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David Sirota
David Sirota
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Finding the Forgotten Majority


"There is a need for some reflection here — what is too far now? What was too far when Oklahoma City happened is accepted now. There's been a desensitizing. These town halls and cable TV and talk radio, everybody's trying to outdo each other."

Those were the words of an unnamed Republican senator after America's latest shooting rampage, this one a political assassination attempt in Tucson, Ariz. How sad — and telling — that the lawmaker refused to attach his or her name to such an important truism.

But that is the larger story of the slaughter's aftermath. As conservative pundits spent the week insisting that their violent political rhetoric is somehow unrelated to political violence; as Sarah "Don't Retreat, Reload" Palin scrubbed her website of rifle-sight graphics targeting Rep. Gabrielle Giffords; as right-wing radio hosts sanitized the Tucson shooter as a "lone gunman" rather than a "terrorist" — in the midst of all this obfuscation, few public figures found the courage to acknowledge truths that so desperately need to be aired.

One of those truths is that media can set societal norms and, thus, can help create conditions for violence — whether a mass murder in Tucson, an IRS bombing in Austin or any other future massacre. Another less obvious truth is that the new media economy encourages ever-more violent vitriol because that's now become the most reliable way to build a following and, thus, generate profit.

Save for sensationalists like Rupert Murdoch, media owners today aren't deliberately manufacturing this dangerous dynamic — for the most part, it reflects a convergence of market forces. In this brave new world of infinite information conduits, the audience is more fragmented than ever. That has made the pursuit of audience share more intense, ultimately rewarding the loudest violence-glorifying demagogues in the noisy rabble. And remember: The situation is being further exacerbated as many media outlets transform their business models from mass broadcast to niche narrowcast — a shift that allows relatively small fringe mobs to sustain the most vituperative voices of hate.

Add to this a recession that is reducing resources for real journalism, sprinkle in our dehumanizing politics of vilification, and America has built a media economy that incentivizes violent bombast. Indeed, rather than nurturing the talent and intellect necessary to build a following through solid reporting and analysis, the system makes it far more efficient to generate viewers, listeners and Web clicks by simply screaming, "If ballots don't work, bullets will," as one Florida radio host recently thundered.

Like many who still cling to journalistic ideals and democratic principles, I've grappled with the pressures of this alarming change in the media landscape. As a radio host, I feel the constant pull of the pack mentality — that temptation to follow the path of least ratings resistance and use the public airwaves as a "blowtorch" (as the saying goes in the industry). Oh, how easy that would be — I could just add my voice to the now-ubiquitous hatefest that polarizes issues and too often suggests violence is a legitimate form of political expression.

Alas, I've done my best to avoid this sadistic melee. I'm sure I haven't been perfect, but I've tried to find an alternative route that circumvents the pitchforks, torches and glocks. And thankfully, I've found support. My Colorado radio station has unabashedly backed my attempt to create a different kind of programming, and I've found a diverse and growing listenership that values something more than violent invective.

This is what still gives me hope in such dark times. For if there is an audience in my state that wants something more — something substantive and non-violent — then there are audiences everywhere that want something more, too. It's the media's responsibility to start finding that forgotten majority before more blood is spilled.

David Sirota is a best-selling author whose upcoming book "Back to Our Future" will be released in March of 2011. He hosts the morning show on AM760 in Colorado. E-mail him at, follow him on Twitter @davidsirota or visit his website at



6 Comments | Post Comment
David - I am disappointed in that you did not overtly share the blame for all media outlets and only chose to highlight the right leaning ones. And as there only is a right leaning one, to suggest there the remainder of all the cable and network news orgnaizations do not follow the same business model as Murdoch's is blatantly dishonest on your part. You purport to be objective and sticking to journalistic principles but in this column you clearly did not.

