Veteran media critic David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times forced himself to listen to a full cycle of Air America the other day and he decided that the big news is how the liberal talk-radio franchise handles -- religion. Well, that and sex. You may have noticed, however, that issues of sexual morality often play a major role in religion news reports these days. Shaw said that he expected "my fellow liberals" to offer up huge doses of "paranoia and conspiratorial idiocy to match the conservative paranoia and conspiratorial idiocy that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and their ilk have used to turn talk radio into a powerful forum that liberals now blame for every social and political malady this side of tooth decay."
But what caught Shaw off guard was that Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo, Randi Rhodes (shown with Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla.) and the other Air America stars seem so anxious to run away all listeners who do not already agree with them. It also didn't help, he said, that the shows provided few laughs -- other than predictable sex jokes that would appeal to people who hate every person who works in the current White House. Shaw notes:
... Conservatives turned talk radio into their medium in large measure because many people who considered themselves conservatives felt that their interests and their values were either ignored or denigrated by a liberal mainstream media. One recent poll showed that only 19% of the American public now identify themselves as liberal. That means that if a liberal network wants to be successful, politically or economically, it must also convert a significant number of the 39% of the public that the poll said considers itself moderate.
And this brings us, of course, to the same issue that is haunting the modern Democratic Party -- the pew gap. Shaw notes that it makes little sense to crudely bash away at the religious beliefs of middle America, if the goal is to win those same people's hearts away from the clutches of evil conservatives. Yet the Air America hosts seemed determined to trash traditional religious believers whenever possible, even on Good Friday -- the most solemn day on the Christian calendar.
Two of the hosts gratuitously announced that they're Jewish, and one -- Marc Maron [right] of the network's "Morning Sedition" program -- went on to make fun of Easter and Christmas rituals. Then, in a segment he called "morning devotional," Maron began his prayer for divine guidance on behalf of President Bush by saying, "Dear Lord, what the hell is going on up there?"
Another host -- I think it was Rachel Maddow on "Unfiltered," though I couldn't always distinguish her voice from that of co-host Lizz Winstead -- called Easter "an odd celebration" and said that a taxi driver had told her that "someone in a Jesus suit" would carry a cross along 42nd Street in New York in a reenactment of the events of Good Friday, "but in this case, he'll stop to buy a fake Louis Vuitton bag."
There's a lot more in the Shaw report. Clearly, Air America has decided that the very core of modern liberalism is its opposition to traditional forms of religious belief and its defense of the Sexual Revolution.
Strangely enough, this is precisely what one can hear by turning on someone like, well, James Dobson.
UPDATE: Doug notes the following Time story on the same topic. Once again, religion is in the thick of the paranoid public square. Richard Corliss reports:
At times, the talk can get rawer. Maron speculated that Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance and allowed them to occur to rally the country behind him. Maron also came close to equating born-again Christianity with fascism. When a caller urged him to show a little sensitivity, Maron replied, "Maybe I should be more sympathetic to people with organized delusions."