DKos’s Stark and NB’s Sheppard Debate Liberal Blog Protests of Conservative Radio

As NewsBusters has been reporting for the past couple of weeks, a battle is being waged between liberal bloggers and a conservative radio station in San Francisco. Those that are unfamiliar with this issue should read articles covering both sides of the matter here and here.

Two of the most outspoken voices on the Internet regarding this subject have been Mike Stark, who writes for Daily Kos and his own blog Calling All Wingnuts, and Noel Sheppard, a contributing editor of NewsBusters as well as a frequent contributor to the American Thinker.

In order to further an understanding of this complex issue, Sheppard and Stark have decided to debate one another at their various Internet venues. The ground rules are as follows:

  • Sheppard and Stark exchanged five questions on this subject Friday, January 26
  • Both sets of questions are listed below for your review
  • Sheppard and Stark’s answers will be posted at their respective websites
  • Only one of the “guest’s” answers will be posted at each website. NewsBusters readers that want to read all of Stark’s answers to Sheppard’s questions have to click the link saying “Stark’s Answers.” Similarly, Daily Kos readers will have to click the link stating “Sheppard’s Answers” if they are so interested. The reason for doing this was to not force contrary views on our readers, but, instead, make this a voluntary decision
  • Depending on how this is received by readers, Sheppard and Stark will agree to post follow-up rebuttals in the very near future

One last thought before we begin: although political rivals, Sheppard and Stark have had very cordial and profitable e-mail exchanges leading to this point. Their mutual goal beyond clarifying both sides’ views on this issue is to demonstrate that political debate can be done in a civil fashion without the caustic tone so many complain about with little intent to change it.

With that in mind, Sheppard and Stark have pledged to keep their responses focused on the issue at hand without plunging into the abyss that is the seemingly requisite crotch-grabbing and genital-waving that so many claim to find objectionable.

We both sincerely hope this exercise proves informative and beneficial to all involved, and look forward to spirited comments from our readers. Enjoy.

Mike Stark’s Questions:

  1. (1) Given the right's history of protesting the CBS miniseries The Reagans, radio station's boycott of the Dixie Chicks and, perhaps most damningly, Melanie Morgan's personal involvement in attempting to prevent theaters from screening Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11, exactly how does Spocko's campaign differ from the trails previously blazed?
  2. (2) Understanding that, so far, the only person who's free speech has been curtailed in any way at all is Spocko himself, what, exactly, is the issue?  In an attempt to answer my own question, I believe Spocko's opponents object to his efforts to contact KSFO advertisers because you define that effort as an attack on the KSFO host's free speech.  If that is correct, the solution to the problem would be for Spocko to shut up – to stop his communications with KSFO advertisers.  Is this not advocacy of exactly what ABC/Disney thought they were doing when they shut down Spocko's blog?
  3. (3) On Reliable Sources, I suggested that the way to fight speech you disagree with is with more free speech.  In this example, Spocko spoke with advertisers that decided they did not want their money to be used to support speech they disagreed with.  Do you believe businesses should be insulated from knowledge of what their ad budget is supporting? If not, isn't Spocko providing corporate America with a service?
  4. (4) Enlarging the playing field somewhat, let's talk about free speech, talk radio and eliminationist rhetoric for a moment.  Lee Rodgers suggested that we should threaten millions of Indonesian Muslims with annihilation.  Ann Coulter, at CPAC, said, "Ragheads talk tough, ragheads face consequences," and was met with applause from the room full of conservatives.  The event was attended by Dick Cheney, Mitch McConnel, John Fund, John Cornyn, Tom Tancredo and scores of other influential conservatives.  Coulter has been invited back to this year's event.  Rush Limbaugh compared the events at Abu Grahb to fraternity hazing and sells "Gitmo gear".  Some time later, George Bush invited Limbaugh to the White House.  Do you believe talk radio rhetoric is helpful to winning hearts and minds in the war on terror?  Is it wise for the nation's political leaders to legitimize this kind of rhetoric?
  5. (5) I'm fully aware that some on the left have engaged in equally irresponsible rhetoric.  War protestors, for example, will often march with Bush=Hitler signs.  Others have called George Bush a terrorist.  The difference between over-the-top rhetoric from the left, as far as I can tell, is that the most outlandish and irresponsible amongst us are marginalized and ignored by our political leaders.  On the other hand, as previously mentioned, the right embraces Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, Melanie Morgan, Charles Johnson, Michelle Malkin and the rest of your "shock troops". From our perspective, it is difficult to see how a good faith exchange of ideas can take place when we our very patriotism (amongst other things) is under constant attack. Given the public face you've chosen to embrace (as a movement), how would you suggest we return to civil political discourse?