Both sides are guilty of the violant rhetoric that is falsely reputed to have led to this disaster. Don't do youself a discredit by claiming otherwise.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Charles
Fri Jan 14, 2011 6:00 AM
Re: Charles
Sirota is speaking of talk radio, of which he is a part. There is simply no equivalence between the invective brought by the right and left, and anyone not willing to admit this is either lying or ignorant of reality. With conservative talk radio controlling close to 90% of that market, the sheer number alone proves there can BE no equivalence.
If you are still determined to ignore reality, then please provide an equivalent example from progressive radio to "if ballots don't work, bullets will" or of progressives using violent rhetoric vis-a-vis guns or "2nd Amendment remedies". 'll save you some time: you can't.
And that denial by the right leads me to believe they simply either don't get it, or DO get it, and what we saw occur in Tucson is merely the endgame of a self fulfilling prophecy, with things going as planned. I hope I'm wrong but believe I'm not.
Comment: #2
Posted by: kevin
Fri Jan 14, 2011 7:19 AM
Charles, since both sides are equally to blame for the "violant (sic) rhetoric," how about some examples -- let's say 10-15 -- showing that pundits on the left are as bad as the Glenn Becks and Bill O'Reillys of the world. Also, let's see some evidence that another network has "the same business model as Murdoch's." I'll be waiting.
Comment: #3
Posted by: David
Fri Jan 14, 2011 7:30 AM
RE: Kevin, David,

Go to Malkin and Bozell in the conservative viewpoint section of CS.

Plenty of blame to spread around if that is your heart's desire.

Comment: #4
Posted by: Tom
Fri Jan 14, 2011 12:50 PM
Point 1) This is an excellent analysis by Mr. Sirota that really gets to the underlying cause of the problem in talk radio and “news” programming on TV. But I've also noticed this effect in movies and TV entertainment where “shock value” drives ratings, therefore explosions need to keep getting bigger and bigger, violence gets more violent, gore gets more gory, and everything in general gets more extreme and shocking. Where does it end? Unfortunately it seems that violence is the easiest thing to ratchet up for greater shock effect. But could it be that someday we become so desensitized to the violence that we come full circle and peace and civil conversation between people becomes the shocking draw for ratings? That would be nice.

Point 2) The right loves to draw false equivalence between what they do and what the left does in order to shirk responsibility and redirect any criticism of them. But Kevin and David are correct. The “examples” that the right comes up with which supposedly show that the left and right do the same thing are laughable to anyone who has a brain and can think critically. It's ludicrous to even suggest that the left (ie. the “tree-huggers”, “wimps” and “peace loving hippies” as branded by the right) would have the desire or ability to use violent rhetoric to whip up its base. Violence is anathema to the left. Unlike the right which fully embraces violence, the left rejects violence and seeks peaceful resolutions to conflict. Anyone who understands this fundamental difference between the two ideologies knows that the right is lying when it claims they are not solely responsible for ratcheting up the hate and violence in our political discourse.

Point 3) Google “stochastic terrorism”, which is simply based on mass advertising principals, to see what the right-wing hate talkers are really guilty of.

Point 4) Going to Malkin and Bozell for objective analysis about what they do for a living is like going to a used car dealer to ask for an objective analysis about the cars on the dealers' lot.

Comment: #5
Posted by: A Smith
Mon Jan 17, 2011 7:12 AM

Re: A Smith

You believe Sirota is completely objective and others are not. Okay. Stay in your comfort zone and never look at another point of view unless it supports your own. The rest of us, according to you, have no brains and can't think critically. Opposing views are laughable. Your words.

Perhaps calling someone brainless, unable to think critically and intellectually laughable would be considered abuse in some diplomatic circles. Not yours. Notice that a large arsenal of verbal invective is part of your search for "peaceful resolutions to conflict".

Re-read my comment. Then re-read the words you brought to the table today. I think they represent your heart's desire.

Which one of us sounds more hateful?
Comment: #6
Posted by: Tom
Mon Jan 17, 2011 11:17 AM
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