Sunday, March 28, 2004
All it took was one short sentence out of the hole of WNYC radio personality Brian Lehrer to encapsulate a week's worth of hearty coprophagia.
Thursday, March 25, the day after Richard Clarke's testimony before the 9/11 hearing. Here's Lehrer's tease for his 10am show:
"Were the 9/11 hearings really the Richard Clarke book tour hearings?"
Bravo, shit eater.
I have long listened to your show. I admire the fact that you invite a diverse array of guests on air to speak with you and your audience. I admire your efforts to create an open and mutually respectful atmosphere, in which anyone can feel free to call in and share deeply held views, whatever they may happen to be. I understand that maintaining this sort of open forum requires that the host maintain scrupulous even-handedness. And there was a time that I admired you for that. But now I am having difficulty continuing to do so.
I still won't claim to know what your personal politics are. But it is now clear that, for whatever reason, you are bending over backwards to give legitimacy to "both sides" of any issue--even when one "side" is slanderous and despicable. Maybe you're doing this because you feel you have to maintain your show's openness to all guests and callers. But you've got to recognize: when slander and lies are the basis of one of the "sides" in a debate, it does no one any good to air those slanderous lies as if they are actual, deeply felt political opinions. Some "perspectives" aren't actual perspectives--ways of SEEING an issue; they are BLINDERS, lies concocted out of the basest motives; and if you treat these as legitimate, you are actually STIFLING and even DESTROYING the free and open exchange of REAL opinion that is your show's reason for being.
Today you advertised your show with the question, are the 9-11 hearings really an advertisement for Richard Clarke's book? The question is an outrage. Maybe one of your guests would have asked it. But by making it the on-air teaser for your entire discussion of Clarke's important testimony, you are undercutting in advance the possibility of a free and open exchange of opinions about Clark's testimony. The charge that the testimony is all in service of his book is not a charge made by anyone except the White House, and, disgracefully, two 9-11 commissioners obviously acting at the behest of the White House. The purpose of this charge is to discredit the testimony for political reasons. It is to keep us from even CONSIDERING the testimony. It is MEANT to DESTROY free and open public debate about the testimony. If you want to encourage this sort of debate, then you have GOT to exercise some critical acumen. Make your show about the testimony, its validity and its persuasiveness. Invite callers who disagree with it. Even ask us to consider the absurd charge that this lifelong Republican public servant is now risking his own career and credibility in order to sell books. But Brian, PLEASE do not FRAME your discussion with this charge, as if the question of Clarke's motives somehow trumped the contents of the testimony itself.
You are letting the White House frame the debating terms of your show. And debating terms matter. The openness of a debate depends, always, upon the terms in which it is framed. There is no absolutely open debate. By accepting the White House terms, you are ruining your own show by ensuring the discussion will be limited in scope--limited to trivial and unanswerable questions about Clarke's motives, excluding the serious questions about the substance of his remarks. You have got to understand that the White House, in promulgating this garbage, is TRYING to ruin shows like yours. The White House is actively against public debate and the open circulation of information; so if you want to preserve these things, you can't just say, I'm letting the White House have its say.
And please don't tell me that you are only trying to consider a serious issue raised by the White House--the issue of Clarke's credibility. If you want to consider this issue, please (please!) talk to guests who can help us to determine whether or not what the man said WAS TRUE, regardless of what made him say it.