Bill Moyers Indicts Limbaugh, Others for 'Inciting Riots in the Public Mind'

PBS omnipresence Bill Moyers unleashed his anger at Rush Limbaugh and other conservative talk radio hosts on Friday night's Bill Moyers Journal, suggesting they "scream like martyrs being stretched on the rack" about the alleged Fairness Doctrine and they "earn millions inciting riots in the public mind." Limbaugh played a clip and responded that it was laughable that Moyers would pose as a "paragon of virtue on fairness."

MOYERS: Ronald Reagan abolished the [Fairness] doctrine in 1987, but mention it today and the Rush Limbaughs of the world still scream like martyrs being stretched on the rack. These people earn millions inciting riots in the public mind. If they were required to be fair, they would soon be penniless, out on the street, cup in hand. So when we first telecast our report on the killings in Knoxville last year, some of them threw a tantrum, as if our criticism of their malicious rhetoric was a call for government censorship.

Limbaugh replied on his Monday radio show:

That is just insane. Inciting riots in the public mind? Riots in the public mind. "If they," meaning if I, "were required to be fair, I would be penniless"? As though he sits there as a paragon of virtue on fairness? (laughing) We're watching a literal crackup! We're watching a literal crackup. You know, I don't know how long it's going to go and I don't know if it's going to be completed but when these people get their unbridled power and things still don't go right...

I mean Mr. Moyers, there's nothing I can do to stop anybody from doing anything. I can't raise their taxes. I can't send anybody off to war. I can't tell them who their doctor is going to be. I can't tell them what kind of car they have to drive. I have no power. I have zilch, zero, nada. Riots in the public mind?

Moyers insisted that while some Democrats lobby for a new "fairness doctrine," he is not one of them, and noted the two new commissioners and the new chairman of the FCC expressed opposition to it:

Conservatives nonetheless wave the fallacious threat of its return as a bloody flag, lofted above the straw men they evoke to roil the faithful and keep the cash registers ringing.

So let me say it again: the first amendment protection of a free press extends to The Savage Nation as surely as it does to The Nation magazine. Anyway, you can't coerce taste; fairness is not a doctrine to be enforced, but a choice to be made, a responsibility to be honored.

Before his concluding commentary, Moyers reran a September 2008 segment by freelance reporter Rick Karr, a former NPR reporter. Karr's story played up a murder inside a Unitarian church in Knoxville, Virginia and suggested that right-wing talk was too hot. But then Karr led the minister of that Knoxville temple of liberalism to compare American talk radio to the kind of radio that urged Hutus to mass-murder the Tutsis in Rwanda:

RICK KARR: Muslims are some of Boortz's favorite targets.

NEAL BOORTZ: It's Ramadan and Muslims in your workplace might be offended if they see you eating at your desk. Why? I guess it's because Muslims don't eat during the day during Ramadan. They fast during the day and eat at night. Sort of like cockroaches.

RICK KARR: Reverend Chris Buice says he's heard that kind of language before.

REV. CHRIS BUICE: If you look at the history of like - situations like in Rwanda in 1994, the talk radio was a big part of leading to the conditions that created a genocide. The Hutu radio disc jockeys would call the Tutsi cockroaches. There's the sense that these aren't human beings. You know, they're not human beings with children or grandchildren. These are cockroaches. And when you hear in talk radio that liberals are evil, that they are traitors, that they are godless, that they are on the side of the terrorist- that's hate language. You don't negotiate with evil people. You don't live in community with people you consider to be traitors.

Moyers played up that he wasn't really saying that the words of a Savage or a Limbaugh were leading to violence. But then he played his rerun of Karr, underlining how conservative hosts are like the precursors to the tribal mass murders in Rwanda. Conservatives are surely not the only ones to flood the airwaves with outrage.

- Tim Graham is Director of Media Analysis at the Media Research Center.