LaHood blames drop in civility on hosts of radio, cable shows
Wednesday, September 23, 2009 3:00 AM
By Joe Hallett
THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH
A Republican member of President Barack Obama's cabinet blistered conservative talk-radio hosts and cable-television news yesterday, saying they have eroded civility and impeded the nation's ability to solve big problems.
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood told The Dispatch that the level of "harsh discourse in Washington has probably reached an all-time high," and he partly blamed it on "all of this trash talk about the process and about politicians 24/7" on cable television and talk radio.
LaHood referred to criticism Obama received for appearing Sunday on five television news shows to promote his health-care overhaul. The secretary also indicated that even the president's bully pulpit is no match for the cacophony over the airwaves from the political right.
"He can't even compete with all this stuff that people are saying about him, so the idea that he did five interviews on Sunday, that's just minuscule compared to the kind of trash talk that goes on all week prior to that," LaHood said.
"All of this background, all of this trash talk in the background, it does not contribute to civil discourse, and it does not contribute to the government or the country's ability to solve big issues."
LaHood made his comments while in town to tout the benefits for Ohio of the federal economic-stimulus bill. LaHood, a former 14-year member of the U.S. House from Peoria, Ill., is one of two Republicans serving in Obama's cabinet. (Defense Secretary Robert Gates is the other.)
A moderate known for his ability to get along with both parties in Congress, LaHood was chosen to preside over the 1998 House impeachment vote of then-President Bill Clinton, and he voted to impeach.
LaHood is the second high-ranking Republican in the past dozen days to decry the influence of conservative talk-show hosts on civil political discourse.
On Sept. 11, retired longtime Ohio GOP Chairman Robert T. Bennett told the state party's governing board that the party should stand up against "some of our talking heads" who led the opposition to Obama's televised speech to schoolchildren or risk "losing the battle with middle America."
Bennett singled out Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck. Yesterday, LaHood named them and Fox News commentator Sean Hannity for diminishing civility. In the rural central-Illinois congressional district LaHood used to represent, he said, Beck, Limbaugh and Hannity dominate the daytime airwaves.
"Now, when you get farmers picking their corn and beans, driving around in their (tractor) cabs listening to, from 9 to 3, these guys all revved up against Obama, against everything that he's trying to accomplish, that gets people stirred up. They're making an enormous amount of money by trashing politicians and trashing the process."
Referring to cable TV news shows, LaHood said, "Look, you know as well as I do that there's not enough news for 24 hours, so what happens is that these channels keep repeating politicians yelling at one another or people that are all exercised, and that gets people all revved up.
"And it also gives the idea that maybe these politicians don't know what they're doing."
Asked whether he envisions any changes in the media that might reverse the trend of incivility, LaHood replied, "In a word, no. Unless the people decide that the way, you know, (is) to shut it off, turn it off."
"They're making an enormous amount of money by trashing politicians and trashing the process."