Have you ever heard of “Morning Zoo” programs? In Australia I think they are referred to as “Breakfast Programs,” and I’m thinking you guys might call them the same thing.
But in the event that you call them something different, or in the event that you don’t have them at all, “Morning Zoo” programs are basically formulaic radio programs, in which a host and his sidekick with a big booming laugh make fart jokes, play sound effects, opine on harmless celebrity news stories usually read by a charmingly exasperated newsgirl, and torment an intern that is often overweight. They often have sophomoric and idiotic nicknames, like “Weasel and the Spooge,” or “Bingbong and Tallywacker in the Morning.”
Occasionally, one local morning zoo team will get in a public pissing contest with another local morning zoo team, and both will spend hours bagging on the other, or coming up with pranks to pull on the other, etc. These are always great for ratings on both sides, because a listener will hear Weasel and the Spooge insult Bingbong and Tallywacker in the Morning, and then that listener will tune in to Bingbong and Tallywacker the next day to hear how they feel about that, and to further hear what B and T have to say about Weasel and the Spooge in return.
The reason I’m bringing this up is because this cesspool of noise, dick jokes, and brain dead innuendo is where a lot of the most influential media figures in America got their start.
I’m not joking. Glenn Beck is worth $90 million, and he earned it by preaching discredited, paranoid horseshit to the elderly and the terrified. He got his start giving away Paula Abdul tickets to caller 11 and doing more blow than Rick James.
Rush Limbaugh has made about $400 million through his radio show. He serves as an unelected yet totally official arbiter of “conservative purity,” which he can actually do because he has millions and millions of listeners, and they think Rush is right about absolutely everything. More than a few Republican politicians have actually made public apologies for offending Rush Limbaugh in one way or the other, including the fucking chairman of the Republican National Committee. Rush got his start by playing shitty Starland Vocal Band songs on AM Radio. Now he’s a God.
Sean Hannity has a show on primetime on Fox News, and his syndicated radio show has millions of listeners. His job is to be a shameless bagman for the Republican party, for which he is compensated handsomely. (He’s worth around $60 million.) His first job was on some low-wattage shitpile of a radio station in Alabama. Now he has unfettered access to any conservative politician or activist that he wants, including Presidents.
Bear in mind, none of these guys are experts in much of anything. They don’t have backgrounds in political science, economics, climatology, or anything that would make them credible sources on American politics. Hell, Limbaugh and Hannity both dropped out of college, and Beck didn’t even bother to go. The lack of higher education among them wouldn’t be an issue if all they were doing was playing Wang Chung songs on KPUD, but these guys are literally the faces of popular conservative thought in America. They drive the debate. They are the only source of news for millions of Americans. And ultimately, they are one of the key factors in why everything seems so goddamned polarized here.
What Used To Happen
There used to be something in the United States called “The Fairness Doctrine.” In a nutshell, it meant that if you had a news or current events program, and if you were going to editorialize on any political topic, you had to make a good faith effort to get someone from the opposing side to offer their take on it. This is called “presenting both sides of the story,” and it was a legal requirement for any broadcaster that wanted to do current events. The Federal Communications Commission shitcanned that requirement in 1987, meaning that theoretically, where a political partisan would have been on a news program as a guest, it was now perfectly acceptable for him to be on a news program as a host. Shortly thereafter, some Program Director in Missouri asked his evening DJ if he wanted to do a political talk show, and Rush Limbaugh said sure, what the fuck. It had to better than playing Bob Seger at 8 PM, right?
He became enormously successful and made tons of money, and then all of a sudden conservative political talk became the hot new field in radio. Every media market in the United States has at least one station that does nothing but conservative talk. There’s a huge appetite for it, mainly because conservatives aren’t particularly interested in hearing opposing points of view as much as they are interested in hearing that their views are 100% correct. It’s a pretty easy formula. Get on the mic and talk for three hours about how conservatives are victims of crippling oppression and how the country is being destroyed by liberals, and you might get yourself a shot at the big time.
“Liberals,” by the way, is sort of a catch word in talk radio parlance that basically means “things that I don’t like,” just like “freedom” and “liberty” are catch words that mean “things that please me.” “Bias” means “coverage that doesn’t make us look great while making the other guy look shitty,” and any and all media sources except the one you are using right now is guilty of it.
What Happens Now
The talk radio format has been completely incorporated into cable television, and while you might think it would be easy to be pissed about the existence of Fox News, the real vitriol should be reserved for the other cable news networks, which took one look at Fox’s ratings, abandoned any pretense of objectivity, and happily descended into the same sewer. Now we all get our news from a bunch of former wacky morning zoo guys, or actual smart political minds who have (to their shame) gotten in on the act. It used to be that a news anchor or reporter who got himself involved in the story wasn’t doing his job right, but now that’s entirely part of the gig. Many of these cable news hosts now do the ratings-improving public pissing contests with other cable news people, just like they used to do back in their morning zoo days. Every other day there is an actual news story about one cable news asshole “firing back” at another cable news asshole that gets more coverage than what’s happening in Syria.
Cable news is about delivering the news, sure, but it’s also about delivering “analysis” of that news by way of guys who will cooperate with an established narrative. And another crucial aspect of the cable news delivery method is to convince the viewer that all the other networks are full of shit. Biased, stupid, blindly liberal, blindly conservative, all of the above, and definitely not to be trusted. Everybody is lying to you, except us.
This is all well and good for the teeth-grinding conservative who’s worried about the country being taken over by “libtards,” and it’s all well and good for the folk who actually take anything Al Sharpton has to say seriously, but for the rest of America, this is a serious freaking problem, and it has real consequences, not just in how we relate to one another (which is bad enough,) but also in what our elected representatives choose to legislate.
Here’s an example: Approximately six American healthcare workers were recently diagnosed with the Ebola virus. All responsible government agencies did everything that they possibly could to inform the public about how the disease is spread and how long it takes the symptoms to manifest. They also informed everyone that the victims had been quarantined and treated, and that those exposed to the disease had been tracked and were being monitored. They further told everyone it was really difficult for Ebola to get a foothold in first world nations with great sanitation. In short, they truthfully said that everything was under control and that there was nothing to worry about.
“Bullshit,” said cable news.
Again, bear in mind, none of these clowns have medical degrees, or, considering their views on climate change, not much of a basic grasp of science. But that doesn’t matter. They have cameras, microphones, and ratings, and that simply makes them right about everything.
The panic that ensued was remarkable. People were scared shitless, even though they had nothing to be scared of. And this fear didn’t just extend to regular people. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida actually put legislation on the floor of the Senate that would have instituted a travel ban for American citizens to Western Africa, and two Texas numbnuts named Kenny Marchant and Sam Johnson put an equivalent bill on the floor of the House. That would have included medical volunteers, epidemiologists, and people trying to help end the goddamn epidemic in the first place.
Also, Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey ordered a quarantine of a health care worker, despite her testing negative for the virus. He did it because, I don’t know, it’s scary. He saw it on the news.
It was a panic, and the ratings were great, and everybody was glued to their TV’s, and really, that’s all this shit is about. But bear in mind, at some point in the future, there is going to be a real healthcare crisis in this country, and the CDC will try to tell Americans crucial information, but we’ll all remember what happened with these wolf-crying assholes on cable news, and we won’t pay any attention. It feels like that’s what it will take for the failure of our media to become apparent to us. But in the meantime, did you hear what Sean Hannity said about John Stewart? That shit was hilarious.