Tuesday, April 13, 2004

A Glimpse of the Right Wing Echo Chamber

You've no doubt heard about and read about the right-wing echo chamber we have in this country, the way that conservative politicians, media outlets and activists reinforce whatever talking points or outrages of the hour about the enemy through an amazing transmission belt that is forever feeding slop into the public consciousness. But it's not every day that you get to see it in action right here in Northeastern Ohio. But I was so blessed not long ago. Here's what happened.

Through kids' hoops circles, I know a guy named Howie Chizek. Cavaliers' fans remember him reverently for his years as the public address announcer at the old Richfield Coliseum, where he used his rich baritone to make years of bad basketball somewhat more palatable. He no longer has that job, but he has kept another longtime gig which isn't quite so high-profile to Clevelanders, because it's as a talk radio on a low-power Akron station (WNIR, 100 FM) which can't be picked up in much of this area. But Howie loves his job. He's proud of his longevity--more than 30 years on the air with the same show, and even occasionally takes credit for having paved the way for Rush Limbaugh's success, by proving that a conservative talk radio monologue is commercially viable. I found that boast so ambitious that it made me laugh when he first alluded to it.

Still, you can't help but like Howie. He's a simple guy who knows what he thinks and what he likes, and we used to occasionally engage in some sly verbal sparring about politics while sitting back and watching freshman Ignatius basketball, and grade-school CYO games before that. I would buttress my positions on various issue by encouraging him to read various articles in such magazines as the New Republic, but he'd wave that away. Like a lot of people, Howie wasn't in need of any more facts to figure out what he thinks. You might say that he's mostly impervious to new information that doesn't conform to what he already knows, or thinks he knows (and I say that not unkindly). In short, I've always found him a fascinating character study.

But a couple of months ago he got even more fascinating. One day, after Matt Drudge had "broken" a "world exclusive" story about how John Kerry had his own brewing intern sex scandal, Howie made sure, through an intermediary of course, that I was aware of that situation. He must have handed our mutual friend a story about it to give to me that evening. And he no doubt talked about it on the air all day for several days. There was only one problem: the story completely fell apart when real reporters began to check it. The girl publicly said it wasn't true, and even Drudge had to retreat (although the goofball still hasn't taken it down from his site. It's still here).

So remember, folks. Next time you find yourself blindly believing something you've seen, heard or read in "the media," do yourself a favor, and consider the source. They're not all alike in their level of fidelity to facts.


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