Remember early in the Obama administration, when the NRA and other groups were warning that the government was going to start banning handguns and even confiscating weapons? It had no basis whatsoever in reality, but as a business move it was brilliant. Sales of gun and ammunition soared as purchasers rushed to beat the crackdown that never came.
The talk-radio industry was playing the same game, whipping their audience into a frenzy over the Fairness Doctrine, which the new administration was allegedly certain to reimpose at any moment. The fact that the administration had no plans at all to resurrect the Fairness Doctrine, and neither did Congress, mattered not in the least. What mattered is that the gullible could be convinced to believe it, because it confirmed their sense of themselves as persecuted.
And hey, if it works once, why not again?
Conservative talkers like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity are rallying their listeners with a very old — and very successful — battle cry, accusing the left of trying to curb their free speech.
“So believe me, I wouldn’t be surprised, folks, if somebody in the Obama regime or some FCC bureaucrat or some Democrat congressperson has already written up legislation to stifle and eliminate conservative speech, and that legislation is sitting in a desk drawer someplace just waiting for the right event to clamp down because that’s what all this is,” Limbaugh said Monday, in his first show since the shooting. “And every time an event like this happens, they get into a trial run in hopes that this is the one that they can succeed in shutting us all down.”
This theme remained a constant on talk radio, conservative blogs and Fox News throughout the week, as conservative commentators accused liberals of exploiting the tragedy to score political points without any evidence linking the shooter to conservative media. But beyond the political tit-for-tat was a media regulation debate that gave conservative talk radio a chance to talk about one of its favorite topics: itself.
As Politico points out, there’s absolutely nothing to it. A week ago, in the wake of the Tucson shootings, U.S. Rep. James Clyburn did some squawking about the need for restraint on radio, but he hasn’t followed it up and has no apparent intention of doing so. “A week later,… no one is seriously pursuing the idea of returning to the long-defunct policy, which required media on the public airwaves to present both sides of controversial political issues,” Keach Hagey writes. “Not Clyburn, not another Democrat who echoed his call for regulatory remedies, Rep. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), and not the Federal Communications Commission, whose chairman opposes reinstating the policy.”
But in the strange world of right-wing radio, persecution sells. Persecution validates their sense of being a people oppressed, and it strengthens the binds between the host and his audience, because both are supposedly targets.
Except of course they are not, except in their own fevered imaginations.