NOTE: Please see the update to this alert.
In an April 27 debate about extreme talk radio rhetoric, MSNBC's Scarborough Country turned to an unusual guest: right-wing talker G. Gordon Liddy, who ten years ago called for the killing of federal agents.
The purpose of the MSNBC segment was to discuss a skit from Air America's Randi Rhodes Show (4/25/05). The pre-recorded segment, about an "American Association of Armed Retired People," included the sound of gunfire as the "answer" to Bush's Social Security plans. Both Rhodes and Air America quickly apologized for the skit. "Our normal vetting process failed.... and we regret it," Air America president of programming Jon Sinton told the New York Post (2/28/05).
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."
After Liddy's talk of shooting federal agents received media attention, in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing (London Independent, 4/24/95), some stations dropped Liddy's program. In a press conference responding to the controversy (Associated Press, 4/25/95), Liddy clarified his advice by noting that shooting a federal agent in the head might not be the ideal plan: "So you shoot twice to the body, center of mass, and if that does not work, then shoot to the groin area."
Liddy's history was inexplicably absent from the MSNBC segment, though fellow guest Michael Harrison of Talkers magazine seemed to allude to it at one point: "Mr. Liddy has had his own experiences being misunderstood in the media and being called a hate talkshow host when, in fact, he is quite a nice gentleman, and I defended him at that time."
Whether or not Liddy is a nice guy, the real question is whether MSNBC was aware that one of its guests in a discussion about extreme rhetoric on the radio was one of the most infamous purveyors of such talk-- advocating anti-government violence not in a single failed attempt at humor, but as serious advice, regularly repeated.
MSNBC's panel also displayed a remarkable ignorance about right-wing talk radio. After playing a clip of Rhodes referring to Bush as "George Satan," Scarborough posed the question: "Is that what it takes, Mr. Liddy, to succeed in talk radio, whether you are a liberal or a conservative?" Liddy replied, "No, I don't think it is at all. I have succeeded without averting to things like that, and so have people like Sean [Hannity] and Rush [Limbaugh] and what have you."
The notion that right-wing talk radio does not resort to name-calling, like comparing political opponents to the devil, is frankly absurd; Limbaugh, for one, routinely called Democratic Sen. Tom Daschle "El Diablo" (American Prospect, 12/3/02; see also: "Rush Limbaugh Demonizes Tom Daschle—Literally," 11/22/02.)
Let Scarborough Country know that G. Gordon Liddy's advocacy of shooting federal agents should have been disclosed in a segment about violent talk radio rhetoric.
As always, please remember that your comments have more impact if you maintain a polite tone.
For more on Liddy's record, see: