In the weeks following the election, the debate over the issue of media bias, and of whether the press was overly kind to Barack Obama, has continued to swirl. Much less attention has been paid to another, more troubling aspect of the coverage, and that’s the relentless and malevolent campaign that the right-wing media waged against the Democratic candidate. Few people who did not regularly tune in to the vast, churning combine of bellowing radio hosts, yapping bloggers, obnoxious Web sites, malicious columnists, and the slashingly partisan Fox News have any idea of just how vile and venomous were the attacks leveled at Obama. Day after day, week after week, these outlets worked determinedly to discredit and degrade Obama, accusing him of being a Muslim, a Marxist, a radical, a revolutionary, a socialist, a communist, a thug, a mobster, a racist, an agent of voter fraud, a black-power advocate, a madrasah graduate, an anti-Semite, an enemy of Israel, an associate of terrorists—even the Antichrist. Supplemented by a flood of viral e-mails, slanderous robocalls, and Internet-based smear campaigns, these media outlets worked to stoke firestorms of manufactured rage against Obama and the Democrats in what was perhaps the most concerted campaign of vilification ever directed at an American politician.
In light of Obama’s victory, one might be tempted to let it all pass. That would be a mistake. For the effects of that campaign remain with us. What’s more, the campaign itself is still going on.
Any inventory of the right’s media bombast must begin with talk radio. In reach and rancor, it had no equal. Leading the way was Rush Limbaugh. An estimated fourteen to twenty million people tune in to his show every week, and he treated them to nonstop character assassination, calling the Democratic candidate the Messiah, a revolutionary socialist, a liar, “Osama Obama,” a man with a “perverted mind” who wants to destroy America and the middle class, a front man for terrorists who wants to turn the country into a version of Castro’s Cuba or Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. According to Michael Savage (eight million listeners), “Barack Madrasah Obama” was “hand-picked by some very powerful forces both within and outside the United States of America to drag this country into a hell that it has not seen since the Civil War.” Laura Ingraham (5.5 million listeners) spent her nights fuming over Chavez, Ahmadinejad, Hamas, Hezbollah, Ayers, Wright, ACORN, and, in the campaign’s final days, the “racist-terrorist” Rashid Khalidi. She urged listeners to call a toll-free number with any information they might have about the “terrorist party tape” that showed Obama at an event honoring the Palestinian professor.
The noxious clouds emitted by these national windbags were further fed by gassy eruptions from scores of local and regional radio hosts. As documented in a recent report by the group Media Matters, these hosts harped on the notion that Obama is a Muslim whose true loyalties lay outside the United States. “Let’s ask Obama how many prayer rugs he has,” sneered Neal Boortz of Atlanta. “Gunny” Bob Newman of Denver called Obama a “blowhard, make-believe thug” and a “far-left terrorist-hugging politician” whose election would lead to “an invasion of Muslim terrorists.” Cincinnati’s Bill Cunningham stated that Obama wants to “gas the Jews,” while Minneapolis’s Chris Baker called him a “little bitch” who “won’t even stand up to a smoking-hot chick from Alaska.”
The vitriol circulating in the blogosphere was no less extreme. “Terrorist Bill Ayers Votes in Obama’s Neighborhood,” proclaimed the endlessly strident Michelle Malkin on her site on Election Day. Nearby, she offered a helpful link on Ayers’s “relationship to Cuban intelligence.” Obama’s message, said the mephitic Monica Crowley, “is a thoroughly negative one: America stinks, the economy stinks, Iraq stinks, our efforts around the world stink, coal stinks, wealth stinks, plumbers stink, conservatives stink, religion stinks . . . .” But “confiscatory taxes, socialism, domestic terrorists, anti-American racist rants, and convicted felons are swell, apparently.” Ayers and Khalidi, insisted the hardcore Hugh Hewitt, were not simply associates of Obama’s but actual advisers. Far-right Web sites like World Net Daily and Newsmax.com floated all kinds of specious stories about Obama that quickly careened around the blogosphere and onto talk radio. One particular favorite was the claim that Bill Ayers ghost-wrote Dreams From My Father.