11/21/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Talk Radio Inciting Violence? What Happened to Listener Discernment?

Today's email digest of talk radio news has an article saying talkers may be inciting listeners to violence. According to the article, right-wing talkers are said to send subliminal messages. The author, talk-radio consultant Holland Cooke, invokes Chris Matthews' reference to the "dog whistle" and claims that "fringe ears" might hear those subliminal messages, thus "inciting the next nut."

Why must it always be the talk shows' fault? Any why must it always be the right-wing talk shows' fault? I could make the same argument about left-wing talk shows and left-wing talk show hosts. However, that is not the point.

Do we really believe that talk radio on both the left and right really incites violence? If Chris is correct that hosts use a dog whistle to get the ear of those fringe listeners, where is the causal link between the nutcase at the Holocaust Museum or the shooter who recently killed a pro-life supporter?

The nut cases exist regardless of talk radio or cable news.

Anything can trigger the irrational behavior of a nut case. Just as we cannot fully eliminate traffic accidents unless we eliminate automobiles, neither can we eliminate nut cases taking irrational actions.

We can, however, improve the quality and tone of our discourse.

The point that Holland Cooke misses is that most talk radio hosts truly want a debate. They want those with opposing points of views to call-in and debate the topic. Whether your point of view is from the left or the right, what better opportunity to make your case than to debate someone with an opposing point of view?

Those debates can be civil, too. Even after David Sirota penned in his column that the apocalypse must surely be nearing because he and I host talk shows in the same Clear Channel Denver building, we nonetheless have held civil and, at least from my point of view, enlightening discussions on health care and politics.

We often fail to acknowledge the responsibility of the listener or viewer. As consumers of news and opinion, each of us has a civic obligation to not only hear the other point of view, but to listen with discernment to those who ostensibly reflect our own point of view.

The balance we seek should not be some government-imposed fairness doctrine, or some corporate policy dictating what a talk show host says or discusses. Rather, the balance should exist in our ears and brains, in our willingness to listen -- and I mean really listen -- to what the other side is saying. Not that you have to agree with what the other side says, only that you understand the "what" and "why" of the other side's views.

We should never refrain from expressing our opinions with emotions and passions for fear that the nut case will hear it wrong and act out violently. The nut cases will be with us always, and they should not dictate our willingness to debate with passion, logic and reason our respective views.

Trying to tie violence and radio talk shows or cable opinion shows together ignores the personal responsibility each of us have as consumers of news and opinion to listen, watch and read with judiciousness and discrimination. Otherwise we scapegoat talk show hosts and cable news hosts for the irresponsible and irrational behavior of those nuts.