By Contributor Rev. Todd Eklof
“I don’t want to bloody his nose, I want to take him out!” This lone sentence, spoken by Newt Gingrich about President Barack Obama, is a succinct example of the verbal warfare that has become the primary form and function of communication today. The Polar War, a war of opposites and extremes, began gearing up even as the Cold War was winding down more than 30 years ago. At the time America’s greatest perceived threat was considered external. But when Mikhail Gorbachev became the head of the Soviet Union in 1985 and introduced his doctrines of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness), the iron curtain parted and most of us realized the Russians weren’t such a bad lot after all.
Communism collapsed like cascading dominoes across the globe and we seemed destined for an unprecedented era of world peace. But, alas, in order to continue winning elections and influencing voters, the fear mongers among us would need to find a new enemy to fill our lives with dread. Tragically, this time they chose an internal enemy upon whom to project our darkest fears: the liberals. In addition to turning Americans against Americans by demonizing anyone who values social equity and equality, this cleared the way for the unfair and unbalanced national news media that now controls the flow of mass information.
Even while promoting an exaggerated air of paranoia and mistrust toward our nation’s news organizations, by labeling them the “Liberal Media” (which, by the way, is synonymous with “Free Press”), the Reagan Administration abolished the time-honored Fairness Doctrine which required broadcasters to act in the “public interest” by “covering important policy issues and providing equal time to both sides of public questions.”
Reagan’s chair of the Federal Communications Commission, Mark Fowler, also deregulated the industry, making it possible for just a handful of corporations to begin monopolizing it. Since then, according Robert Kennedy Jr., “The right-wing radio conglomerate Clear Channel, which in 1995 operated 40 radio stations, today owns over 1,200 stations and controls 11 percent of the market. Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation is the largest media conglomerate on the planet, one of seven media giants that own or control virtually all of the United States’ 2000 TV stations, 11,000 radio stations, and 11,000 newspapers and magazines.” Since 2004, when Kennedy wrote these words, the number of corporations owning our nation’s press has fallen to just six.
Although Fox News and Rush Limbaugh are by far the worst at taking advantage of this new paradigm, more “progressive” mediums like MSNBC and The Rachel Maddow Show aren’t helping matters. Very recently, Rep. Maxine Waters, a California democrat, sounded about as extreme as Newt Gingrich when she referred to House Speaker John Boehner and his Republican colleague, Eric Cantor (R-Va.) as “demons.” She went on to defend this extreme characterization by mentioning their political agendas. After launching this verbal grenade, a Fox News host fired back by telling Waters to, “step away from the crack pipe.”
In our nation, as a whole, we no longer communicate for the purpose of working out our differences, or seeking solutions to problems or answers to questions. We communicate in order to destroy our enemies and win the argument, with little regard for ascertaining the truth. “Hence, the word most often used to describe such interaction,” explains philosopher Lou Marinoff, “is ‘discussion,’ whose etymology is shared with that of ‘concussion’ and ‘percussion.’” Discussion is verbal warfare, compared to its opposite, genuine dialogue, through which differing parties both speak and listen to each other, in the interest of genuinely acquiring new understanding, and not merely in defense of old ideas. Talking has become a form a battle, conversation a war of words.
Recently, however, Rush Limbaugh, a powerful veteran and commander in the Polar War, may have inadvertently provided us with the best opportunity to begin turning things around. His blatant attempt to destroy the good name of Georgetown University student Sandra Fluke has backfired, as if his verbal grenades were tossed back his direction before they could explode and have now blown up in his face. But then, as a wise man once said, that’s what eventually happens in warfare, those who live by the sword, die by the sword.
It seems to me the time has come for religious leaders to help put a stop to this devastating civil war by both modeling and calling for genuine dialogue. We can put an end to the Polar War the same we ended the Cold War, through restructuring and openness, through reestablishing the sacred Fairness Doctrine and promoting a culture in which we listen respectfully to one another again. Perhaps, sometime soon, we’ll all watch in amazement at the Rush Limbaugh Show, and Fox News, and MSNBC, and other propaganda machines, fall like dominoes and a new era of civil discourse and peaceful dialogue emerge to take their place.