Noel Sheppard’s Answers:

Answer #1

There are certainly some similarities between those campaigns and Spocko’s. However, the differences are glaring.

For instance, KSFO is a conservative radio station, and celebrates that fact. It actually advertises on television and in print that it is a conservative voice in the Bay Area. I should know, as unlike most folks espousing an opinion on this issue, I actually live within the reach of its non-Internet broadcasts.

As such, complaining about KSFO offering conservative opinions – even ones that occur during extremely satirical moments intended to push the envelope to make a serious point – is akin to getting angry because a classical radio station played Beethoven’s “Ninth.”

Actually, Edgar Varèse’s “Ionisation” is probably a better analogy; somebody sound the sirens.

By contrast, I don’t recall television or radio ads for “Fahrenheit 9/11” disclosing that it was a liberal’s view of the events leading up to the attacks on our nation with the intent to sway viewers from voting for President Bush in the upcoming elections.

Do you remember it being promoted that way, or simply as a documentary?

More importantly, there were falsehoods in Spocko’s complaint letter to KSFO’s advertisers. In particular, his statement that one of the station’s announcers said “sh**y” to describe a sponsor’s product was 100 percent incorrect.

As I wrote in my January 15 article on the subject, Tom Benner said “Chivvy” to comically mock car dealers who mispronounce the words “Chevy” and “Chevrolet.” As someone who lives in the Bay Area that should be aware of this extremely common joke, Spocko either intentionally misrepresented this segment to KSFO’s advertisers, or there is another explanation significantly less flattering.

Moreover, the snippets that were clearly offensive as presented in Spocko’s correspondence, and disseminated all over the Internet in this abbreviated form except by NewsBusters, were not close to being as distasteful when heard or read in their full context which was not provided to advertisers in this complaint letter.

Therefore, in my view, Spocko was guilty of attempting to inflame sponsors with false and misleading information with the expressed goal of silencing political voices he disagreed with. For this to be analogous to what Move America Forward did in 2004 with its protest against “Fahrenheit 9/11,” one would have to show that the letters sent to theater owners by this organization contained false and misleading information about the film.

As a potential future attorney, you certainly must see the difference between protesting the content of a movie or radio program, and distributing false and misleading information about said content in order to disrupt or prevent its dissemination.

Now, Spocko certainly has the right to voice his complaints about KSFO, and is welcome to continue doing so. However, those who disagree with his position, and his methods, similarly have the right to protest and speak out against his actions.

Or, is this a right accorded only to the left?

Answer #2

Frankly, I don’t believe that ABC/Disney’s attorneys had a leg to stand on with their cease and desist demand to Spocko’s ISP. In fact, I think 1&1 Internet, Inc. foolishly caved into a complaint letter that likely had no legal basis, and could easily have been disputed.

With that in mind, your real beef should be with 1&1 Internet, and not with ABC/Disney. After all, as someone in law school, you should be quite cognizant of the fact that lawyers send individuals, companies, and government entities such letters all the time, many without legal grounds.

In fact, this is what almost always precedes a legal action.

Certainly, you must be aware that corporate, divorce, civil rights, personal injury, and virtually all attorneys employ a common tactic of sending threatening letters by certified or registered mail, some with rather inflammatory hyperbole, to intimidate potential defendants and plaintiffs.

With all due respect, if you have a problem with this strategy, you might want to reconsider becoming a lawyer, because this is what most of them do on a daily basis when they’re not in a court litigating or playing squash.

