One of the popular narratives thrust upon an ill-educated American public is that all of the rancor, the bitterness, the rudeness, the meanness, hate and intolerance we see today are the result of Talk Radio. Usually they mean Rush, but they're willing to include most talk radio. Sometimes they will include Cable News, and by that they often mean FOX. But the fact is, there was no time where all lived in peace and harmony and didst drink of the wine of happy togetherness - until Rush Limbaugh made us hate each other by scaring us and always saying mean things! Nope.
Anyone old enough to remember the 1980s will remember another part of the story, purposefully ignored by the media narrative. During the era of Reagan and Bush the Left was anything but kind and polite. The Democrats launched every attack to stop Reagan, and the media ran with every scandal. Anything, no matter how trivial, was fair game. I remember a news story at the dawn of Reagan's presidency, when the evening news covered doctors who were upset that Reagan had jellybeans on his desk. What kind of example is that for kids! Really. When every second of news was gold in the days before cable news, the evening news we watched actually gave time to that scandal.
And there were others. And the critics were nowhere near as nice as Limbaugh can be. In comedy circuits and non-network shows, the criticisms of Reagan and Bush and Quayle could be downright cold-hearted, mean and hateful by any standards. And that was actual entertainment and punditry.
That's not counting what people said on the streets. In 1988, a classmate and I went to see Reagan when he came to OSU. He said he wasn't promoting Bush, but we knew he was. Even if we were liberals, we thought it would be nice to see a president who clearly had defined an era. We sat and listened, and behind us was a section of critics. Let me tell you the things they said are worse than anything I've heard anyone say about Obama. They even dragged Nancy into the mix. They were older than us, but not old. At the time probably in their late 20s to mid 30s.
Then, of course, we had the Daytime Talk Shows. Led in example by Catholic Phil Donahue, these were liberal platforms through and through. They combined a sort of kangaroo court approach to debate with hardcore biased punditry. They might have a panel discussion, but the guests were always stacked against the conservative viewpoint they were opposing. Rudeness, arrogance, and of course the liberal tactic of acting like any deviation from tradition was the norm by taking a single freakish example and acting as if everyone was doing it, were the name of the game.
In fact, it was that saturation of media, entertainment, and talk shows universally aligned against Conservatives and traditional values that allowed Limbaugh to ascend to the top of the media world. He was the only national voice able to turn the tables and use the same tactics and approaches against liberalism that for so many years had been used by liberals against conservatism. Since he was founder of his own media empire, he couldn't be touched by the media or his critics. Even if his views and Christian views weren't always the same, for many it was refreshing to hear someone give back to liberals as good as they had given.
Cable news was already around of course. Ted Turner's CNN was making it clear that old notions of media objectivity were a thing of the past. By the time the Boomers were taking over the networks, it was clear to most people that the media was no longer about reporting stories, but was about advancing agendas. Dan Rather's legendary interview with George Bush was a glaring example.
FOX News was merely a brilliant exploitation of that fact. By 1996, it was clear to a growing number of Americans, including some old time liberals of the day, that objectivity in the media was becoming extinct. Even some Democrats I knew worried about the ramifications of that development. So FOX seemed to present an alternative view to the growing homogeneous biases that we were being heard from the national media outlets.
As things always do, the changes have continued. And as things always do, they've followed the trajectory from where they first started, that is downward. Cable news, the Internet, Facebook, Comedy Central - all are venues now where people come to hurl insults and stupidity, lies and accusations at anyone over anything. There is a popular Catholic writer who has informed me that I secretly desire to increase wholesale mass slaughter of innocent humans simply because I don't agree with the Church's reasoning for abolishing the Death Penalty. And that's a popular Catholic writer. Think of what it's like in the pagan trenches.
Do Talk Radio and Cable News deserve some of the blame? Yes. As we all do. But it didn't start there. It didn't even start in the 90s. Its origins were when a generation of reformers arose with the self-righteous assurances of a Spanish Inquisitor, who felt they were there to save the world from the greatest forces of evil imaginable, and that anyone who didn't realize the truth of their cause had to be so bad as to be undeserving of common decency (something those same reformers also railed against, the concept of common values). It's all gone down from there. If Talk Radio and Cable News are to blame, it's only for lowering themselves to where we were already going, and based on Facebook and Twitter feeds, where we are more than happy to remain.