Regrettably, Rhodes returns to radio

Progressive shock jock less than thoughtful

April 19, 2008

by David Kopel

The Air America network, which provides much of the programming on KKZN-AM (760) ended its relationship last week with hostess Randi Rhodes. Rhodes had recently been suspended from Air America for her humor presentation at a San Francisco nightclub, in which she called Hillary Clinton a "big f---ing whore" and Geraldine Ferraro "David Duke in drag" and "a f---ing whore." Such wit!

But no sooner had Air America dumped her than Clear Channel hired her. So Rhodes is now back on 760, in the 1-4 p.m. weekday slot. Clear Channel's decision is not entirely consistent with the theory that Clear Channel is dedicated to a right-wing agenda. Indeed, the fact that Clear Channel has made 760 into a "progressive" talk station, with lots of Air America programming, demonstrates what has always been obvious to the nonparanoid: Clear Channel's objective is to make money, and Clear Channel will do so with whatever mix of programming and hosts will bring in the largest audiences, and hence the largest advertising revenue.

It is unfortunate, though, that Rhodes is back on the local airwaves. She caters to hatred and nutty conspiratorialists. For example, a promotion for her show claimed "The difference between Hitler and Bush is that Hitler was elected." After the 2004 election, she spent lots of time trying to promote her theory that John Kerry had actually won in Ohio.

Last October, Rhodes speculated that the fires in Southern California might have been deliberately set by Blackwater. The year before, she publicized a supermarket tabloid article claiming that Laura Bush had moved out of the White House because George Bush was having an affair with Condoleezza Rice. She also claimed that Israel was committing "genocide" in Lebanon.

There are plenty of people who could provide intelligent, well-informed political talk radio from a left-of-center perspective. Gary Hart and Mario Cuomo both had short careers as talk hosts. But stations follow the ratings, and the ratings indicate, sadly, that the wild exaggerations and inventions of Rhodes attract more listeners than does the thoughtful analysis of serious people like Cuomo and Hart.

In the United States, Rhodes' rants are protected by the First Amendment. But in unfree nations such as Ethiopia, legitimate journalists are at grave personal risk. A report last year from The Committee to Protect Journalists described Ethiopia as a nation where press freedom had deteriorated dramatically in the last year, and now journalists "are being jailed, attacked and censored, a picture far worse than what we saw only a few years ago."

Next week, the Independence Institute will be hosting a dissident Ethiopian journalist, who will speak about the threats faced by journalists in Africa. Readers are welcome to attend the speech at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday at the institute's Golden offices(13952 Denver West Parkway, Suite 400).

As he will explain, the Internet does provide some opportunity for evading censorship regimes. He has written a number of articles for Africa-focused news Web sites that are hosted in the United States or United Kingdom. But only about one-sixth of the Ethiopian population lives in cities with Internet access. And even there, a reader or writer in an Internet cafe must be always careful that no one in the police catches him looking at a dissident Web site.

Most of the Ethiopian population lives in rural areas where the only news source is the radio. And the government controls all radio (and television and newspapers). Thus, the one-hour daily native-language broadcasts from Voice of America may be the only source for uncensored news.

In my last column, I wrote that Justin Dick, author of an article published on the Rocky's Web site had "plagiarized" a column by Cenk Uygur of the Huffington Post. Dick's article began with one paragraph that he wrote, followed by 10 paragraphs copied verbatim from Uygur - including material written in the first person, such as "I think . . . "

Dick wrote me to state that his electronic submission to the Rocky had included the following tagline, which wasn't published: "(Much thanks to Cynk Uygur at Huffington Post)." Thanking someone at the end of an article does not come close to informing readers that almost all the article was published previously and written by someone else. A proper disclosure could have said something like: "Almost all of the above was taken verbatim from a column by Cenk Uygur for the Huffington Post." Had such a disclosure been made, Dick's article would never have been published by the Rocky.

Dick's mistake about what the Rocky (and almost every other American newspaper) would consider to be plagiarism was apparently an innocent one, and I accept the sincerity of his statement that he thought that he had provided all the attribution that was necessary.


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