By Holland Cooke
BLOCK ISLAND, RI — Michael Bloomberg left abruptly, indignant. In 1990, he and my boss and I met in a small conference room in his New York radio station to discuss integrating his content assets in a media venture we were plotting. Three techie-nerd partners and I – d/b/a FliteCom Systems, Inc. – were scheming to deliver live audio, via satellite, to airline passengers, a first.
Seems quaint now, with Wi-Fi up there. But back then, after the Berlin Wall fell, we were a “Peace Dividend,” as the antenna we developed repurposed technology that was in the nose of the Patriot Missile. No lie. We merged into then-prosperous Gannett and our USA Today Sky Radio was installed on 453 Delta, Northwest, and United Airlines 737s, 757s, 767s, and A320s.
But Mike would have none of it, because the price of admission to those aircraft was the airlines’ insistence that we embargo news coverage of airline crashes. Their rationale: What can passengers DO with this information other than freak out?
Think how often we’ve spoken of how life changed “post-911.” The most immediate – and encouraging – way was the unity we felt, as Americans, if only for a while.
Defining moments like these are generational. On November 22, 1963, our junior high school principal didn’t make an announcement on the PA system. Only later that afternoon, on the school bus, did I learn that President Kennedy had been shot. The school bus was social media. And we’ll always remember where we were on 9/11 (pulling into the parking lot at client WINA, Charlottesville). Many of our men and women now in uniform weren’t yet born on 9/11; but we all now share 01/06.
Flying as much as consultants do, I immediately called home on 9/11 to tell my parents I was not aboard those fateful flights. And I asked my Mom, who was age 20 on Pearl Harbor Day: “How does today compare?” And without hesitation, she said “This is much worse. On Pearl Harbor Day, we knew who attacked us.” And we knew who attacked us on January 6. And they didn’t even have to penetrate the border.
We didn’t get here overnight
Sarah Palin’s map put crosshairs over Gabriele Giffords’ congressional district. Candidate Trump boasted that he could “shoot someone in the middle of Fifth Avenue;” and he told rally attendees roughing-up a protester, “I’ll pay for your lawyer!”
Though space here doesn’t permit a catalogue of all the careless crap we’ve heard in recent years, the deadly riot last month at the U.S. Capitol demonstrates what both sides in our national shouting match holler at each other: Words have consequences. What we put on-the-air ends up in-the-air.
DHS is monitoring domestic threat chatter “fueled by false narratives;” and infers that January 6 emboldened wackos who walk among us. The FBI nabbed heavily armed, camouflaged Michiganders plotting to kidnap and assassinate their governor, because of pandemic protocols. As with foreign terrorists, THEY only need to get-it-right once, WE need to get-it-right every time.
Post-9/11, a faceless enemy united us. On January 6, faces all-too-familiar demonstrated how divided we are. What happened in between? Among other things, overstatement in talk media. As Michael Harrison puts it, “victory, at the expense of truth.” The virus doesn’t care about politics, but one side has demonized Dr. Fauci.
Sometimes the right thing happens for the wrong reason
With billion-dollar-plus lawsuits, voting system companies have clammed-up some of the louder loudmouths’ “stolen election” malarkey. Should it take that?
Yes, do ask callers “Do YOU feel comfortable that YOUR vote was counted?” And if they don’t, ask their suggestions for fixing what’s broken. Hard righties in talk media AND Michael Moore preach the same solution: Get involved in the process. Got problems with what school kids are being taught? Run for school committee.
Solutions? What a concept. Otherwise, we risk abusing radio’s power of repetition by simply stoking resentment. What can they do with that narrative, other than freak out? We’re all on this flight together. Argue with the pilot when the plane has landed.
Holland Cooke is the author of the E-book “Multiply Your Podcast Subscribers, Without Buying Clicks,” available from Talkers books (click the banner on this page). He is a consultant working at the intersection of broadcasting and the Internet. And HC hosts “The Big Picture” TV show Friday nights at 7ET on RT America. Follow HC on Twitter @HollandCooke