The gray area

My car’s radio buttons are set to talk stations. I can’t find a music station I like, and my CD player won’t work and I’ve been too cheap to fix it. So I subject myself to the only emotions that seem to be permitted on talk radio: anger, hatred, self-righteousness. You know what I do for fun driving around in the afternoon? I click back and forth between conservative Sean Hannity on KABC-790 and liberal Ed Schultz on KTLK-1150 and try to find something they agree on. There is only one: Each thinks the other side is pure evil.

Which is why it’s been such a pleasant experience bumping into Doug McIntyre, a disaffected Republican who is the 6-to-9 a.m. host at KABC, a station that boasts it offers “talk radio with passion,” code for right-wing theocracy. KABC gives you the psychotically populist Bill O’Reilly; Hannity, whose rants against liberalism are as artful as professional wrestling; Al Rantel, who baits and insults any lefty dumb enough to come on the show as a caller or guest, and Larry Elder, who was once a provocative libertarian but now spends most of his time blaming the media for President Bush’s failings. Leftist KTLK gives you the same superficial experience from the other side, with the exception of humorist Stephanie Miller.

Against this backdrop I started listening to McIntyre a couple months ago. McIntyre can play populist-ranter with the best of them; his anger at President Bush’s innaction on immigration is unmistakably real. (McIntyre, who says he voted for Bush twice, issued a profuse apology for his vote in May, suggesting historians will view Bush as one of the worst presidents ever.) He has also been feuding with the concept of ethnic-oriented charter schools, speaking harshly enough to generate charges of being a “hater.”

But McIntyre also has the ability to be civil, humble and amused by life, and to acknowledge its complexity. When he opened his show this morning by talking about doctored news photos from Lebanon transmitted by Reuters, he did it through rap about “the mechanics of how terrorists become heroes.” He recalled a romantic old movie about the founding of Reuters. He talked about the pressure of journalism. (“Almost everything is wrong—and that’s when you’re trying to get it right.”)

He talked about conservatives blame the media for being reflexively liberal, and how liberals blame the media for being chained to a “corporate agenda,” and acknowledged you could make a case either way. But the real lesson, McIntyre said, is that “the burden that you put on editors to run a clean shop is enormous.”

A couple days before that, McIntyre spoke angrily of the waste of American lives in Iraq but confessed the alternative of simply pulling troops out daunted him. “In my personal opinion Iraq is a smoldering mess and the chances of losing it are unthinkable….We don’t have control of the capitol….Iraq is a bubbling mess and I don’t know what we‘re gonna do about that. It’s above my pay grade.”

A couple days before that, he explained his fear of unchecked immigration like this: “You cannot continue to run America by importing enormous numbers of the poorest of the poor while you put more and more pressure on [the] affluent [to pay for government services]. You can’t continue to exponentially increase that number and have anything left over. It’s not sustainable.” He mocked a local politician: “Here I am cutting a [park] ribbon. There we are dealing with all the important issues like Pepsi machines on high school campuses.

"I don’t care about the peripheral stuff," he says. "We gotta put the donkeys and the elephants to the side for a while.”

He admires the Democrats of Connecticut for voting against Joe Lieberman Tuesday because “at least they voted on a principlel…What I like is that this election mattered….I wish that we could do that here. We actually have a Republican Party here in California. We’re hard-pressed to tell…it’s that dead. It’s in a shallow grave somewhere."

But here’s what glues me to McIntire’s side. It is 6:44 a.m. this morning and he comes back from a commercial break with a little-known Ray Charles song about the Cold War from the mid-60s that neither Sean Hannity or Al Fraken would be hip enough or honest enough to ever play: “Sad and lonely all the time/that’s because I got a worried mind/You know the world is in an uproar/The danger zone is everywhere….everywhere.”

Everywhere. Not just on the other guy’s side.

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