Wednesday, November 16, 2005

GOP Senate Keeps American Forces Network Unfair and Unbalanced

Among the many Democrat-sponsored amendments shot down by the GOP-dominated Senate so far in November was one a week ago from Tom Harkin (D-IA) that would have promoted programming balance on the American Forces Radio Network.

On a straight party-line vote last week, Senate Republicans voted down a bill 54-44 that would have established an ombudsman function to monitor the American Forces Network, based on its current content of almost 100 percent conservative programming, including Rush Limbaugh.

"This amendment, offered by me, Senator [Byron] Dorgan, and a number of others, addresses the problem of the extreme imbalance of political programming on American Forces Radio," said Harkin when introducing his bill. "The programming offered by American Forces Radio is anything but balanced. Instead, American Forces Radio carries the shows of noted conservatives such as Rush Limbaugh, Dr. Laura Schlesinger, and James Dobson, to the near total exclusion of any progressive talk radio hosts."

Harkin pointed out while arguing on the Senate floor that, of all the American Forces Radio outlets around the world, most offer at least 85 percent conservative programming, while many offer only the right-wing viewpoint.

"On the 33 stations around the world, we have 100 percent Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura and James Dobson, and zero percent of any kind of progressive radio," said Harkin. "I don't care how you cut it, slice it, dice it, or excuse it, this is unfair. This is censorship. This is propagandizing our troops. They deserve better than that."

Harkin also commented on Rush Limbaugh's many public tirades about the legislation in which he insisted that Harkin's amendment was intended to remove his show from American Forces Radio entirely and to censor his point of view.

"Typical of Rush Limbaugh. He doesn't understand what is happening," said Harkin. "He wouldn't know the truth if it hit him in the face. All I'm asking for is balance on taxpayer-funded radio. What Rush Limbaugh wants is monopoly. To him, to have someone oppose him and get equal time might be the same as, in his mind, taking him off the air. That is probably the way he thinks."

On the Republican side of the aisle, Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) fought the Harkin amendment tooth and nail claiming that, because the American Forces Network runs National Public Radio (NPR) for mainstream news items, balance is provided to the likes of Limbaugh and James Dobson.

Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND), a cosponsor of the Harkin bill, blasted Inhofe over that assertion.

"My colleague from Oklahoma says 'Well, Rush Limbaugh is balanced by National Public Radio.' How one could actually make that assertion without openly laughing is hard for me to understand," said Dorgan. "That surely must be a joke. NPR does not counterbalance right-wing talk. National Public Radio, if there is something in this country that is fair and balanced -- NPR is not about political programming on the right or the left."

"What he [Limbaugh] does is, he relentlessly kicks the living daylights out of the opposite party. Is that found on NPR?" Dorgan continued. "The implication and the suggestion on the Senate floor and elsewhere that NPR is some sort of left-wing political show is absolute rubbish. I am sorry. It is absolute nonsense. I am so tired of hearing it."

None of this helped in the end as the bill, an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Bill for 2006, had every single Republican lined up against it.

Inhofe then offered a totally neutered version of the amendment that would allow the Defense Department to hire an ombudsman to monitor programming, but his language was nonbinding, meaning it didn't have the force of law and didn't require any Pentagon action at all.

That amendment passed 55-43.

But it was Harkin who truly pointed out the dangers of our military personnel hearing such a one-sided view of current events from the likes of Rush Limbaugh.

"Here is what Rush Limbaugh had to say about Abu Ghraib: He called it -- these are his words, not mine – 'a fraternity prank.' He likened it to a fraternity prank. He dubbed the humiliation of inmates 'a brilliant maneuver, no different than what happens at the skull and bones initiation at Yale.' This is Rush Limbaugh talking about Abu Ghraib. He described the images of torture as 'pictures of homoerotism that looked like standard, good-old American pornography.' That is Rush Limbaugh talking to our troops 100 percent of the time. He said of the pictures at Abu Ghraib -- this is a quote from Rush Limbaugh – 'if you take these pictures and bring them back and have them taken in an American city and put on an American Web site, they might win a video award from the pornography industry.'"

"I ask, does this represent the views and attitudes of the average American citizen?" " demanded Harkin. "Maybe Vice President Cheney and Rush Limbaugh feel that way, but I don't think too many other Americans do."