Is Spouting Nonsense On Talk Radio Unethical?

I know Swift; Swift was a friend of mine. Jan Mickelson is no Jonathan Swift.

I know Swift; Swift was a friend of mine. Jan Mickelson is no Jonathan Swift.

I can’t resist using Media Matters as a source on an ethics blog: the irony is too delicious.

Linked to the e-mailed question, “How outrageous can a radio talk show host be, ethically?” comes a link to this nonsensical gibberish spit out by local Iowa right-winger Jan Mickelson, who suggested on his radio show that illegal immigrants who refuse to leave should be warned, and then used as slaves. Now, Media Matters looks for this junk because its unethical goal is to make the false case that all progressives are angels sent from a Godless heaven with the Only Right and Good Way, that an unethical or mistaken progressive is a contradiction in terms, and that all opponents of these paragons of virtue are cretins, crooks and demons.  Thus an act like Mickelson’s  is highlighted—I had never heard of him, for which I am quite grateful—to show what a typical Republican and conservative thinks. You know: a crazy person.

To be fair to MM, which, of course, believes that Hillary Clinton’s handling of her e-mails was perfect, and that every word she has uttered about it is gospel truth, this guy is pretty outrageous:

 MICKELSON: Now here is what would work. And I was asked by an immigration open border’s activist a couple of weeks ago, how I would get all the illegals here in the state of Iowa to leave. “Are you going to call the police every time you find an illegal, are you going to round them up and put them in detention centers?”

I said, “No you don’t have to do any of that stuff.”

“Well you going to invite them to leave the country and leave Iowa?”

And I said, “Well, sort of.”

“Well how you going to do it, Mickelson? You think you’re so smart. How would you get thousands of illegals to leave Iowa?”

Well, I said, “Well if I wanted to do that I would just put up some signs.”

“Well what would the signs say?”

I said, “Well I’d would put them on the end of the highway, on western part of the interstate system, and I’d put them on the eastern side of the state, right there on the interstate system, and in the north on the Minnesota border, and on the south Kansas and Missouri border and I would just say this: ‘As of this date’ — whenever we decide to do this — ‘as of this date, 30–‘ this is a totally arbitrary number, ’30 to 60 days from now anyone who is in the state of Iowa that who is not here legally and who cannot demonstrate their legal status to the satisfaction of the local and state authorities here in the State of Iowa, become property of the State of Iowa.’ So if you are here without our permission, and we have given you two months to leave, and you’re still here, and we find that you’re still here after we we’ve given you the deadline to leave, then you become property of the State of Iowa. And we have a job for you. And we start using compelled labor, the people who are here illegally would therefore be owned by the state and become an asset of the state rather than a liability and we start inventing jobs for them to do.

“Well how would you apply that logic to what Donald Trump is trying to do? Trying to get Mexico to pay for the border and for the wall?”

“Same way. We say, ‘Hey, we are not going to make Mexico pay for the wall, we’re going to invite the illegal Mexicans and illegal aliens to build it. If you have come across the border illegally, again give them another 60-day guideline, you need to go home and leave this jurisdiction, and if you don’t you become property of the United States, and guess what? You will be building a wall. We will compel your labor. You would belong to these United States. You show up without an invitation, you get to be an asset. You get to be a construction worker. Cool!’

Later, when a caller challenges him, saying that this sounds like slavery, this exchange transpires…

MICKELSON: No, just read the Constitution, Fred. What does the Constitution say about slavery?

CALLER: Well didn’t we fix that in about 1865?

MICKELSON: Yeah we sure did and I’m willing to live with their fix. What does the 13th Amendment say?

CALLER: Well you know I don’t have my Constitution in front of me and you know like I say, it sounds like a clever idea and maybe you can make it – put it in action, but I think the fall out would be so significant. And I, you know —

MICKELSON: What would be the nature of the fall out?

CALLER: Well I think everybody would believe it sounds like slavery?

MICKELSON: Well, what’s wrong with slavery?

CALLER: Well we know what’s wrong with slavery.

MICKELSON: Well apparently we don’t because when we allow millions of people to come into the country who aren’t here legally and people who are here are indentured to those people to pay their bills, their education of their kids, pay for their food, their food stamps, their medical bills, in some cases even subsidize their housing, and somehow the people who own the country, who pay the bills, pay the taxes, they get indentured to the new people who are not even supposed to be here. Isn’t that a lot like slavery?

