Our free speech rights are very broad, which is one of the greatest things about America. Part of what that means, though, is that it’s legal for dishonest profiteers like Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Mark Levin, and Rush Limbaugh to lie every day and, thanks to our free market, get rich doing it.
But those same rights mean each of us is free to object. We can call on radio and TV stations not to carry these liars’ shows, we can tell advertisers we won’t buy their products if they advertise on these shows, and those advertisers can choose to stop.
Free speech and free market.
Would this be appropriate if the issue were simply that the shows are biased? No. I believe democracy works better if we hear opinions of all kinds — especially ones we disagree with.
But I’m not talking about bias, I’m talking about lying.
And not just lying. Flagrant, deeply irresponsible lying that stokes the fear and hatred that have now led to violent attacks on our democracy.
It may be legal, but it’s wrong. Everyone involved is protected by the law, but they should face the shame and rejection they have earned along with all that money.
A few examples, among countless others (many of which are tracked by Media Matters for America):
Glenn Beck claimed on his Oct. 12, 2020 show that the armed attackers of the Michigan state Capitol “are not on the right… are not Trump supporters,” but members of shadowy groups that want to “destroy capitalism, the free market, the United States, and the Western world.”
As these liars so often do, Beck claimed that “This is the story you’re not going hear anywhere else.” The reason you don’t hear stories like that in the mainstream media is because they’re lies.
On multiple shows, Sean Hannity helped spread the fantastical lie about Dominion voting machines supposedly being rigged, a lie which Fox News, along with other right wing outlets, was frightened into prominently correcting and apologizing for, after Dominion began legal actions over the undeserved damage to its reputation.
Even after the Capitol riot of Jan. 6, Mark Levin continues to profit from the Big Lie of a “stolen election.” On his Jan. 12 show he insisted there were “serious issues” in the election of Joe Biden, and that fellow liars Senators Ted Cruz and Josh Hawley had raised “legitimate concerns” about it.
Levin has also denied ever receiving the memo sent by Cumulus Media to all its hosts, including him, to stop spreading the election Big Lie or face termination.
On Inauguration Day, Rush Limbaugh repeated the Big Lie that Biden “had not legitimately won” the election. Again: after people had died because of that lie.
People of the right, center, and left are and should be free to discuss a huge range of ideas. But if any of them chooses to participate in an attack on the democracy that gives them that freedom, they cross a moral line that we must defend.
And that doesn’t mean we have to take their freedom away, say by having the government crack down on them.
We can simply exercise our freedom.
Each of us can do that. And doing it locally often makes a bigger difference than doing it nationally.
For example, you can contact local talk radio stations that carry shows by people like Beck, Hannity, Levin, and Limbaugh. You can find those stations by doing a web search for say “sean hannity show salinas” or “rush limbaugh show santa cruz.”
You might tell the station manager that you support free speech, but it doesn’t mean you have to support the broadcasting of dangerous lies that put freedom at risk. You might also contact local companies that advertise on these shows.
And yes, if you can find media personalities on the left being equally irresponsible, I’d advocate doing the same things.
Will anyone care? Yes. You might be surprised at how quickly even national-scale enterprises notice when more than a few people contact them about a particular issue, especially when money’s at stake.
And money is all this is about. The constant appeals to patriotism are, of course, a con, and a particularly shameful one, given the damage these people have inflicted on their country.
Meanwhile, if the rest of us don’t speak up, it’s taken as a sign that we’re all OK with it.
We can’t be OK with it. Not if we actually do care about the country.