As such, your gripe as a potential future attorney shouldn’t be with ABC/Disney sending an extraordinarily common complaint letter.

Instead, you should either be angry with 1&1’s counsel for not doing a better job of representing their client, or with 1&1 for not seeking legal advice in this matter and just caving into a demand that could easily have been fended off by a thirteen-year-old with a computer, a printer, and a decent command of the English language.

On the other hand, if 1&1 would have recognized the tenuous legal basis in this cease and desist letter and hadn’t reacted the way it did, this issue would never have attained its current level of national attention.

As a result, maybe you should be grateful for their lack of understanding of the law, as it got you an appearance on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” with Howard Kurtz.

Of course, it saddened me no end that I wasn’t invited to that party, especially since it seemed odd watching a debate captioned as “San Francisco Showdown” with the participants hailing from Virginia and New York City. 

Answer #3

Certainly, businesses should not be insulated from knowledge of what their ad budgets are supporting. However, it would be nice if the information that was being voluntarily supplied, without solicitation, by supposedly disinterested third parties was either accurate – as was not the case in at least one instance in Spocko’s letter – or wasn’t misleading due to a lack of context.

What seems to be appallingly missing in this debate is that every major advertiser in this country has to be fully cognizant of what transpires on talk radio. In fact, you and I could listen to programs from both sides of the aisle emanating from virtually any city in the country and be able to cherry-pick examples of “hate speech,” “racism,” and “fear mongering” with very little effort on our part.

As a result, I highly doubt any of the broadcasts at issue, when taken in their full context, would be at all surprising or shocking to most sponsors. This is especially true given that The Morning Show in question has been on the air for more than ten years with the same cast of characters.

In fact, complaining about the content of this program is akin to trying to get “NYPD Blue” off the air in its eleventh season because you don’t like the violence and occasional nudity!

Let’s understand that talk radio is not a new format. It’s been in existence for decades. And, as it has exploded since the early ’90s, it seems quite safe to assume that major corporations that sponsor such programs understand full well what transpires on a daily basis across the AM dial without outsiders possessing a clear agenda submitting false and misleading information to them.

In that regard, Spocko was clearly not providing a service to corporate America.

Let’s not kid ourselves. The primary concern of all these sponsors is whether they are getting results from the ads that are being placed irrespective of what is said in between the time those ads are run. After all, when it comes to marketing dollars, their interest is business, and not politics; the latter comes out of their donations and contributions budget.

That said, there has been great debate as to how much impact this has had on KSFO. It has been reported that they’ve lost huge sponsors such as Bank of America and MasterCard. The anchors claim that they’ve only lost one, and this was a group that had never advertised on talk radio before, and has since changed its mind.

Who’s right? Well, none of the personalities in the middle of this controversy has been fired or seen a reduction in airtime. Furthermore, KSFO added Ric Edelman to its lineup beginning January 13 right in the middle of all this negative attention.

Would they be doing that if the anti-KSFO campaign was working and starving the station of ad revenues? Probably not.

In the end, all of this attention will probably benefit KSFO. Likely thousands of people around the country that had never heard of the station, but liked the content being debated, have now become listeners. If this is the case, these potentially higher ratings will increase the demand for available ad time thereby driving the price per minute higher.

As a result, it is quite easy to imagine that all involved are laughing their way to the bank…albeit maybe not Bank of America.

Answer #4

Well, let’s not make the all too common mistake of suggesting that only Republicans strive to be seen with potentially polarizing media personalities as if Democrats eschew such publicity.

After all, Michael Moore actually sat in the VIP box at the 2004 Democrat presidential convention right next to former President Jimmy Carter.

Al Franken’s new movie “God Spoke” includes scenes of the “comedian” cozying up to Democrat leaders including Hillary Clinton, Charles Schumer, and Christopher Dodd.

Bill Clinton when he was president snuggled up to all kinds of outspoken left-wing media types, not all of them in the privacy of a hotel suite or the famed Lincoln Bedroom.

The reality is that the press are important to both sides of the aisle. Liberals and conservatives are doing everything possible to maximize their voices across all media outlets, and have been in America since moments after the Declaration of Independence was signed.

