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The Senator: … and so, you see, we Democrats were so fair and ethical in the conduct of our campaigns in past elections we were at a disadvantage. We lacked the edge enjoyed by our opponents – their backing by the shrill, mean-spirited hosts of right-wing, ultraconservative, fundamentalist, entertaining talk radio – not to indulge in name calling.
Reporter: There’s that word again: entertaining. Why does the entertainment side of talk radio bother you so much?
The Senator: There is no doubt that they are entertaining – even funny in a perverse way – which is doubly unfair, and makes them all the more threatening. For example, look what they did to my good friend and fellow statesman Bob Torricelli.
Reporter: But didn’t you help run Torricelli out of the New Jersey Senate race?
The Senator: Well, maybe I did and maybe I didn’t. Maybe I helped persuade him to do the statesmanlike thing, but you didn’t see me laughing about it. What talk radio did was just, just … mean-spirited.
Reporter: Can you define “mean-spirited”?
The Senator: Well, when somebody points out an uncomfortable fact, and you have no argument or answer for it, it’s mean-spirited of them to do so.
Reporter: Can you give us another example?
The Senator: Certainly. It was mean-spirited of you to point out my role in the Torricelli thing. But let’s get back to entertainment. As I pointed out, talk radio uses shrill rhetoric, and it becomes more and more shrill as time goes by and people become emotional and want to do something besides just listen and …
Reporter: Like vote?
The Senator: … and it becomes a foment – not just a verbal foment but a physical foment and …
Reporter: Don’t you mean “ferment”?
The Senator (becoming agitated): … and – whatever! – and the media plays a role in the foment and …
Reporter: Don’t you mean “media PLAY”? It’s plural, you know.
The Senator (still more exercised): … and …and … This is just what I mean. Mean-spirited questions like these show what the media can does … medias does … do …
The senator paused, chest heaving, face twisted as he collected himself, then began again.
The Senator: This sort of thing can lead to other – other actions that are outside the control of anybody in the media or anybody in politics.
Reporter: So, you’re afraid?
The Senator: You bet I am. There’s a lot to be afraid of when the media and the people get beyond the control of anybody in politics.
Reporter: So, you feel physically threatened because people in talk radio are entertaining and funny?
The Senator: Well, it would be inappropriate for me to dwell on that in any more detail, and I don’t want to promote hysteria, but I hope you can get across to the public the horror that could be visited upon us. People being motivated to do something by these talk-radio clowns (as my good friend and colleague Tom McCain characterizes them, though I personally would never stoop to name calling) – why, there’s no telling what they might do. Just look at Nov. 5. If this keeps up, if more and more people – and I’m not calling them ignorant boobs, certainly not; nor am I calling them ovine dolts – are led by increasingly shrill rhetoric to get involved in the political process, there’s no telling what sort of reaction might ensue. This unbridled “entertainment” is bound to engender a reaction, and the implications for freedom of expression are fearful.
Reporter: You mean, you’re afraid for the First Amendment?
The Senator: No, I’m afraid of it.