Listen to political discussion on AM radio and you will usually find an ideological range all the way from the right wing to, well, a little further to the right. Last week, Rush Limbaugh called the United Nations an organization of "tinhorn, despot thugs" and "worthless little creeps." Sean Hannity led a merry attack on a black New York City councilman, featuring one caller calling the councilor a poverty pimp.
If you prefer your fanaticism with a more homespun Hoosier flavor, listen to Greg Garrison, who spent part of last week chuckling along with a conservative pundit who actually complained that Orrin Hatch was too conciliatory to the evil liberals. All took plenty of time to vigorously advocate that other people die in an Iraqi war.
But if it seems your radio dial will not turn any direction but to the extreme right, try tuning in to "The Bottom Line" on WTLC 1310 AM next time you're in Indianapolis.
During one show last week, host Willie Frank Middlebrook mocked the idea that a U.S. invasion would be in the interests of the Iraqi people. "We are going to free these people by bombing them to smithereens?" he asked. Middlebrook points out that only one member of Congress has a child in the enlisted ranks of the armed forces, and that our tough-talking president isn't sending his daughters over to fight the war, either.
Middlebrook's guest, former Indianapolis Peace and Justice Center President Keni Washington, said our foreign policy problems are due in part to George W. Bush not possessing adequate verbal skills to negotiate with other world leaders. Middlebrook quickly agreed. "We're in a runaway wagon, and the village idiot is holding the reins," he shouted.
The topic turned to Bush's request that the Supreme Court strike down affirmative action in university admission policies. In his downtown Radio One studio, Middlebrook, a South Bend native with an Indiana University education degree, violently crumpled up a piece of paper, hurled it against the studio wall and pointed toward his producer. "Ask the man who talks about special admission favors about getting in a university because his daddy gave them a bunch of money," he yelled, sweat beading on his brow. "Ask George the Younger - the C student at Yale - about that one!"
Similarly energetic on-air appraisals were given of the criminal justice system ("a tornado of racism"), the Israel-Palestine struggle ("the Israelis stole their land, provoke them every day and when Palestinians retaliate we call it terrorism") and the U.S. economy ("Talk with some of the folks struggling out there. We are heading toward something that will make 1930 look like a picnic.").
Decidedly not milquetoast
Since the Republican sweep of the national fall elections, there has been talk of recruiting liberal alternatives to Rush Limbaugh and his many imitators. The trick, apparently, is to be as aggressive as the ultra-conservatives. "Most liberal talk show hosts are so, you know, milquetoast, who would want to listen to them?" Hollywood producer and longtime Bill Clinton ally Harry Thomason told The New York Times. "Conservatives are all fire and brimstone."
Thomason may want to be careful what he asks for. The Bottom Line is liberal all right, and decidedly not milquetoast. But it's also a black thing, and white listeners had better try to understand. "I had a white fellow call me up and say, 'Why don't you stop with that race talk, Willie? We are all equal now,'" Middlebrook says. "Well, that's easy to say when you are on top."
Middlebrook insists that African-Americans are naïve to rely on the benevolence of whites ("It's up to us to save us, the cavalry ain't coming" is a favorite on-air saying). As for white people, he says more need to realize that $600 billion tax cuts and war plans aren't benefiting most of us, either. "The good white folks got to get out of the bleachers and into the game. Because George W. Bush and the Republicans aren't helping anyone but the ones at the very top of the economic ladder."
Middlebrook's passion is no on-air act. During commercial breaks and at community meetings, Middlebrook still talks the talk, sometimes with a little saltier language. ("Saddam has been doing the same things for years," he says after the show. "He only became a tyrant to the U.S. when he stopped kissing our ass.") Every day, Middlebrook goes home to an answering machine filled with messages from listeners, often ex-felons, pleading for help finding a job.
As usual, the show, which airs from 4 to 6 p.m. weekdays, closes with the station's taped disclaimer that the views expressed on The Bottom Line don't necessarily reflect those of the WTLC management. Then, to clear up any confusion left by such a milquetoast equivocation, Middlebrook's voice loudly cuts in.
"But if you disagree with me," he says, "you're probably wrong anyway!"
Fran Quigley is a contributing editor to NUVO, where this article originally appeared - ....