RI’s former governors talk about talk radio

Tom Mooney
The Providence Journal

…On Friday, three former governors and several professors of communications and political science offered varying opinions about whether Chafee had made the right decision, as well as some historical perspective on discourse — civil and otherwise — in American democracy.

Former Gov. Lincoln C. Almond, who served from 1995 to 2003, said talk radio succeeded on the business model that the more argumentative and ideological the banter, the better.

“It doesn’t provide any insight into government,” he said. “It’s a lot of BS to be honest with you.”…

…But two other former governors, Edward D. DiPrete, in office from 1985 to 1991, and J. Joseph Garrahy, from 1977 to 1985, disagreed, (though Garrahy said talk radio was tamer in his day.)

“From my perspective, I always found it was a good opportunity to talk directly with the public, and one-on-one frequently when they would call in,” said DiPrete…

…DiPrete, a Republican, said that if he was Chafee, he would have still appeared on Cianci’s show — at least once anyway.

“Face to face, people tend to be more civil to each other,” he said. “I’ve never heard of people settling their differences by refusing to speak to each other.” But if outlandish criticisms continued, DiPrete said, he would not go on that show again.

Garrahy, a Democrat, said: “There is no question that the talk-show people are pretty argumentative and confrontational, but I think public officials still have an obligation to answer citizens’ questions whether they come from radio or whatever medium is used.”

“I know, in some cases it’s a very hostile environment,” particularly in recent years where it seems civility has become passé and vitriol has “become a part of public life,” Garrahy said.

Actually, there’s nothing new about Americans discussing issues in discourteous ways, says Wendy Schiller, who teaches American politics at Brown University.

During the New Deal legislative debates of the 1930s “people in the Senate were screaming at each other, calling each other traitors,” she says.

And people historically have always listened, watched or read information from media with perceived biases that confirm or validate their own opinions.

For instance, just as liberals today may turn to National Public Radio for their news and conservatives flock to Glenn Beck, so too did Americans at the turn of the 20th century turn to their biased newspaper of choice, says Schiller.

“You read the newspaper that was loyal to the [political] party that you liked. So self-selection as to where people get their news” –– or their news commentary –– “is not new.”…

…Schiller says, Chafee faces a risk if he never appears on talk shows harshly critical of him.

“If you don’t try to voice your idea and rationale for policy directly to the people who you think disagree with you, then the only information they are going to have is from the talk-radio hosts, because you’re losing the opportunity to try to persuade people who currently disagree with you that there is some merit to what you’re saying.”…

Read the complete article at The Providence Journal.

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