“If The Talk Hosts Don't Influence Anybody, Why Do They Keep Talking?”

As we consider violent rhetoric and the role it may play in violent acts, it's worth remembering that we've been here before -- all too often -- and that previous discussions of the topic contained some points worth keeping in mind. In the aftermath of the Oklahoma City bombing, for example, Robert Laurence wrote in the May 1, 1995 edition of the San Diego Union-Tribune:

[G. Gordon] Liddy, a convicted Watergate felon who has found a home in the broadcast industry, last Tuesday advised listeners that during a raid by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, one should shoot at their heads because their bodies will be covered by bulletproof vests.

If a shot to the head misses, Liddy went on, “then shoot to the groin area.” Having encouraged such craziness, talk show emcees then piously distance themselves from the predictable results of their work and pretend to be shocked.

They are like the presidents of tobacco companies who spend countless millions advertising their products, then claim that their ads don't encourage people to smoke.

If the talk hosts don't influence anybody, why do they keep talking?

Though Liddy himself insisted he wasn't “fueling the lunatic fringe,” he, too, made the point that the purpose of his rhetoric was to persuade people, as Howard Kurtz noted in the April 26, 1995 edition of the Washington Post:

During an on-air news conference at WJFK-FM in Fairfax, the onetime FBI agent stuck to his rhetorical guns, saying talk radio is in no way responsible for the climate that led to last week's bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.

“I don't believe I'm fueling the lunatic fringe,” Liddy said.

The assembled reporters asked Liddy several times whether he felt any need to soften his rhetoric in the wake of Oklahoma City. He did not seize the opportunity.

“Rhetoric means persuasive speech,” Liddy said. “It is perfectly within the job of a talk show host to use persuasive speech.”