In case you weren’t aware, that bell they were ringing in Philadelphia as Hancock et al were moistening their quills was designed to call reporters from their stools in the saloons down the street.

More recently, such influence over the press has morphed into a former member of the Carter administration acting as the Washington Bureau Chief for NBC News, and a former member of the Clinton administration operating in a similar capacity for ABC News.

Can you name a former member of any Republican administration with such a high-ranking position in a news division at any of the major television broadcast networks?

With that in mind, as the left largely control the print and the television media with some notable exceptions such as Fox News – oh, heavens! – it is specious to point fingers at the right cozying up to conservative media members or outlets.

Both sides play this game, and neither is innocent.

Yet, that doesn’t fully answer your questions: “Do you believe talk radio rhetoric is helpful to winning hearts and minds in the war on terror? Is it wise for the nation's political leaders to legitimize this kind of rhetoric?

As folks who talk about “winning the hearts and minds” normally are referring to the enemy, this question seems to miss the point, as I have a hard time believing that homo sapiens who condone homicide bombings and attacks on innocent people have either a heart or a mind to win over.   

Beyond this, the idea that the Bush administration is taking cues from Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, and Ann Coulter defies reason. After all, if this were the case, there never would have been a Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003, federal spending would be easily twenty percent lower than it is, Social Security reform would have been enacted in 2005 despite Democrat complaints, and an immigration bill would have been signed into law in 2006 that didn’t include any form of amnesty.

As none of the above came to fruition, it is quite clear that most conservative talk radio hosts are much further to the right than President Bush, and are regularly voicing their displeasure with many of his policies. Unfortunately, the only disagreement between Republicans that the press choose to disseminate involves the war in Iraq because this is virtually the only instance when they support anything emanating from the mouth of a GOP member.

Yet, there is a significantly greater divide that exists which disproves the oft-expressed contention that the Bush administration takes its marching orders from conservative talk radio hosts, and that they in turn are simply reiterating White House talking points in a well-understood but hush-hush form of political reciprocity.

Alas, nothing could be further from the truth.

Answer #5

You see left-wing critics as being marginalized and ignored by your political leaders? Is that why prominent Democrats attended the YearlyKos convention last year? Or why Dick Durbin is currently blogging at DK? Or how about folks like Murtha and Kerry blogging at the Huffington Post?

Speaking of HuffPo, it is now a featured blog at Yahoo.com. Wonkette’s Ana Marie Cox is currently the Washington Editor for Time.com. And Markos Moulitsas was actually invited on “Meet the Press” last year.

Is that what you call marginalization of left-wing critics?

As for how talk radio is impacting the war on terror, as the majority of the country now believes that the Iraq war was a mistake, and that there is no connection between Iraq and terrorism, I would suggest that the voices you so disagree with on the airwaves are not having the brainwashing effect the left so fears.

In fact, given the results of a variety of public opinion polls on a plethora of issues, it quite seems that either the American people are being largely swayed in their viewpoints by more conventional forms of news dissemination, or, heaven forbid, they’re making their minds up for themselves regardless of what is being said all over the AM dial.

Oh the humanity!

Whichever the case, it certainly doesn’t seem that talk radio is the bogeyman folks on the left are so universally concerned with.

After all, if said conservative pundits played such an integral role in molding public opinion, Tom DeLay would still be the House Majority Leader, the Republicans would have won last November, Harry Reid would be under investigation for income tax evasion, and Hillary Clinton would be serving time for committing the biggest campaign finance fraud in history.

That said, your question about the tone of the current discourse is an important one. I have made it clear to you, and in much of my writing, that I yearn for a more civilized political dialogue in our nation.

The problem as I see it is that there’s too much money in bickering and hostility. Michael Moore can’t be profitable presenting “inclusive” views any more than Ann Coulter can.

Regardless of what the public claims to want, the business of virulent political discourse is growing. Both sides are good at it, and getting better. And, each Party celebrates its effectiveness.

Irrespective of how many polls suggest that people are tired of negative campaign ads, they continue to be used, and with great success.

Thus, the conundrum still presents itself: How can we as bloggers improve this deplorable condition?

