On Saturday, a few hours before a constitutional deadline, Governor Jerry Brown had the political courage of signing Assembly Bill 131 that grants undocumented immigrants the right to apply for college tax-subsidized scholarships. While many Californians will celebrate the approval of the California Dream Act, surely no one will express its disappointment and disgust as strongly as the hosts of The John & Ken Show, at KFI - AM 640.
They have the right to do so. Freedom of expression, after all, is a constitutional right that best characterizes the institutions and history of the United States. But let's not forget that this right is not absolute. Especially when it is used to denigrate, dehumanize, and encourage a campaign of attacks against the political opposition.
That seems to have been the case few weeks ago when the hosts of the The John & Ken Show disagreed with Jorge Mario Cabrera, a Latino community leader who supports AB 131, and opted to give Cabrera's personal telephone number to the listener's. A clear violation of his privacy that opened the gates for calls from irate people who used abusive and intimidating language, and even threats against Cabrera's physical integrity.
"I received about three hundred calls in my cell phone... Many of the calls were from people who were very angry and some were threatening", said Cabrera who for the past eight years have been working at CHIRLA, a non-profit Latino organization.
Unfortunately, this was not an occasional outburst by hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou. The language articulated and the denigration of the opponent is part of a consistent method that is used in this popular radio program that attracts more than a million listeners per week. They have used it repeatedly with the intention of destroying political leaders such as Governor Gray Davis and Republican legislators who are willing to negotiate with Democrats.
"It was the last straw," commented Alex Nogales, president of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, to the LA Times. "These guys have been at it day in and day out. It is the same ugly rhetoric."
The method that they use is very simple. It involves an initial attack on the ideas of the opponent, suggesting that they make no sense. But the attack does not remain in the realm of ideas but moves to and concentrates on the opponent who is denigrated with insults with the clear objective of dehumanizing and transforming him or her in an object that can be, and should be attacked without feeling any remorse.
Few of the calls that Cabrera received expressed their opposition in a civilized manner, most were full of insults and terms such as "traitor", "thief", "garbage". Others had obscenities, and some had threatening warnings such as "I hope somebody shoots your..." All the messages, overcharged with passion and hatred, had the obvious intention of demoralizing and hurting. A caller from Orange County stands out for her malicious intentions. The lady casually, and very calm, congratulates Cabrera for the probable approval of AB 131. Then, she says:
"In celebration of this victory, after having lived a lifetime in California, having three separate sets of Hispanic workers that work for me at home in various jobs, I'm going to fire all of them tomorrow and never hire another. Thanks and enjoy."
The methodology used by The John & Ken Show is not isolated, but part of a media phenomena that in the last decades had grown considerably in the United States. Through ultraconservative voices such as Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Anne Coulter, the American Right has managed to popularize its political discourse using radios and TV stations that in many cases are associated with Clear Channel Communications and Fox Broadcasting Corporation. It seems as if this people feel that they are Biblical prophets that have the celestial mission of saving the nation at any cost.
This implies a one-dimensional, simplistic, quasi religious vision of a complex socio-political reality; a vision that, among other things, does not accept the opposition as another segment of political society but it characterizes it as being the enemy. This demonization of the Left, Democrats, unions, academics, immigrants, feminists, environmentalists, progressives, Keynesians, pacifists, makes impossible any political dialogue and leads to a vitriolic, insulting attack to dehumanize the 'enemy' of this ultraconservative Utopia that, in the last instance, is a White and Anglo-Saxon America.
The John & Ken Show and other similar programs are not the first in realizing the historical importance of the radio as a means of ideological propaganda. Joseph Goebbels, in the 1920s and 1930s, used the radio to promote Nazism in a Weimar Republic undermined by economic crisis and political disintegration.
This relatively new media was so important that the Germany of the III Reich subsidized the manufacture of a new radio, the Volksempfanger, or people's radio, that was half the price of other competing models and that allowed most German families to be connected with the electrifying speeches of the Fhurer that, ultimately, led to the horror of the Holocaust and the destruction of World War II.
A more contemporary example of the monstrous potential of this means of communications took place at Rwanda where, in 1994, the Hutu leaders used the radio to help organize a campaign against the Tutsi minority. A racist message was spread through Radio Rwanda and Radio Television Libre des Mille (RTLM). Tutsis were scapegoated and people were encouraged to participate in their extermination. Some attacks were apparently directed through the radio. In less than 100 days, about half million people were assassinated in one of the worst genocides of modern history.
There should be no doubt that John and Ken are not Goebbels nor do they have anything to do with the genocides of Rwanda, but their utilization of the radio to misinform and manipulate with political intentions is more than questionable. In a democracy, we do not silence what we do not like, but freedom of expression, as it has been numerously times ruled by the Supreme Court, is not an absolute right. When The John & Ken Show invades the privacy of community leaders such as Jorge Cabrera, it is obvious that a line is being crossed. The FCC should investigate and appropriate measures should be taken.