CALLER: Well you know, you’re singing my song; we’re all slaves today the way the government is growing –

MICKELSON: If that’s the case, maybe it’s time to reverse the process.

This is such a mash-up of satire, provocation, hyperbole, stupidity and ignorance that it’s impossible to sort it all out. The “Isn’t that a lot like slavery?” speech persuades me that Mickelson wasn’t seriously proposing slavery at all, but just wanted to make the slavery analogy with the government requiring citizens to pay for illegal immigrants to live here. Does he understand that something that in some respects or in some opinions is like slavery isn’t slavery? I assume he does; I could be wrong, and that’s part of the problem. Is it a dumb, hysterical, unproductive misleading and inflammatory argument? Sure it is, and maybe he intends it to be all those things. Making suggestions that you know are ridiculous to see how listeners react to them is a valid pundit or entertainment device—it’s part of the Socratic method, in fact.  If that’s what he was doing…

Anyone engaged in mass communication has an obligation to be prepared, professional, honest and responsible. As long as an opinion meets these standards, it stays on the right side of the ethics line. I have two problems with Mickelson’s slavery riff. The first is his misleading the caller and his audience about the 13th Amendment, which reads,

“Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

This clearly precludes what he’s suggesting, perhaps tongue in cheek. He suggested otherwise. That’s misleading his audience, and thus unethical.

The second breach is that this routine is irresponsible. It confuses people, it stirs up anger, and it is an unserious proposal and an impossible one couched as if it was genuine and practical. In this regard, it is no worse than Donald Trump’s idiotic mass deportation “plan”–no, you could not deport the kids too—and who knows. maybe this was his point. It’s not much more ridiculous than all the impossible proposals Bernie Sanders is making, Still, such advocacy makes the ignorant, naive and easily misled even more of an obstacle to intelligent government than they already are, presumably just for bigger radio ratings. Sure, make Iowa stupid and angry and get dolts like Donald Trump elected, so you can dominate your time slot.


The answer to the question “How outrageous can a radio talk show host be, ethically?” is “Infinitely outrageous, as long as he or she doesn’t mislead or confuse people while being outrageous.” When Jonathan Swift suggested eating children to address population and poverty concerns, he did so in a manner that made his point without encouraging stupid and hungry people to become cannibals. Jonathan Swift could pull off Mickelson’s suggestion ethically, perhaps, but Mickelson couldn’t.

As for (yecchhh) Media Matters, it concludes by saying “Mickelson has a history of making racially-charged, anti-immigrant remarks.” This wasn’t a “racially-charged” remark, just a dumb one. As for “anti-Immigrant” remarks, this wasn’t one of those either. It was an anti-illegal immigrant remark, and anyone who is isn’t anti-illegal immigration is an irresponsible citizen or official—or organization, like Media Matters—as well as a fool.


Spark: Fred


6 thoughts on “Is Spouting Nonsense On Talk Radio Unethical?

  1. Unethical? Yes, for the reasons you stated (though I would think that if people are so ignorant that they can’t see what this guy is doing, then maybe it is more ethical to show the world that there are really, really stupid people). Really amusing? That, too.

    A local talk radio host in Houston (Michael Berry. AM740) does this all the time. A caller will make some outlandish, ridiculous statement. Instead of lambasting the caller for such nonsense, Berry will ask innocuous sounding questions, leading the caller into never-never land. It can be really funny, albeit painful.


  2. Suggesting slavery is just plain stupid. However it seems to me that repeated offenders could be subject to involuntary servitude since they have committed a crime by crossing the border illegally. In Mexico those who cross their Southern border are committing a felony and subject to incarceration for up to 2 years. What about the kids somebody will undoubtedly say. Well in the USA, minors are treated differently than adults. I would suggest that they be deported immediately and sent to relatives in Mexico.

    • You would immediately be accused of wanting to “split up families”, Wayne! Children belong with their parents, though. If their parents are illegal, then they go back with them. As minors, they don’t have full citizenship rights to begin with. They’re just being used as (to use the horrible term) Anchor Babies… for the illicit benefit of their parents. If they’re unaccompanied minors, they need to go back to their parents or be remanded to the custody of the nation from which they came. America is not and cannot afford to be the world’s orphanage.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.