Well, first, we can stop calling each other moonbats and wingnutsalthough I must admit that I don’t recall ever using the former. We can remember that we are all Americans, and that our political differences shouldn’t make us enemies. And, we can be more respectful when we address articles or views expressed by the other side.

Finally, we can do more of this – cross-pollination between blogs of differing ideology. As long as there are almost exclusively liberal and conservative blogs blaming all of the problems in the world on each other, we’ll never see a more civil political discourse.

Those who take their writing seriously, and who really want to change the tone of the discussion, must lead by example, or recognize that they are part of the problem and not the solution.

However, will that be profitable? Will a liberal or conservative blog generate the same number of unique reads if it becomes more inclusive and less derisive?

To drive this point home, consider the following: the proprietor of the website you guest-blog at is now making a very significant living by posting rather caustic views of conservatives on a daily basis.

Do you think he might be interested in risking a loss of advertising revenues by requiring posters and message board participants to be more respectful of wingnuts? Might he welcome guest-bloggers from the opposite side of the aisle to his website so that his readers will regularly be exposed to contrary viewpoints?

Why don’t you ask him, and report back your findings?

Noel Sheppard’s Questions:

  1. (1) In your first article concerning this matter posted at Daily Kos on January 3, 2007, you copied Spocko’s complaint letter to AT&T. In that letter, Spocko advised AT&T’s Wendy Clark (emphasis mine): “If you wish to hear the complete context on any clip or the audio during a date your ad ran contact me I have an educational archive of audio clips, I've listed a few below.” With that in mind, before you wrote this piece, did you get these complete audio clips from Spocko, as well as ask KSFO for full transcripts so as to determine the actual context of the snippets Spocko found offensive? If so, why didn’t you include these transcripts in your article – a practice quite common for media analysts as you are likely aware – so that your readers could indeed see what the context of these statements was? If not, why not? After all, wouldn’t this have been good investigative reporting on your part? Up to this point, Spocko was a virtually unknown blogger. Why would you not do any research to investigate the veracity of the claims that he was making before you reprinted them at the number one liberal blog in the country under your own name? In retrospect, do you think that was a mistake?
  2. (2) In many of your posts concerning this matter, you have suggested that this issue is tied to the need to reinstate the Fairness Doctrine. Could you explain this connection inasmuch as requiring a media outlet to allocate 50 percent of its time to opposing viewpoints would in no way prevent it from committing “hate speech” or “fear mongering?” Also, do you believe that the reenactment of this archaic concept should be applied to all media outlets including those that present the news on television, radio, and print? For instance, should MSNBC’s “Countdown” be required to present 30 minutes worth of conservative views? Should the New York Times be required to devote 50 percent of its print-space to conservative writers? How about magazines like The Nation, or blogs like Daily Kos? Should this apply to John Stewart and Stephen Colbert? If not, please explain in detail why any media outlets should be exempt from such legislation that you appear to support.
  3. (3) Do you believe that you and I could easily take snippets of broadcasts or articles from all kinds of media outlets including The New York Times, The Nation, CNN, MSNBC, Air America Radio, Daily Kos, and the Howard Stern Show that out of context could be easily perceived as “hate speech,” “racist,” or “fear mongering”? Assuming the answer is yes, have you organized blog swarms to incite sponsors of The New York Times, The Nation, CNN, MSNBC, Air America Radio, Daily Kos, or the Howard Stern Show to cease advertising at these outlets due to the existence of such content? If not, why? Please explain your answer.
  4. (4) Which do you see as a greater threat to our nation and why: media outlets such as the New York Times publishing top secret national security information like the NSA’s wiretapping of terrorists and their use of SWIFT to identify terrorist funding networks, or; talk radio programs like the one in question, the Howard Stern Show, or programs broadcast on Air America Radio making statements that might be offensive to some listeners?
  5.  (5) In your first post about this issue on January 3, 2007, you wrote the following (emphasis mine):

I've got visions of Micky [sic] Mouse with his snapped neck caught in a mousetrap of Spocko's making.  Spocko took on a giant and so far, is winning.

