Longtime Eau Claire, Wisconsin radio talk show John Murphy walked out of of his WAYY studio midway through his morning show this week.
He had just finished telling his listeners that he would not be chased out of the industry he loves but that, “I’m through doing this show as it is.” The sports talk show scheduled to follow Murphy started early to cover for his absence after a commercial break. The frustrated talk show host had been on Eau Claire radio for 34 years, for the past 14 years as a host of the “WAYY Morning Show,” a typical local call-in program where the callers discussed and debated local, state and national news. Murphy quit, he said, because the discourse this year gradually stopped being civil, and had degenerated into a partisan and ugly exchange of nastiness and hate.
“It started with a lot of Trump and Clinton stuff, but now that same kind of vitriol is starting to permeate our local races and local issues,” Murphy explained. “After a while, day after day and week after week, that starts to wear on you.” Murphy said he knows that many of the callers hurling insults “are educated, wonderful people who have become caught up in this hurricane of hate.” He says the frustration had been building up inside him for months, and that he was beginning to engage in some of the same behavior he deplored.
“If I’m an enabler, even inadvertently, to this toxicity through the show, that troubles me,” Murphy said, saying that he felt obligated to take a stand by saying, “There’s got to be a better way to do this.”
Anyone who has engaged even lightly in political discourse over the last decade or more has seen this phenomenon develop and accelerate during the current political campaign, with no end in sight. Factors are legion, including
…increasing political polarization,
…successful efforts by leaders, activists and politicians to use wedge issues to further divide the population by race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, religion age and financial status,
…the exploitation of it by political leaders, the President and both parties for short term gain,
…a near total abandonment of respect in public policy debates,
…the addition of hair-trigger race-baiting and gender-baiting to suppress conservative dissent,
…the shrill rhetoric of conservative talk radio,
…the persistent and increasingly open bias of mainstream news reporting,
…vilification of conservative views in popular culture,
…the lack of moderation in political discussions on the web,
…social media, and. of course,
…the toxic influence of Donald Trump on the culture.
One demonstration and protest by a Wisconsin radio personality isn’t going to change anything, but maybe others will follow John Murphy’s example and refuse to take part in the destruction of America’s tradition of respectful debate and civility, crucial connective tissue that holds the nation together. We have to start somewhere.
I can only award John half an Ethics Hero designation, unfortunately. You don’t walk off the job spontaneously, and harm your employer while breaching your contractual obligations. That’s self-indulgent and irresponsible, and fails the Ethics Alarms protest ethics principles by harming the innocent to send a message to the guilty. He could have and should have discussed his decision with the station before walking out.
Nonetheless, it was a bold act that called attention to what I believe is an existential crisis for this republic, and one that will only be exacerbated by the terrible result of the election, whatever it is.
Attention must be paid.