The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

03 October 2007

Left Uses Selective Editing To Smear Talk Show Hosts


To Fight Talk Radio, Left Has Long Used Sleazy Editing

Far from emerging as a new tactic in the war against free speech in broadcasting, so- called "progressives" have been using selective editing to smear conservative talk hosts for at least several years.

What is new, however, is how this technique has now become widely effective, forcing Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh to waste a considerable amount of time rebutting dishonest distortions of their on-air monologues.

In the past, mainstream media outlets might actually check into the allegations, requesting an unedited tape of the broadcast in question. Now, newspapers and television networks have cut out that once- mandatory step, taking the assertions of "progressive" critics as gospel.

That explains why flaps involving O'Reilly and Limbaugh have creating a sustaining level of media attention, even when clear evidence has emerged that contradicts the assertions of George Soros- funded left- wing activists.

Taking a look at the past few years, however, one can find several examples of twisting, distorting and outright editing of words in order to fit the agenda of conservative talk radio's leftist enemies. In fact, one of the worst offenders was a former co- worker of your Radio Equalizer's: the late Mike Webb.

Using digital editing techniques, Webb would splice words together to make conservative hosts on his station sound like racists and even neighborhood predators. Once complete, he would air the phony "excerpts" on his own program. From the Seattle Weekly, 12 April 2006:

Webb does remember his early practice of using snippets of other hosts' shows in the audio montage he used to open his own. He says the practice particularly incensed Maloney and that management eventually asked him to stop, and he did. But he insists that he didn't edit other hosts' comments or take them out of context.

Maloney disagrees, citing—as does another source—an incident in which a fairly standard conservative statement by (KIRO host Lou) Pate—"I don't like it when black people make themselves out as victims"—was rebroadcast as, "I don't like black people." To make matters worse, it came while Webb was filling in on Pate's own show.

Earlier this year, a more extreme example of selective editing created major headaches for San Francisco's KSFO-AM, a highly successful conservative station in a sea of Bay Area extremism. There, a left- wing blogger used similar trickery in an effort to smear the station's personalities, with morning hosts Melanie Morgan and Lee Rodgers a particular target.

When the station fought back after the blogger began to distribute selectively- edited clips to its advertisers, KSFO was accused of using strong- arm tactics against its critics. Meanwhile, the individual behind the campaign refused to appear on the station to answer critics.

Eventually, the station answered the criticism point- by- point with a three- hour broadcast. From the San Francisco Chronicle, 11 January 2007:

A series of events involving a local liberal blogger, a San Francisco conservative radio station and the reaction of two of the larger corporate advertisers in the country -- Bank of America and MasterCard -- is revealing how slippery freedom of speech has become in the digital age.

The tale of Spocko, a self-described "fifth-tier" blogger who lives in San Francisco, exemplifies how one person with a computer and an Internet hookup can challenge the views of a major media corporation -- and what a media corporation will do to stop him.

For the past year, Spocko has been e-mailing advertisers of KSFO-AM with audio clips from its shows and asking sponsors to examine what they're supporting. Some sponsors have pulled their ads, after hearing clips like one of KSFO's Lee Rodgers suggesting that a protester be "stomped to death right there. Just stomp their bleeping guts out."

Now, bloggers and media freedom advocates are concerned about the legal reaction from Disney/ABC-owned KSFO. Shortly before Christmas, an ABC lawyer demanded that Spocko remove audio clips from his blog on the grounds that Spocko's posting of KSFO content was illegal. Digital freedom advocates counter that the clips constitute fair use and worry that critical voices could be silenced by corporations threatening legal action for violation of copyright law.

"That's inevitably been the modus operandi of the media companies in these types of situations," said Ronald Coleman, legal counsel for the Media Bloggers Association, which provides legal support to bloggers. "It doesn't matter the size of the blogger."

Spocko, who asked that his real name not be used because he fears retaliation, is a hobby blogger; he says he gets 15 visitors a day -- and no advertisers -- to his political and media criticism blog.

A little over a year ago, he became so annoyed by the "violent" tone of commentary on KSFO-AM that he and some of his readers e-mailed more than three dozen of the station's advertisers.

"I want to emphasize that if you withdraw your ads you aren't limiting their free speech, just removing your paid support of it," Spocko wrote to advertisers.