How'd he do it?  He did it the way it's always done - by working within the law, identifying points of weakness, exploiting them and being absolutely tenacious.

Having hopefully seen the actual transcripts of the broadcasts in question, from a legal perspective, as a potential future attorney, how do you think Spocko’s arguments would hold up in court? After all, his contention that a KSFO representative said the word “sh**ty” to disparage a carmaker was 100 percent false. Furthermore, when you look at the actual context of the discussions in print, and hear them in complete audio clips, they are not at all what was presented at his blog or in the letter that he sent to AT&T. In fact, not even close.

With that in mind, do you think his claims of “hate speech,” “fear mongering,” and “racism” emanating from these broadcasts would hold up in court? Or, would a good attorney rip his position apart due to all of its seemingly obvious flaws? As a potential future attorney, please explain your answer in detail.

Mike Stark’s Answer to Sheppard’s Fourth Question:

I'd like to get away from any discussion of Howard Stern or Don Imus or any of the other "entertainers" that don't primarily talk about politics.  I don't listen to them, no political junkie on the left or right, that I know of, derives any kind of opinion from them, and as such, for the purposes of this debate, they are irrelevancies.

This question strays pretty far from the issue at hand, but I will endeavor to answer it to the best of my ability.

These are two entirely different issues.  While I will not deny that it is conceivable for a press organization to cross the line and publish sensitive national security information that harms our nation's security, neither of these issues rise to that level.

The news regarding terrorists wiretaps was not that we were doing it – even the most bumbling oaf of a terrorist can be expected to know that any government would do whatever it could to intercept and disrupt terror communications.  Indeed, any terrorist that did not have that level of awareness is probably not a terrorist we need to worry about.  No…  The news here is that the administration had circumvented clear law established by the FISA statutes.  The government is prohibited from intercepting American's wire communications without a warrant.  It's that simple.  If we could make it through the height of the cold war without violating that statute – a time we were facing down the nuclear annihilation of the entire planet – well, I think it is safe to say that we can handle a crazy fellow with a couple of sticks of dynamite strapped to his belly.

The SWIFT program was in the public domain.  Again, people that transfer enough money to be caught up in SWIFT monitoring, I believe, will be concerned enough about their money to be cognizant of the means and methods that are used to transfer and track it.  In fact, and perhaps you will want to show me the error in my thinking, but I do see an incredible danger in an increasingly authoritative government telling a free press what information in the public domain they may or may not discuss.

On the other hand, as I noted in my questions to you, I do see dots connecting the rhetoric employed by conservative talk radio show hosts to the leading Republican politicians that legitimize the opinions of these hosts by appearing on their shows.  In a world that is shrinking by the day – networked like never before – I am certain that Indonesians, Pakistanis, Iranians, Egyptians, Saudis and other Muslim populations are aware that a large portion of America views their very existence as an enemy threat.  At a time when we should be pursuing a strategy based on winning the hearts and minds of sane and reasonable Muslims, we are instead throwing gasoline on the fire. 

Let me finish this answer with a rhetorical question.  You are a young male Iraqi.  You hear from interpreters that the Americans listen to the Armed Forces Radio Network.  Some guy comes on the radio just about every day and sells "Gitmo Gear".  Worse yet, he called the Abu Grahb atrocities (a lot of Iraqi's died there, some tortured by Americans – look it up) nothing worse than college pranks…  Well, if you are this Iraqi and you just happen to look out your window as two terrorists plant a roadside IED, are you going to risk your life to tell the Americans?  Perhaps you need to do some role reversal – make the occupied country the USA, the occupiers Muslims (that hate Christians because Christians killed 3,000 people in their prosperous, far away and morally degenerate country in a terror incident), the radio host constantly ridicules you and your lifestyle, and the Supreme Leader of the Army that occupies your town has regular chats with this talk show host.  Will your heart be won over?  Your mind?

So to me, this is a no brainer.  Freedom of the press good.  Irresponsible speech, allowed, but bad.

Please go here for all of Stark’s Answers

Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard
Noel Sheppard, Associate Editor of NewsBusters, passed away in March of 2014.