Thursday, March 04, 2004

What Took 'Em So Long?

My friends have long known that I listen to Howard Stern in the morning. I find it necessary to temper the seriousness of public radio with the Stern's unique mix of freaks, lesbians, crassness, and astute interview skills. When he's on top of his game, Stern is the best in his craft. Stern's also at his best when he plays the role of the wounded everyman, railing against slights both real and perceived.

Which makes the past three weeks sort of a renaissance for Stern and company. It began with Howard commenting on the news that his longtime assistant producer/sidekick "Stuttering John" Melendez had been hired as the new announcer of "The Tonight Show." Stern spent the better portion of that week criticizing Jay Leno for being "creatively bankrupt" and needing to hire Melendez in order to bring in the coveted 18-35 male demographic that flocks to David Letterman's "Late Show" and "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart."

The tirade against Leno seemed like a tune-up to his current battle with Clear Channel Entertainment, the radio conglomerate that has a kung-fu grip on the radio and concert industries. Clear Channel dropped Stern's show from six of its stations on February 26th, citing a change of broadcasting policy in the wake of Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the Super Bowl halftime show and the flap it stirred.

Liberal pundits theorized whether Clear Channel dropped Stern's show after Stern's change-of-tune on his support of the Bush administration. A staunch advocate of the war in Iraq, Stern criticized Bush after the President announced his intention of introducing a Constitutional amendment outlawing gay marriage. It is only in the past two days that Stern has joined the chorus and touted this angle, as pointed out in today's Salon column by Eric Boehlert (you might have to get a Premium day pass from Salon in order to read the story.) Not only has Stern banging the drum loudly, he's done his homework, as well. Stern has been relentless in pointing out the connections between the Bush administration, Clear Channel CEO Lowry Mays, and Clear Channel board member Tom Hicks- who, incidentally purchased baseball's Texas Rangers from a ownership group headed by Bush.

The loss of six stations in Stern's "stolen police vehicle recovery network" will not hurt him financially. What Stern is rallying against is the censure of his right to free speech, which Clear Channel is cloaking under the guise of business. For all his crassness and base behavior on air, Howard Stern is one of the fiercest defenders of civil liberties in the country. With a loyal national audience of over twenty million people hanging on his every word, Stern has an influence that is undeniable, as evidenced by a hit movie, two best-selling books, and a legitimate third-party candidacy for the Governorship of the state of New York (Stern resigned his candidacy when he refused to disclose his personal finances.) Conservatives are rightfully worried that Stern may use his bully pulpit to sway voters away from Bush.

Another former Bush supporter who has changed stripes is gay conservative columnist Andrew Sullivan. Sullivan wrote a well-thought out post chastising the President for his aforementioned stance on same-sex unions and Sullivan's intent to pull his support of Bush this year.

Sullivan's one of the few moderate/conservative pundits I have the stomach to read- his arguments are well rationalized and he gives liberals reasonable room for debate and to prove him wrong- but his staunch support of the Bush administration the past three years confounded me. The Justice Department has arrested and detained hundreds of people under the patriot Act. We incited a war against a country whose dictator we had reasonably in check, using a preemptive strike argument that has been proven irrevocably to be false, and now we're stuck in that same country with no concrete plan to turn its governing over to its own people. Only now is Sullivan changing his tune because the President is encroaching on his civil rights.

While I don't doubt the sincerity of Sullivan's convictions, I find it hard to believe that he couldn't see an administration so deeply indebted to the religious right would not turn its eye on "immoral" behavior such as homosexuality.

Oh, well. Better late than never.

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