Fox News has infected CNN with the Slime Flu, and it's now spreading to MSNBC.
But this media malignancy originated on talk radio two decades ago.
When CNN's Big Lou Dobbs recently went off the deep end, did he also drain the press (as well as the swimming) pool? Lou's knuckle-dragging Birther fans may be brain dead and ridiculous, but that hasn't stopped cable news from giving extensive coverage to their looniness.
"Why are we even talking about this guy?" asked Washington Post reporter Lois Romano on MSNBC this week after being queried by Chris Matthews about Glenn Beck's latest attention-getting lunatic rant -- calling the president a "racist." MSNBC has been giving an even bigger megaphone lately to our village's drooling idiots.
Lunacy and hate speech gets ratings. That much we now know. And to far too many of the people who run cable news and radio, that's all that matters. They're the amoral enablers of shameless panderers like Dobbs and Beck.
I started noticing this drastic lowering of broadcast standards 15 years ago when The Human Emetic, Michael "Weenie" Savage, started spouting undiluted hate on a San Francisco radio station. Pretty soon, The Savage Wiener (as many of us still know him) had a nationally syndicated radio show. If Savage knows nothing else, he's always known how to get attention.
One long-time talk host and colleague on Savage's station in San Francisco is a traditional conservative. This mannered Republican talk host quit radio back then, he told me at the time, because "garbage" like Savage's show had become acceptable in broadcasting.
The talk veteran was so disgusted he went into his boss's office and asked him bluntly: "If you could put a continuous fart on the air and it got ratings, would you air it?" Without even hesitating, the program director of the top-rated, 50,000-watt station (according to the talk-radio veteran) shrugged and said, "Of course."
"What draws a bigger audience?" the disgusted career radio man added when I did his radio exit interview for my column. "A rational discussion of foreign policy -- or two sailors duking it out down at the bar?"
"That's the way this business is going," the conservative southerner said disgustedly when he quit his 30-year radio career, "and I want no part of it."
"Beck appeals to the uneducated and the stupid," MSNBC's Ed Schultz said this week on his national radio show, commenting on former FM shock jock Beck's latest looneytoon, attention-getting comments.
"The guy is a hate merchant."
Yes, but like the fart -- not a bad analogy when you think about it -- Beck's disgraceful episodes of public flatulence get ratings. And that's all that seems to matter to his bosses.
"There are a lot of ways to get ratings," Schultz added. "He has elected to sell hate."
True, but sell it does. (Is this a great country, or what?)
This might be a good time to take careful note of the people who advertise on Beck's and Dobbs' carnival attractions.
I've been covering radio for 25 years for various newspapers, and it's always been a slimy business. After talking to some radio execs, you want to take a shower.
But in the last 15 years, it's gotten a lot slimier, and the slime has now spread to cable news networks.
When Matthews half-joked to Romano that "more people watch Beck than read the Washington Post," she replied, "Oh, well."
I think we probably knew that, Chris. Most of Beck's and Dobb's fans will never be accused of reading a non-tabloid.
It's not enough to get these modern-day Father Coughlins out of public view. We also should hold responsible the cable and radio executives who ever allowed this blatant hate-mongering on the air in the first place.