Air America: Burning churches in the village of Middle America

RandiRhodesShow10bVeteran media critic David Shaw of the Los Angeles Times forced himself to listen to a full cycle of Air America the other day and he decided that the big news is how the liberal talk-radio franchise handles — religion. Well, that and sex. You may have noticed, however, that issues of sexual morality often play a major role in religion news reports these days.

Shaw said that he expected “my fellow liberals” to offer up huge doses of “paranoia and conspiratorial idiocy to match the conservative paranoia and conspiratorial idiocy that Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity and their ilk have used to turn talk radio into a powerful forum that liberals now blame for every social and political malady this side of tooth decay.”

But what caught Shaw off guard was that Al Franken, Janeane Garofalo, Randi Rhodes (shown with Rep. Robert Wexler, D-Fla.) and the other Air America stars seem so anxious to run away all listeners who do not already agree with them. It also didn’t help, he said, that the shows provided few laughs — other than predictable sex jokes that would appeal to people who hate every person who works in the current White House. Shaw notes:

… Conservatives turned talk radio into their medium in large measure because many people who considered themselves conservatives felt that their interests and their values were either ignored or denigrated by a liberal mainstream media. One recent poll showed that only 19% of the American public now identify themselves as liberal. That means that if a liberal network wants to be successful, politically or economically, it must also convert a significant number of the 39% of the public that the poll said considers itself moderate.

And this brings us, of course, to the same issue that is haunting the modern Democratic Party — the pew gap. Shaw notes that it makes little sense to crudely bash away at the religious beliefs of middle America, if the goal is to win those same people’s hearts away from the clutches of evil conservatives. Yet the Air America hosts seemed determined to trash traditional religious believers whenever possible, even on Good Friday — the most solemn day on the Christian calendar.

Two of the hosts gratuitously announced that they’re Jewish, and one — Marc Maron [right] of the network’s “Morning Sedition” program — went on to make fun of Easter and Christmas rituals. Then, in a segment he called “morning devotional,” Maron began his prayer for divine guidance on behalf of President Bush by saying, “Dear Lord, what the hell is going on up there?”

Another host — I think it was Rachel Maddow on “Unfiltered,” though I couldn’t always distinguish her voice from that of co-host Lizz Winstead — called Easter “an odd celebration” and said that a taxi driver had told her that “someone in a Jesus suit” would carry a cross along 42nd Street in New York in a reenactment of the events of Good Friday, “but in this case, he’ll stop to buy a fake Louis Vuitton bag.”


There’s a lot more in the Shaw report. Clearly, Air America has decided that the very core of modern liberalism is its opposition to traditional forms of religious belief and its defense of the Sexual Revolution.

Strangely enough, this is precisely what one can hear by turning on someone like, well, James Dobson.

UPDATE: Doug notes the following Time story on the same topic. Once again, religion is in the thick of the paranoid public square. Richard Corliss reports:

At times, the talk can get rawer. Maron speculated that Bush knew about the 9/11 attacks in advance and allowed them to occur to rally the country behind him. Maron also came close to equating born-again Christianity with fascism. When a caller urged him to show a little sensitivity, Maron replied, “Maybe I should be more sympathetic to people with organized delusions.”

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Jonathan David

    I hear this said, but can’t for the life of me figure out to what they’re referring – *what* “conspiriacy theories” do Rush and Sean promote?

  • Dwight

    And then there are us liberals who are also Christian. Apparently we’re not understood or acknowledged by a good many folks on the right or the left on radio, in the media, etc. A shame I think.

  • Joe

    The Good Friday Stations of the Cross march the hosts made fun of was an annual anti-war protest. It was led by Daniel Berrigan, with the participation of Pax Christi and other religius folks. They march from the UN across 42nd Street, past the Times Square Recruiting station, and to where the Intrepid is docked. There several people engaged in civil disobedience in order to protest the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, as they had last year as well. I’d stack Berrigan’s liberal credentials against anyone, and wonder if any of those hosts would have done the prison time Berrigan has done for his faith and his anti-war beliefs.

    It is ignorant to characterize any religion as a whole as something bad. A blind prejudice like any other.

  • Will Linden

    Berrigan has also “done time” for pro-life protests… something which is constantly ignored by “mainstream” media, as it does not fit their preconceptions (pun NOT intended!).

  • sam seder

    1) I think it’s easy to isolate comedy bits and conclude that we are anti-(fill in the blank). As I can’t speak for the hosts you’ve mentioned, I can’t say whether they are in fact, anti-christian (though knowing one of them quite well I’d suggest he’s not).

    2) If you listen to a day’s worth of programming on aar, I expect you’d find jokes at the expense of just about anybody and anything.

