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When do political attacks go too far?

Twenty years ago, radio in Michigan was dominated by WJR-AM, which had the strongest signal around. You could get it nearly anywhere in the state. The station’s signature personality was the legendary J.P. McCarthy, who was an amazing interviewer.

Politically, I suspect he was conservative, but it was hard to tell; he interviewed politicians of all flavors with decency, courtesy and wit. But then, J.P. suddenly died.

Today, he has been succeeded by the sort of ideological slashers who have given talk radio a bad name.

Yesterday, both major party candidates for governor went on that station’s morning show, which is hosted by Frank Beckmann, a former football announcer who has flirted with running for office, and does not even pretend to be nonpartisan.

Noting that Mark Schauer believes that same-sex marriage should be a right, Beckmann then repeatedly asked whether that meant he should be allowed to marry his own daughter.

To his credit, Schauer said he would refuse to dignify that question with an answer, and said, correctly, that the question was an “insult to committed, loving, same-sex couples.”

Frankly, I was puzzled as to why Schauer went on the show in the first place. Beckmann is neither interested in fairness nor, apparently, the facts. Two years ago, he considered running for the GOP nomination to challenge Debbie Stabenow, but said he decided not to do it because he did not want to register as a Republican.

That’s interesting, because he apparently isn’t aware that even Dave Agema and Terri Lynn Land aren’t registered as Republicans.

Michigan doesn’t have voter registration by party. The best thing that could possibly happen now would be for Gov. Rick Snyder to denounce these tasteless tactics, and for both parties to boycott this show and the station until they get an apology.

But in today’s world of partisan politics, don’t look for that to happen. Liberals aren’t innocent of bad behavior themselves. Ben Glardon is a Republican state representative from Owosso who had a party at his home for his daughter and other teenagers and their parents after a high school homecoming dance.

Examples like these are why fewer and fewer decent and honest citizens want anything to do with politics, or the media.

That seems to me like a smart thing to do, especially if it helped prevent the kids from getting drunk and wrapping their cars around trees. There was no alcohol available to the minors at the Glardon home. But that didn’t stop a group called Blogging for Michigan from posting a scurrilous and lurid account of the party on Facebook, under the headline: “Rape Insurance Up to Date?

“Party at Ben Glardon’s house!”

Glardon’s Democratic opponent said she knew nothing about the post, but that isn’t enough either; she needs to denounce it in the strongest possible terms. These two examples really aren’t about politics, but about culture and civilization.

Examples like these are why fewer and fewer decent and honest citizens want anything to do with politics, or the media. More than 20 years ago, Carl Bernstein of Watergate fame wrote about this in a brilliant essay called “The Idiot Culture.”

Today’s media, he said, is helping to turn our political and social discourse into a sewer. I think that if you don’t believe this is a problem, that may be the biggest problem of all.      

Jack Lessenberry is Michigan Radio’s political analyst. Views expressed in the essays by Lessenberry are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of Michigan Radio, its management or the station licensee, The University of Michigan.


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