clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:


One radio talk show host once advised people to shoot at the head if attacked by federal agents wearing bulletproof vests. Another used to spice his show with the sound of a gun being cocked.

The raw edges of talk radio have been drawn into the center of a debate over anger and extremism in America, with suggestions by President Clinton that rhetoric on the airwaves may be feeding violence.On Monday, Clinton pointed at a body of critics who have been wagging their fingers at him. His attack on those in society who get people "torn up and upset" had talk radio talking indignantly about itself.

Clinton didn't name names or cite groups, with one aide saying the president was referring to "public discourse" in general. But some conservative talk show hosts recoiled at the apparent implication they might have contributed to a mood that spurred Wednesday's Oklahoma City bombing.

"Yes, I am upset," Oliver North fumed on his Washington talk show on WWRC. "The blame game is under way."

North continued his attack on Clinton Tuesday, saying, "I think he's dead wrong." North told NBC's "Today" the bombers were "a fringe element that is always going to be out there. They're not encouraged by talk show hosts."

Rush Limbaugh told listeners: "Liberals intend to use this tragedy for their own gain."

Critics don't accuse Limbaugh, one of the most popular radio figures in the country, of inciting listeners to violence. But they say his show's daily drumbeat of disenchantment with the government may affect unstable people.

"There are angry people listening to him," said Brian Keliher, who publishes the Flush Rush Quarterly from San Diego, an anti-Limbaugh newsletter. "Rush fires people up."

Hosts hired to be provocative are at work across the country.

Bob Grant on WABC in New York once told a listener fed up with criminals to "get a gun and do something," ridiculed a caller's accent and said, "Get off my phone, you creep, we don't need the toilets cleaned right now."

The Federal Communications Commission looked at a complaint against talk show host G. Gordon Liddy but decided in January not to take action.

Liddy, broadcasting from Virginia-based studios of WJFK, counseled "head shots, head shots" for someone who has an encounter with agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms because "they've got a vest underneath."

He said later he wasn't encouraging people to hunt agents but saying that if an agent comes at someone with deadly force, "you should defend yourself and your rights with deadly force."