either. Frankly, in every discussion I’ve had about the perception of “the media,” it seems to always end in some permutation of the phrase, “Oh, but not you guys. I’m sure you wouldn’t. It’s just the national guys.” Well, we’re the local guys. He’s not just attacking the anchors behind the desk, he’s not just attacking the correspondent with the microphone and he’s not just attacking the writers typing away on their keyboards. He’s attacking their sources.

Just think about how local media works on official matters.

The local anchor behind the desk gets comments from the mayor. The correspondent with the microphone talks to the local police chief. The writer at the keyboard calls up the city’s public works director. That leaves only a few options for interpreting Mr. Limbough’s claims. Either local media is fabricating quotes and soundbites local officials don’t care to contest or local city officials are in on the bottled water/battery conspiracy when they are telling the public to seek shelter, evacuate and don’t venture out.

Local media gets its material from the people in their very midst.

If we believe the claim that the local news sources are appeasing the Aquafinas and the Duracells of the world, then we believe the same of our mayors, our law enforcement, our emergency responders and our city’s employees by extension. Our local reporters recite what their sources say, be they elected officials or the shop owner next door. They are a conveyance of the voices in the community. The words they write and the words they speak are not truly their own.

Mr. Limbough is one voice — a well-known voice, but just one voice none-the-less. He is accountable to no one, so long as his revenue continues to be generated and his brand continues to be recognized. Local media members are accountable to you, because you see us at the grocery store. You can walk into our office. You can call us on the telephone.

We report the truth because it matters to us as well as you. So, trust me, if we report that there’s going to be flooding in the region, it’s not because of a lucrative contract with the company that manufactures inflatable water wings.