A panel of radio hosts discussed the impact of talk radio on this year’s presidential campaign at a forum moderated by journalist Marvin Kalb Monday night at the National Press Club.
The panel, which featured liberal commentator Al Franken and conservative host G. Gordon Liddy, differed over Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry’s war record and the Iraq war.
“According to a recent Gallup Poll, 67 percent of Republicans believe that Saddam Hussein had something to do with 9/11, which is completely untrue,” said Franken, host of “Air America Radio.” Franken, a former “Saturday Night Live” regular, is now a vocal liberal who penned the bestseller “Lies And The Lying Liars Who Tell Them.”
Some Republicans are confused about the facts surrounding the Iraq war because they are under the influence of right-wing radio talk shows, Franken said. He added that conservative radio hosts constantly smear Kerry and his service in the Vietnam War.
Liddy, host of “The G. Gordon Liddy Show,” explained what he called the dubious circumstances surrounding Kerry’s war medals. Liddy served five years in prison after being convicted of conspiracy, burglary and illegal wiretapping for his role in the 1972 Watergate break-in.
In articles, commercials and a book, some Republicans have argued that Kerry did not deserve the medals he won in Vietnam. Democrats have gone to great lengths to document their candidate’s valor and question President Bush’s stint in the National Guard.
Liddy said Kerry’s first Purple Heart was for a “self-inflicted injury” and that he reapplied for the award after he was originally denied the honor. As the debate of Kerry and Bush’s military careers continued between Franken and Liddy, Jim Bohannon, host of the moderate “Jim Bohannon Show,” interjected.
“My opinion of John Kerry is based on his accomplishments in his twenty years as a senator,” Bohannon said. “The whole military debate is pointless.”
As the forum progressed, Kalb said talk radio first had a great impact in the 1992 presidential election. Bohannon said radio’s influence today is just as great but is no longer a novelty. He compared talk radio to the opinion pages of newspapers, arguing that people must read the front-page news and form their own opinions before reading the thoughts of others.
“For many, talk radio is press … people will believe it … I would put a lock box on the paper so people would read the front page before reading the op-ed page,” Bohanon said.
Liddy countered Bohanon by arguing that many newspapers’ news coverage has a liberal bias.
“The front page of the New York Times is the op-ed,” he said.
But Franken said right-wing radio has built up an infrastructure and has scared the mainstream media. He said journalists, such as himself, serve their listeners unlike conservative radio hosts, who manipulate their audience.
As the forum continued, Kalb addressed Kerry’s reference to Vice President Dick Cheney’s lesbian daughter in one of the debates. Both Bohannon and Liddy agreed it was uncalled for, but Franken said Kerry appropriately brought up the fact in the context of the gay marriage issue. He also said Cheney is a hypocrite for supporting a constitutional amendment banning gay marriages.
Hypocrisy, Franken said, is a recurring theme in right-wing radio. Earlier this year, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh admitted that he was addicted to the pain reliever Oxy-Contin, but Franken pointed out that Limbaugh has attacked drug users in the past.
“When my friend, Jerry Garcia (of the Grateful Dead), died, (Limbaugh) called him ‘another dead doper’ and said that all people who do drugs deserve to die.”
Kalb asked each of the guests who they expected to win the presidential election. Bohannon and Liddy agreed Bush would emerge victorious, with Bohannon explaining that many of the states the president won in 2000 now have even more electoral votes.
The obstinate Franken said he wants Kerry to win but alleged that groups paid by the Republican Party would shred Democrats’ ballots in key swing states such as Oregon and Ohio.