In a statement Wednesday, KSFO program director Ken Berry said, "Many of the remarks attributed to KSFO on the Internet are old, lacking context and, in some cases, outright lies. When our hosts have stepped over the line, they have apologized and have been reprimanded."

Berry declined to specify Wednesday which remarks were old or lies or who was reprimanded. Instead, at noon Friday, KSFO will pre-empt regular programming to allow four KSFO personalities cited in Spocko's e-mails to answer questions on-air about the controversy from the public, bloggers and media. "I don't tell people what to say, but I do think there will be some mea culpas there," Berry said.

Berry said KSFO will invite Spocko to appear on the air, but the blogger has declined such invitations in the past, saying in an e-mail to The Chronicle, "I'd be just another revenue generating 'event' for them to their audience, and they would love that kind of 'controversy' because it would MAKE them money and they still had control."

The station didn't have control over what Spocko sent to sponsors.

Among the clips circulated to advertisers was one of morning show co-host Melanie Morgan saying of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, "We've got a bull's-eye painted on her big laughing eyes." Morgan said she has never called for anybody's assassination and was speaking merely in political terms, as she is researching Pelosi's background for a book proposal. "Yes, this is a freedom of speech issue, and this individual is entitled to say what he wants to," said Morgan. "But he's trying to take away my livelihood, and I'm not trying to take away his."

Saber Point summed up the controversy nicely here.

Until last week, however, the best- known example of selective editing involved Rush himself, in the now- infamous flap over Michael J Fox's partisan political campaigning. In October 2006, Limbaugh was falsely accused on making fun of Fox, who suffers from Parkinson's disease. The issue became a key part of a hotly- contested US Senate in Missouri, eventually won by Claire McCaskill.

Here's how Limbaugh responded to the false allegations:

I'll take you through this step by step. Here's what happened. I'm reading the Drudge Report after the show had started, I'm not even sure when, and there's the link to the Michael J. Fox video and the word controversy attached to it, so I click on it and I watch it. Now, I've seen Michael J. Fox recently on television in a number of roles on the show Boston Legal, which I love, and I've seen Michael J. Fox interviewed, and I've never seen him the way I saw him in this ad, never. I've seen Parkinson's disease sufferers. I know a couple. And I've never seen this. I just had never seen it.

I run a radio show here, and I have a camera right there. I'm pointing to it. Subscribers to my website can watch the program and hundreds of thousands do each and every day. So in the process of describing for them -- after all, I am a reporter, a-hem -- in the process of describing what I was watching, it is a shock, as you've all seen it, it's shocking, it's unbelievable.

You don't see this kind of thing every day, particularly in a television commercial, not even a public service announcement for a cause that might be involved when you see something like this. You couple that with the fact that I'd never seen Michael J. Fox in this way, I began to try to describe for viewers of my Dittocam what I had seen. Now, anybody who listens to me describe what I saw would know this. It is a purposeful attempt to smear. I mean, I'm not complaining because that's the league that we all play in here, folks, and I don't whine or moan, but I am going to correct the record here because this is something that's now had a life span of two days that I'm making fun of Michael J. Fox.

I would no more do that than I would make fun of anybody who suffers a disease about which and over which -- I wouldn't make fun of anybody with a disease. That is beneath me and there's no evidence and history of it on this program at all or in my behavior as a human being. And yet it's out there, and the people who culled that video could easily listen to the audio that accompanied and would easily know and do know precisely what I was doing, and yet it is being used for the express purpose of distorting and smearing for an audience that doesn't listen to this program.

Between these and the two new examples, we see a variety of tricks being utilized: splicing words together, intentionally misrepresenting mannerisms or gestures and slicing away necessary context.

Regardless of the tactic utilized, the result is the same: a sleazy attempt to bring down political opponents through trickery. If the left had stronger arguments, would they need to lower themselves to this level?

Liar Liar, Media Matters Smear images: David A Lunde

ELSEWHERE: Melanie Morgan is still driving the left nuts

AT NEWSBUSTERS: Ted Koppel joins the smear campaign against Rush

HUMAN EVENTS has a great round-up of blog reactions to the Rush story

FOR Boston- area talk radio updates, see our other site.

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