A quaint pastime of late for the mainstream media has been calling out radio talk show hosts for the stupid things they occasionally say. Make that conservative talk show hosts, because the entire spectrum of so-called “progressive” talk radio is going completely unnoticed. A case could be made that this is because liberal talk radio has a listenership of irrelevantly miniscule proportions when compared to the millions of Americans who regularly tune in to local and national talk radio shows. But be that as it may, certainly the importance of progressive talk to the liberal base and its presence on the airwaves should merit some scrutiny, particular from those in the media who like to imagine themselves as impartial, unbiased communicators of fact.
In Wisconsin, a state widely seen as ground zero for polarized politics, a thriving talk radio community exists. Joining the occasionally biased hosts of Wisconsin Public Radio in championing liberal causes is John “Sly” Sylvester, the state’s leading progressive talk radio host. Sylvester regularly obtains interviews with leading reporters in the state as he presents his point of view on local, state and national politics.
Last Thursday when conservative journalist Andrew Breitbart suddenly passed away, Sly used his show to make insensitive and horrendous remarks about Breitbart, and gave callers a forum for making utterly vile and inappropriate remarks about Breitbart’s work and family. Declaring that he would pour weed killer on Breitbart’s grave to prevent a resurrection, Sly enthused, “I can kill him like the weed he was.” Seconds later he emphatically declared, “I’m glad he is dead!”
Comparing Breitbart to former North Korean dictator Kim Jung Il, terrorist Anwar al-Awlaki, and Confederate soliders, Sly declared, “The world is a better place today. Can you think of the last time you’ve been this happy that someone is dead?” The last time I remember the nation collectively cheering the death of someone was when heroic Navy SEALs killed Osama bin Laden. There is no comparison between someone as evil as a known terrorist responsible for killing thousands of Americans and any individual on the left side or right side of the American political spectrum.
But Sly didn’t stop with his comments there. He encouraged callers to join him in his rant, and one particular caller managed to – with the approval of Sly – rage:
“I pray and hope that all his possessions are torn and scattered to the ends of the Earth. And that his family is struck dumb and unable to lament. I hope his descendants be infested by boils and physical deformity and left only to copulate with beasts…”
The leading liberal talk show host in Wisconsin did nothing to rebuke the caller. Maybe that is no surprise since he has in the past used his show repeatedly to make sexually charged comments about Republican Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. The day after his comments grabbed the attention of conservative watchdog organization Media Trackers, Sly managed to quietly pull the audio of that segment from his website.
No apology has been forthcoming.
No sponsors have stopped advertising.
When Rush Limbaugh makes a poor judgment call, he can apologize and the media is still outraged. When a liberal radio host proclaims his hatred of a conservative journalist and his family, or when a liberal radio host mocks tornado victims, or when any number of liberal opinion leaders make sexually charged comments about conservative women, the silence of the mainstream media is deafening. If it is morally responsible for the self-proclaimed arbiters of fact and gatekeepers of public consciousness to attack media personalities who make insensitive comments, the one-sided outrage betrays an agenda – maybe a subconscious agenda – that looks a lot like censorship.