On his show yesterday, the single most hostile voice of any profiled by GLAAD's Commentator Accountability Project showed a clip from a recent UK television program. Take a look:
Clearly, the host viewed Bryan's rhetoric in an unfavorable light. By that, I don't mean to say that the host had a particular point of view or political position (which he may or may not have; I'm not familiar with him). I mean to say that Bryan's comments, particularly about Islam, were so clearly out-of-line and so obviously over-the-top that any objective observer would have concerns, at best, about what this conservative commentator is stirring up on his daily radio show.
But here's the thing: this show was not all about Bryan Fischer as a singular subject. This wasn't a documentary about this one person or even about the American Family Association in general. The episode was titled "Talk Radio Nation." Bryan was one of a few hosts used to represent the dominance of conservative talk radio in America. Massive audiences in the UK saw this portrait of what passes for acceptable commentary in the United States, with Bryan in the driver's seat. Bryan served as a representative for this entire class and style of punditry.
Now, obviously those of us who cover LGBT matters have clear concerns when Bryan shows up in mainstream media, considering the jaw-dropping suggestions he has made for LGBT human beings and about LGBT rights. However, I would argue that there is another group that should be even more concerned about this Channel 4 episode. I'm referring, namely, to the responsible voices who care about the worldwide image of the American punditry class. Conservative hosts, in particular.
On the Channel 4 piece, Bryan is identified by his prominence within conservative circles and is presented as a key voice for that point-of-view. Rightly so, I would say, considering the level of access that the conservative movement has granted him. But dangerously so, I would also say, considering how little concern Bryan has demonstrated for the welfare of our rich and diverse American fabric. This lack of concern, in which Bryan so fully positions his own self-serving interests above all else, should scare the heck out of those who have built their careers around fair and honest debate.
Do America's conservative talkers really want to be represented by a man who says, quite plainly, that he wants to convert all Muslims to Christianity? By a man who claims that Native Americans are cursed? By a person who blames the Sandy Hook tragedy on a lack of God's protection? By an activist who cites Jerry Sandusky as a reason why gay people's children should be taken away from us? By a man who has hosted several programs dangerously denying that HIV causes AIDS? Because Bryan has said all of that and much, much more (*see his Commentator Accountability Project profile). Bryan has proven himself willing to condemn just about anyone who doesn't look, pray, love, vote, and believe exactly as he does. Is this the image that more measured radio hosts want to present to a receptive world at large?
I would assume (/hope) that "no!" would be the consensus position. So the question: what are responsible conservatives going to do to change this image? It's not like this Channel 4 crew pulled Bryan Fischer's name out of a hat. The team putting together this program turned to Fischer because when one looks around for a representative of conservative talk in America, Bryan's name comes quickly into the fore. Over the past year, Bryan has appeared in the New York Times, on CNN, in a lengthy New Yorker profile, and in countless internet reports. The media cited Bryan as influential enough to get a political staffer fired from a campaign. Bryan is a regular fixture on the conservative conference circuit. And so on and so forth. Anyone who sets out to find a bona fide prototype of conservative talk would find Bryan to be a ripe representative. He has made a name for himself.
This is why I say rational conservative voices should be concerned. Ours is, in fact, a talk radio nation—but is that nation defined by a man who calls gay people Nazis (and claims that the actual Nazis were themselves gay people) and says that the Democratic party wants African-Americans to "stay on the Democratic plantation" because they are "like drug-added addicts and the Democrat Party has gotten them addicted to welfare benefits"? Bryan Fischer is trying his best to define talk radio in that way. I would strongly suggest that commentators who've attacked groups like GLAAD or the Southern Poverty Law Center for simply noting what people like Bryan are themselves saying instead step up and take a hard look at the very real, very global damage that this rhetoric is posing.
It's time for voices who care about responsible debate to take a breath, a pause, and a hard look inward. Both our national discourse and national image deserve better than this.