With Short Memories, Violent Tone of Media Unlikely to Change

One theme in the coverage of the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffordsconcerns whether the tone of the political debate will change. That’s probably going to happen in the short-term. A long-term shift is unlikely. There have been frequent allusions to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the nationaldiscussion that ensued at the time about violent rhetoric on right-wing talk shows. See Extra!‘s 1995 article “AM Armies” for more background.

Roughly 10 years later, MSNBC‘s Joe Scarborough convened a panel (4/27/05) to discuss talk radio extremism, in the wake of incendiary comments made by Air America‘s Randi Rhodes. As FAIR noted at the time, one of Scarborough’s guests was Watergate criminal-turned-talk show host G. Gordon Liddy–a purveyor of violent talk:

On MSNBC, host Joe Scarborough turned to Liddy for his response to this incident, asking: “G. Gordon Liddy, are conservatives guilty of similar hate speech on their shows?”

Liddy’s response: “Well, if they are, I certainly haven’t heard of it.”

That would mean that Liddy has not listened to his own program. On August 26, 1994, Liddy told his radio listeners: “Now if the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms comes to disarm you and they are bearing arms, resist them with arms. Go for a head shot; they’re going to be wearing bulletproof vests.” Liddy’s advice that day was explicit: “They’ve got a big target on there, ATF. Don’t shoot at that, because they’ve got a vest on underneath that. Head shots, head shots…. Kill the sons of bitches.”

This was far from an isolated incident. On September 15, 1994, for example, Liddy told his listeners: “If the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms insists upon a firefight, give them a firefight. Just remember, they’re wearing flak jackets and you’re better off shooting for the head.” The theme was repeated so often that Liddy’s callers began to exclaim “head shots!” to express their agreement with the host, the way Rush Limbaugh’s callers say “megadittos.”

To his credit, Scarborough responded to FAIR, explaining that he had no awareness of Liddy’s history.

Let’s hope that when someone convenes a civility in media discussion in 2020, they don’t ask Glenn Beck to weigh in.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.