I am rarely shocked by right wing pundits, especially those who have radio or television shows. Their job is not to be “fair and balanced,” or even to provide rational commentary on the events of the day. Their job is to get people to watch or listen to them. Period. If they accomplish that goal by informing the audience, great. If they accomplish that goal by spending three hours constantly lying through their teeth, equally great in the eyes of the network. People like Bill O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and Megyn Kelly do not have shows to inform, they have shows to entertain and draw an audience. They invite people such as Ann Coulter on to their shows not because they think she has an informative viewpoint, but because they know people will tune in to hear what she will say. You can debate the merits of a system such as this. I for one believe it is poisonous to democracy to have so much of the public forming their opinions on the issues based on what they hear on infotainment television or radio, rather than from an unbiased news source. But you can not claim this infotainment system doesn’t exist.
Due to this fact, there is very little a right wing host or guest can say that even causes me to raise an eyebrow. I know they are going to go as far as they can in pursuit of ratings as they can get away with. There is a line, and the challenge is to get as close as one can to crossing it without actually stepping over it. No matter how many people you can get to tune in each night, if the advertisers won’t touch you, you have a problem. Glenn Beck found this out in a major way, losing his show, while our old friend Rush Limbaugh only had to apologize over the whole Sandra Fluke debacle. But as long as they stay on the right side of the line, it is all about the almighty rating number.
In the quest for the best ratings, the way that Fox and friends have transformed the Democratic Party from fellow Americans will differing ideas on how to run the nation into the enemy was brilliant. No longer were news shows about boring political debate. Now it was like a sporting event. It was truly must see tv. People had to tune in each night to see what new evil trick the godless, liberal, communist Nazis would try to pull, and to see how the god-fearing, flag-waving, founding father following, part Ronald Reagan/part John Wayne/ part Hulk Hogan true patriots would defeat them. I remember an ancient punk rock lyric, from the album Bedtime for Democracy by the Dead Kennedys. The song was “Potshot Heard Round the World”: (This album was after the DK’s best days, when they were less a band and more a sounding board for Jello Biafra’s viewpoints, which ranged from brilliant to embarrassingly naive. If you’ve never heard the DK’s, skip this one and get Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, which holds up as one of the best punk rock albums of all time. Anyway….)
“Ever notice news is staged, like a TV wrestling show
with Reagans and Khaddafis cast as cartoon villains and heroes…”
Fox News does the same thing today, except instead of casting foreign leaders in the heel role, they instead chose the Democrats to go up against the babyface Republicans. (Yes. I am a s’mark. If you know what that means, my secret is out. If you don’t, I’m for sure not going to be the one who tells you.) This decision was a ratings bonanza for Fox, quickly copied around the nation, perhaps causing irreparable harm to our system of government.
In recent weeks, however, the line seemed to matter less and less. Perhaps it is because it is not a presidential election year and less people are paying attention. Or maybe Fox and similar outlets have succeeded in “otherizing” their political opponents to the point that their audience wants violence to befall them. I don’t know. What I do know is that Sean Hannity has done the impossible, and not only shocked me, but has me wondering if the line even exists anymore.
Apparently Hannity has been having ratings problems. The answer for ratings problems, in the world of right wing news, is to find an issue and take a stance on it that is guaranteed to leave liberals gaping open mouthed while slowly shaking their heads. First Hannity latched on to the Cliven Bundy express, and he was far from alone on the right. Forget about the “patriots” use of women and children in the line of possible fire. Forget about the fact that by refusing to pay his grazing fees, Bundy was in effect stealing from every one of us. This could be booked as the evil government against Joe Everyman. As long as you ignored the pesky facts, this played right into the fear of government outlets like Fox have been fostering for ages. If you look back at clips of Hannity from this time, you can almost see the drool starting to form around his mouth at the thought of the situation turning violent. The right wing media outlets did everything possible to pour gasoline on this fire. I’m sure they didn’t actually want anyone to get hurt, but let’s not kid ourselves either; if a battle would have broken out between the federal government and the “patriots” defending Bundy, the ratings boom would have caused every executive at Fox News to ruin their underwear with spontaneous orgasms. Unfortunately for Hannity and others of his ilk, an outbreak of violence was the last thing the government wanted to happen, and they backed down. With the standoff over, Cliven Bundy managed to find the line and piss all over it before crossing it, ruining himself as a spokesperson for the right. Yes, the line does still exist, apparently right at the “claiming African-Americans were better off as slaves” location.
