Since I live in Texas it seems like I'm always driving around in my BigAss EcoTruck, and on weekends there's nothing decent to listen to on my regular radio stations so I find myself tuning in Air America Radio on AM1600 KOKE. Today I got to listen to Ring of Fire featuring Mike Papantonio and Robert F. Kennedy Jr.
I've listened before. It's a lot less strident than some of the other Air America fare, and they sometimes bring up interesting subjects and have good guests. It's one of the few shows on the network which goes beyond trying to be a left-wing parody of what they see as right-wing 'hate' radio, to have some genuinely useful original content.
Much of the time the hosts seem genuinely interested in informing the audience. Which leaves me all the more mystified when they fall into the same habits as their more strident compatriots and can't resist lapsing into elitism, arrogance, condescension and straight-out lying to their audience.
Today was a case in point. The more politic RFK Jr. seemed to be absent, and Mike P. went on a tirade about the ignorance which causes common working people to vote Republican. He described these voters as 'Knuckle Draggers' who had never read a newspaper and were therefore too stupid and too ignorant to know that voting for Republicans was counter to their best interests. He described them as rather like zombies programmed by right wing talking points from talk radio and incapable of reason or original thought. I've heard this line before, but it became particularly ironic as the show went on.
His attacks on straw men and his elitist condescension were pretty irritating, but it began to verge on the humorous when he got a call from a union member from the IBEW. They comiserated a bit about the evil Republicans and their efforts to break down the unions and have everyone replaced with immigrants and working for the minumum wage, while funneling all the money into the pockets of the rich.
Then he got onto the subject of WalMart and how their wages were low because they won't allow workers to unionize. He announced that WalMart pays only $5.15 an hour to its workers, keeping them as virtual slaves at a sub-poverty wage. This would have been a good argument to make, were it even vaguely true.
The truth is that although the wages vary slightly from place to place, WalMart pays a minimum of $7 per hour to its workers as a starting wage – higher in many areas of the country – and even WalMart's most bitter enemies admit that their average wage is around $11 an hour. And this is with a workforce which is dominated by part time workers and workers who move on to other and better jobs within a year. Those who stay at WalMart for the long term and work full time advance in pay very rapidly and find it easy move into management at substantially higher wages.
Ok, that was a big, fat and obvious lie which had me pounding on the steering wheel and shouting at the radio. Sure, the pay at WalMart isn't great. But most of their employees aren't exactly on a long-term career track, and they are generally competitive within the local market. They certainly pay well over minimum wage – their lowest salaries are higher than the new, higher minimum wage currently being discussed in Congress.
I almost switched to my iPod at that point, but I felt compelled to listen on in sick fascination. Almost immediately I heard him saying more confounding things. Apparently America now leads the world in population living below the poverty level. I was shocked. I'd heard that the rich were getting richer, but the stats I'd seen suggested that the poor were at least holding their own and moving upward in wealth as they got older and more experienced. I was pretty sure there wasn't a word of truth coming out of the radio, so I muttered under my breath about it most of the way home and then headed straight for the computer to get the straight facts.
It's hard to use a computer with your knuckles dragging on the ground, but I did manage to find a nice list of recent figures on poverty in various nations. I was positively stunned to discover that my friend Mike P. was lying to me again. It seems the US doesn't lead the world in poverty, but in fact our poverty rate is one of the lowest in the world. At a 12% poverty rate the US has less poverty than 120 of the countries surveyed, including Canada the United Kingdom, Brazil, Russia, South Korea and Israel. In fact, only a dozen countries have a lower poverty rate and half of them are lying about it. Not only that, but our poverty rate has remained steady in the 11-13% range for about 30 years and has not risen dramatically under the 'Bush Crime Family' (as another Air America host calls them). Even more shocking, I discovered that our offical poverty line is higher than the average income in about half the countries in the world. Damn our poor people for being so rich!
I'd listened to Ring of Fire for about ten minutes and in that time had smacked head-on into two egregious lies. What if I hadn't known better? What if I didn't read the newspaper and look up facts in reliable sources when I they aren't at my fingertips? I imagine I'd believe whatever some agreeable fellow on Air America said to me.
On the radio you have a great deal of power over the truth. You can say whatever you want and then pick which calls to take or you can talk over and drown out anyone you don't agree with. You have complete control. What's more, on Air America they're mostly preaching to the choir. They tell their audience exactly what they expect to hear, and the audience gobbles it up because it meets their expectations. They never bother to ask whether these appealing 'facts' are actually true.
Radio hosts like Mike Papantonio can get away with murder – at least the murder of the truth – when they have an audience of people who never question what they hear, or use their rational faculties or think for themselves. They would rather hear a familiar lie than a disturbing truth, and the new propagandists of the left are ready and willing to serve up those lies to fill their empty heads. They're doing exactly what they've been accusing right-wing radio of doing for years, and they've found an audience who are willing accomplices in their own deception.Powered by Sidelines