50,000 Watts of Hate

Mike Rosen never expected it.

“It” is the phenomenon of “culture jamming”, or carrying out well-planned and -practiced incursions into the netherworld of conservative talk radio to refocus the dialogue and insert other perspectives, if not some truth, into the conversation. More and more liberals are braving the open phone lines to confront what they view as falsehoods, gross stereotypes, and inflammatory language.
Typically, 850 KOA morning show host Rosen simply hangs up on callers who challenge his point of view. One time he didn’t and it quickly spun out of control.

James Vacca, a teacher at Boulder High School, is a skilled practitioner of this new liberal artform. “I’ve received death threats that were instigated by local right wing radio hosts Rosen and [Jon] Caldara of the right-wing Independence Institute,” said Vacca, after calling in to discuss a protest by Boulder students against military recruitment in the schools.

“People were calling in saying they should come down and beat my ass,” he recalled. The school district’s lawyers repeatedly requested audio recordings of Rosen’s program from the station. They were never delivered. The threats against Vacca were taken so seriously that legal action was considered by the Boulder Valley School District.

“They manufacture stories that then becomes news itself,” he said. “When we create our own narrative, we make the media respond to us.”

The fledgling movement among Colorado liberals to learn effective techniques to engage conservative radio shows was the topic of discussion at the Boulder Outlook Hotel on Tuesday evening. The program, hosted by Democracy for Colorado (DFC), a statewide organization dedicated to promoting progressive candidates and issues.

DFC board member and frequent radio caller, Joe Richey, explained that the KOA signal blankets the intermountain western states-from Arizona to Montana-and can reach as far as Iowa under certain weather conditions. “Right-wing radio is powerful in informing public opinion in Colorado,” said Richey.  “Our purpose is to monitor these programs and learn how to call in more skillfully. The use of polling data is really specious. When they mistate the results of the poll you can call the polling agency and tell them that their work is being misused.”

During a campus public awarenesss campaign on nuclear disarmament, Jason Salzman invoked a “culture jamming” exercise by asking students if the college should stockpile suicide pills in the event of a nuclear war. He explained that the same shock-value entertainment is at work in right-wing radio.

“There are fewer ethics in radio media than in print so it’s hard to fight against ethical lapses,” explained Salzman, a Denver-based public relations consultant and author of Making the News: A Guide for Activists and Nonprofits. “You can debate on-air with the host only if you’re entertaining. Keep in mind, that liberal talk shows should be listened to as well as conservative ones. The liberal audiences often need to be educated as well. Think about the reach. There are 12 million daily listeners to Rush Limbaugh’s show. Seventy percent of those listeners are voters. Your remarks need to be persuasive to the independent-minded audience members not the host,” he said.

Salzman cautioned that not all right-wing radio is alike. 630 KHOW broadcast of The Caplis and Silverman Show-pitting a local conservative against a liberal-is a very entertaining show. While calling militaristic NeoCon ideologue, GunnyBob would be a waste of time.

Colorado House District 11 Rep. Jack Pommer (D-Boulder) disagreed, “For Rush Limbaugh, the only thing that matters is who is listening to the commercials. [Calling in is] a losing game.” He went on to encourage liberals to blog and respond in force to inaccurate posts, especially those on mainstream media blogs. “We need to keep up constant pressure,” he said. “Political editorials are often based on inaccurate print stories.”

Combining prolific blogging with direct confrontation of radical speech on conservative radio has made Mike Stark at Calling All Wingnuts.com something of a national celebrity. With nearly four years of calling programs like Bill O’Reilly’s and others, Stark, a retired Marine, began engaging the hosts in earnest during the run up to the Iraq War. A call with Rush Limbaugh on Social Security [MP3] exposed the talk show standard of making up statistics and projecting blame on “lazy malcontents” for America’s economic woes. Readers of Stark’s blog later dissected Limbaugh’s errors on basic tax law.

Stark believes that by taking on talk radio he is performing “death by a thousand papercuts” on inaccurate and distorted conservative ideologies.

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