    3) If your argument is that jokes at the expense of religion will be divisive and alienate certain voters we need to defeat bush, then i’d suggest you’re being hypocritical. Particularly in light of how superficially you’re examining this.

    3.A) I’m not so sure that those people are our target audience/ or even should be (this is a different issue however.

    4) We have a brief statement on this topic at, but i can sum it up here. Fundamentalist Christians, Fundamentalist Muslims and Fundamentalist Jews are pursuing agendas that are making this world an extremely dangerous place.

    In the wake of 9/11 our society (perhaps not on the left, but the premise of your post is that this “mocking of religion” will alienate those in the center) made repeated calls for “moderate” muslims to deal with their extremists. I for one will make the same call to “moderate” christians and jews.



  • tmatt


    The primary analysis in the Air America post is from David Shaw of the LA Times. I found his viewpoint interesting, and thus shared it.

    BTW, you are essentially saying that there is no difference in moral standing between, let’s say, Franklin Graham and Osama? I find that an amazing statement, that the mainstream fundamentalist Christian has the same moral standing as the mainstream fundamentalist Muslim. If you want to say that there are fundamentalist Christians who have shot abortionists, then that’s a fair statement. There are a few, and there have been 1,000s more fundamentalist Christians (using Air America definitions) who marched to protest any use of violence in their cause. Where, precisely, are your fundie Christian Taliban members?

  • sam seder


    I don’t know anything about Franklin Graham and I can’t find the word moral in anything I wrote.

    So perhaps your amazement should be focused more inward. Do you not think there are devout muslims who seek peace? I do.

    I do not understand what you mean by my fundie chritian taliban members?

    I won’t say what the essence of your post is, though you seem to be arguing that certain classes of christianity are in some ways better than the same class of muslims. I think that is off point though I know that the man most responsible for the deaths Iraqi innocent civilians over the past year has said he is acting as God’s vessel in waging this war. (and I’m also sure he’s not refering to allah).

  • ELC

    Speaking of Allah… can anybody point me to news reports of the latest “Allah Bless America” rally? Thanks!

  • Tmatt


    Your post is a deliberate distortion of anything that I said, so I think we’re done talking about it.

  • steve h


    Certain pieces of the liberal world are now making their hatred of “organized delusion” (a.k.a. many branches of Christianity) public.


    Will this hatred be seen and recognized by some of the “tolerance” watchdogs in the media? I wonder if “Time” magazine’s notice of the “raw talk” will alert other news organizations to the situation?

  • Wooderson

    Ah, yes, there’s that word again: Fundamentalists.

    Sam, given your desire to avoid superficiality, care to define that word? In your world, is there any space at all between an individual flying civilian airplanes into civilian office buildings and the guy on the airplane asking you if you if you’ve accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Saviour?

    Or, in the interests of avoiding superficiality, shall we lump the two together?

  • Jeff Sharlet @ The Revealer

    This is getting ridiculous. 1. There are Christians who embrace and accept the term “fundamentalist.” That’s neither here nor there, just a fact. 2. Rush promoted the as yet unproven notion that Hillary Clinton was involved in the “murder” of Vince Foster. I’d call that a “conspiracy” theory.

    Ok, so things are more complicated than our side good, theirs bad (and I don’t care who you mean by “us.”)

    As for jokes about Jesus suits — lighten up, folks. That’s not anti-Christian. If it is, a lot of my evangelical friends are anti-Christian.

    As for violent Christians — c’mon, they do exist. They’re not the majority, but let’s admit that they are out there. Franklin Graham isn’t one of them. He is not Osama. He is a divisive, bigoted character, though. I don’t think that’s even factually disputable — the only thing up for grabs is whether or not you think that’s a good thing.

    Last: “Two of the hosts gratuitously announced that they’re Jewish…” What the hell is that supposed to mean? Jews should be quiet? I know Get Religion doesn’t mean that, and I don’t suppose Shaw does either — so really, what does it mean?

  • Wooderson

    C’mon Jeff, gimme a break:

    Yes, there are Christians who verily revel in the term “fundamentalist”: my complaint, conspiracy theorist that I am, is that the term is regularly used too often on both liberal talk radio and in religion reporting to mean, roughly, “those who use strongly-held religious beliefs to justify behaviour with which I disagree – and by the way, I disagree with their religious beliefs, too, though I remain blissfully ignorant of the details.”

    Equally obnoxious is the moral equivalency implied when “fundamentalist” is attached to both Franklin Graham and Osama in the same breath. This might be laziness, or it might reflect a world-view that, for whatever reason, refuses to distinguish between Wahabbism and “No creed but the bible”. Yes – sigh – violent Christians exist, but really, given world events in the last century or so should I be concerned about the acts of terrorism that the local independent Baptist church is plotting?

