the cold, blustery weekend after Thanksgiving 2003, north Florida
AM radio firebrand
and political activist Andy "Down to Business" Johnson made a
rare appearance on the cable news circuit. The venue was Fox News'
"From the Heartland", hosted by former Congressman John Kasich
[R-OH]. Kasich brought together outspoken Iraqi war opponent Johnson
and syndicated conservative radio wunderkind Ben Ferguson to discuss
the merits of President George W. Bush's morale-boosting trip
to Iraq earlier in the week.
familiar with Fox News and its "fair and balanced" style of debate
won't be surprised to hear that Johnson found himself at the mercy
of many disparate elements [technical problems exclusive to Johnson's
mike, for example]. At this point, only a fool would expect anything
better from Rupert Murdoch's Aussie-owned mouthpiece for American
neoconservatism. But Johnson claims the experience was slanted
even beyond reasonable expectation.
the modulation of his volume throughout the segment, Johnson said
the following. "I truly do not know whether the volume was merely
a matter of stupidity and incompetence or whether it is part of
the general plan to terrorize the folks who disagree with the
host [or] anyone who is not in agreement with the Fox position.
I think I was cut off once due to technical problems and 2 or
3 [other] times because they did not want to hear what I had to
problems, like plane crashes and celebrity show trials, are a
centerpiece of both Fox News and the stateside political culture
it nurtures. Yet Johnson claims that Fox stooped far lower than
mere techie trickery in its efforts to engender cognitive dissonance
on his end.
never got a clear indication from Fox on what would be the topic
of discussion. As late as one hour before the show, the folks
in D.C. told me it would probably be about Medicare." Johnson,
a veteran media hand and former member of the Florida legislature,
knew better than to believe that.
ten minutes before my segment, they took me in to do make-up and
to [sit] in front of a camera. At no point was I able to see or
hear a monitor. During the last ten minutes they turned on my
headset for a moment to let me hear a little of the Michael Jackson
stuff, making me think I was probably about to be asked about
Michael Jackson, causing me to waste the last few minutes mulling
over what might there be useful or constructive or worthwhile
or timely for anyone to say about Jackson, devoting none of that
time to mulling over the Bush trip to Iraq," Johnson added.
Michael Jackson was the least of Johnson's problems. It was as
if the talk jock had been hit by a smooth criminal. There were
teasers for his spot interlaced throughout earlier segments of
"From the Heartland" that Johnson fairly describes as "brutal".
Johnson's headset, worn so that he could hear the debate in which
he was engaged, cut in and out as if shorted. But apparently feeling
that the deck wasn't stacked quite enough, Fox had a few more
trick plays to call.
was absolutely astonished to find out that Fox, apparently, does
not normally let people with opposing views have access to a monitor
prior to or during these segments. But it appears that folks with
views which are Fox views do get access to monitors before and
during these segments. They own the network. They have the legal
right to be as unfair as they choose. But it is amazing that they
go on and on about "fair and balanced," and yet, even thirty seconds
out, chose not to tell me what would be the topic."
balanced, and unafraid, goes the slogan. In defense of Fox, Johnson
cites the "Heartland" booking agent claiming days before the taping
that "you never know" what the topic will be. And if nothing else,
Johnson made a worthwhile enemy for his troubles.
the end of the show, Kasich and Geraldo Rivera [host of the show
just after "Heartland"] saw fit to discuss the erstwhile Congressman's
guest. "There was some additional exchange between the host and
Geraldo where the two of them made some comments about how they
just could not believe the [audacity of what I'd said]. I do very
much consider it a mark of distinction, something for which I
can be proud, if, in fact, Geraldo saw fit to ridicule me on national
TV." The mark of a resilient man: someone who can find a silver
lining in a psy-op.
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the author of Unfortunate
Incidents, writes for The American Conservative, CounterPunch,
and LewRockwell.com. His web journalism was recognized by
Utne Reader Online as "Best of the Web." A writer for the
local Folio Weekly, he lives in Jacksonville, Florida.