What was Hannity to do? He needed ratings! The standoff was over, Bundy had disqualified himself, and that guy who murdered an innocent kid for being the wrong color while carrying Skittles was old news. Where would he turn?
From Media Matters:
Sean Hannity covered the case on the April 30 edition of his Fox News program. While Hannity said he didn’t like the fact that Smith had called the slain teens “vermin,” he nonetheless questioned the verdict because “they broke into the guy’s house.” Hannity also suggested that “the judge in that case didn’t give all the facts to the jury,” and asked, “How could it be premeditated when they broke into his house?” When Fox’s Geraldo Rivera expressed disgust at the “coup de grace” shot that killed Kifer, Hannity responded, “You know what, it’s easy to say after the fact, ‘I wouldn’t.'”
Guest Bernard McGuirk, a producer for Fox Business’ Imus in the Morning, claimed that Smith should “get a Medal of Freedom for what he did. He protected himself.”
For those of you who don’t know what we’re talking about right now…. Good. Shut down this page, go grab a cup of coffee or something, hug your kid, pet your dog, kiss your spouse. Go for a walk or watch a funny clip on Youtube. Consider yourself blessed.
For those of you who are still here who don’t know what we’re talking about, here’s a quick breakdown. Byron Smith is a 65ish year old man who owned a house in Minnesota, and apparently someone had been breaking into his house. He decided the best way to deal with this crime was to act like he was leaving his house, park his truck a few blocks away, then sneak back into his house and wait for the intruders in his basement. He set up an audio recorder so there was a record of everything that occurred. Sure enough, the hardened criminals once again broke into his house. The one, a 17 year old boy named Nick Brady started to descend the basement stairs. Smith shot him twice, informed the teenager that he was dead, and then finished him off with a shot to the face. Mr. Smith then put the corpse of Nick Brady on a tarp he had laid out, so as to keep as much blood as possible off of his floor.
I’ll let the Washington Post take the rest of it.:
The audio continues with the sound of a gun being reloaded. About 11 minutes pass between the two shootings, local reports say.
Kifer’s footsteps are heard on the stairs and she calls out quietly, “Nick?”
Then comes the sound of more shots. She falls down the stairs. “Oh, sorry about that,” Smith tells her. She screams, “Oh my God!”
Then more shots. Smith tells her, “You’re dying,” and calls her a “bitch,” the AP reported.
After more labored breathing and another dragging sound, Smith calls her “bitch” again. He told authorities that after he moved her, he noticed she was still gasping and didn’t want her to suffer, so he fired under her chin with a 22.-caliber handgun, according to a report in the Pioneer Press. The Star Tribune reported Smith told investigators the last time he fired was “a good clean finishing shot” and “she gave out the death twitch.”
If you really must, the NY Daily News has the audio. Don’t listen to it. I did, and I will never be able to un-hear it. It also has Facebook pictures of the murdered teens, I mean, hardened criminals.
You can make many arguments supporting the rights of homeowners to defend their property and their body with deadly force. I’ve never heard a rational argument supporting the rights of homeowners to execute already subdued invaders. Originally charged with 2nd degree murder, the charges were later upgraded to 1st degree murder and Mr. Smith was found guilty. In the eyes of Bernard McGuirk, Mr. Smith is a hero, and to Sean Hannity he was only defending his home, and none of us can judge him because we may have executed them as well if we were put in that situation, or something. I seriously doubt either of them actually feel that way. It is a part they are playing on television. No sane person actually thinks we have the right to put one in the brain of someone who is no longer a threat.
But how far is Hannity willing to go to play his role?
I need to wash this story off of me.