    I know pretty much nothing about Franklin Graham – he might be a nutbar, he might be Mother Teresa in a straw hat and a southern accent – but I do know that when I see a journalist use the word “bigoted” and attaching it to a “this is factually indisputable” without actually seeing the facts, my bullsh*t detector goes up to 10. It rises to 11 when a southern protestant whose last name isn’t “Falwell” is the subject, given the loose manner in which “bigot” is also tossed around – usually, interestingly enough, accompanied by ‘fundamentalist.’ Provide some links: I’d like to learn a bit about the bigotted Graham (really!). That he’s divisive could be good (what if he’s a better-dressed, well fed Gandhi?) or it could be bad (if he’s one of them bigotted fundamentalists). *That’s* neither here nor there.

    As for “things aren’t as easy as ‘our side good, their side bad’… well, of course. If that were the case then that poor sucker with the white belt and bad hair sitting next to you on the plane telling you about Jesus probably wouldn’t be telling you in the first place, would he? I mean, why would he care if it’s all black and white? The original post was about Air America, not Rush Limbaugh, which is why nobody in this post has yet offered Limbaugh up as the lily-white (rim shot) patron saint of talk radio. Rush may be Oliver Stone’s drug-addled right wing cousin or he might be a modern-day Jeremiah, but either way he sure as heck ain’t on Air America.

  • Joe

    Last: “Two of the hosts gratuitously announced that they’re Jewish…” What the hell is that supposed to mean? Jews should be quiet? I know Get Religion doesn’t mean that, and I don’t suppose Shaw does either — so really, what does it mean?

    It means, one assumes, that this was announced to express ‘non-Christian’ credentials.

    As for Christian fundamentalism and Bin Laden — take a look at the policies on the West Bank that many Christian fundamentalists support. We are talking about crimes that are against international law. Sharon has illegally built up those settlements. Claiming the land as part of Israel amounts to a war crime that is also against international law. On the West Bank, the land for those settlements has come primarily from Christian areas. The policies we support as a country, and that many Christian fundamentalists support, are essentially endangering the survival of any Christian population in the area. The level of violence during the Intifada, toward innocent Palestinian civilians has been extreme, with thousands of innocent people dead, illegal home demolitions, land grabs, and the terrorizing of civilians by settler populations as well. So if you want to ask if many fundamentalist Christians support violence, the answer is yes.

  • Jeff Sharlet @ The Revealer

    Wooderson — my bullsh*t detector gets activated when someone responds with indignation in the same phrase that they acknowledge knowing nothing about the subject. Do your own research on Franklin Graham. Tell me what you think.

    You’re absolutely correct that many media people confuse the term “fundamentalist” with conservative Christian. Again, if you’d bothered to do a little research before you attacked me as part of the vast liberal media conspiracy, you’d know that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time dissecting this kind of stupidity in the media and trying to improve media literacy on The Revealer.

    As for which violent fanatic to worry about, I wasn’t aware that you had to choose. I’m pretty solidly opposed to all of em.

  • Marla

    This whole mess started in the sixties. I can’t wait until the baby boomers are in convalescent hospitals (except my mom, and others who have been deprogrammed of course) so life can finally go on for the rest of us. Idealism is good until it becomes the fascism it thinks it sees everywhere but in itself.

    Keep on keeping on, Terry. Your work was a huge help to me while I was getting my masters in journalism from U.C. Berkeley. It’s good to find you again!

  • Puzzled

    I would be much more concerned about the use of the “Patriot” act that these hate-filled anti-Christian mobs may take if they gain power in November. Just how different are they from certain khaki-clad gangs in Weimar Germany?

  • Chris Bugbee

    Hats off to Puzzled, whose expressed concern about what “these hate-filled anti-Christian mobs may [do] take if they gain power in November, brings Terry’s “paranoid public square” home to Get Religion. What is it about this subject on this blog that leads so frequently to such overwrought rhetoric? Were Richard Hofstadter still among us, present circumstances might have inclined him to extend his seminal essay with an annex on “The Paranoid Style of American Religion.”

  • David Morrison

    I guess I am a little surprised to read that anyone would be surprised at what they found on Air America. If the goal is to bring to the airwaves a liberal Limbaughglia, thoughtful response, nuance and shades of gray would hardly be the order of the day.

    People who dogmatically trash religion are just as “fundamentalist” as the people they are attacking.

  • Rebecca Lesses

    And why is it “gratuitous” for Jews to declare their own Jewish identity? If that’s gratuituous, perhaps President Bush and Martin Luther King should have kept their Christianity under wraps too. Don’t get me wrong — I don’t look forward to catching Air America on my radio dial (unlikely since I live in the middle of nowhere upstate New York), but I don’t see anything wrong with Jews, Muslims, Christians, you name it, letting people know what their religious identity is.

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