Bill Cunningham v. Civil Discourse

By: Lee Kent Hempfling

So what was Bill Cunningham thinking when he strolled onto a stage in Cincinnati and proceeded to spew forth his radio show’s talking points when he had to know, if he was thinking at all, that McCain could in no way support his remarks? What was he thinking? McCain has been calling for civility in the campaign; so Cunningham brings attack dog mentality to the stage and then feels miffed when McCain distances himself from the comments. What was he thinking? Did he really take that stage as a McCain supporter and still not get the point of civility in politics? Did he take the campaigns request to fire up the crowd, ‘give them meat,’ so literally that he threw logic to the wind?

Cunningham’s remarks were caustic and inflammatory, just the things he need do in today’s radio, to garner a participating audience, but exactly the opposite for a Presidential campaign. As liberals do, the so-called ‘conservatives’ have focused in on only one thing he said: “Barack Hussein Obama”. Luckily, he did not say what he has said on his Sunday night syndicated talk show. On that program he has referred to Obama as “Barack Mohammed Hussein Obama.” It is the food of vacant minds to mock in absurdity and only serves two things: the emboldenment of the lame and the disgust of the sane.

Over at ‘Newsbusters’, Brent Baker put it this way, “With cover from John McCain, NBC and ABC on Tuesday night condemned the ‘caustic’ and ‘mocking’ remarks of Cincinnati radio talk show host Bill Cunningham who, on stage before an Ohio campaign appearance by McCain, dared to utter Barack Obama’s middle name and call him ‘a hack’ Chicago politician.” But that is not all Cunningham said.

“At some point in the near future the media, the stooges from the New York Times, CBS (The Clinton Broadcasting System), NBC (The Nobody But Clinton Network), The All Bill Clinton Channel (ABC), and the Clinton News Network at some point is going to peel the bark off Barack Hussein Obama… That day will come and then you’ll know the truth about his business dealings with Rezko, when he got sweetheart deals in Chicago, and the illegal loans that he received, at some point the media will quit taking sides on this and maybe start covering Barack Hussein Obama the same way they covered Bush, the same way they covered Cheney, and they same way they cover every Republican.” Great radio. Disgusting politics. McCain’s comments were all he could do to turn his campaign back to civility. “I regret any comments that may be made about these two individuals who are honorable Americans, we just have strong philosophical differences, so I want to disassociate myself from any disparaging remarks that may have been said about them… I absolutely repudiate such comments, and again I will take responsibility it will never happen again. It will never happen again.” Had McCain informed the crowd of same, it would have been an attack on Cunningham. McCain is far too much of a statesman (something neither Democratic candidate can pretend to achieve) to have changed the topic that way.

AllAccess.Com, (membership required) commercial radio’s premier online news and information source, related Cunningham’s complaint as; “For his part, CUNNINGHAM, complaining that MCCAIN ‘threw me under the bus to the national media,’ said that he would endorse HILLARY CLINTON.” McCain didn’t throw Cunningham under the bus. It just looked that way when ‘Willie’ stuck his head out of the gutter. In a dose of reality, Mark Ambinder quotes Karl Rove, “Rove said that the use of “Barack Hussein Obama” would perpetuate the notion that Republicans were bigoted and would hurt the party.” But it makes good radio.

To understand Cunningham one has to understand the radio business. That is something I can speak about. I spent my adult life in that business. Never having met Mr. Cunningham directly, I did nonetheless watch a portion of one of his night shows at WLW from the producer’s studio while I was there working as a news anchor. The guest that night was Rowdy Roddy Piper. I have witnessed radio’s regression from entertainment, people could embrace and make an important part of their lives (where starting up a 45 was all about finding the burn); to confrontation and shock that people can only react to, that draws the worst of society. You may not be aware of the state of radio these days.

Back in 2002 the Future of Music Coalition published a study of commercial radio. Although radio has never really been about the music (it has always been about the profits) it took the music to fill the signal. It is ironic how a business that entered the ‘less talk is better’ mentality, wound up being all about talk. As costs were reduced, the disk jockey was converted into a virtual voice in a digital box. Mornings became king where syndicated ‘network’ shows dominate. In order for a ‘one size fits all’ program to succeed it must cater to the least common denominator, in order to pull the largest share of the most markets. Where nearly all radio shows were about the community and its local flavor, syndicated radio shows cannot mention community without alienating all the other communities they are broadcast in.

Being all about the profits, the point of any business, was the sole focus of big corporation ownership. The bean counters of wanna-be broadcasters made the profits the focus of the business. That meant squeezing more out of the staff that remained and introduction of cost savings devices like voice tracking and centrally controlled play lists. What was once a potential hit in the south could now only be a hit, if it hit everywhere. Music suffered. Talent suffered. Radio suffered. But profits climbed. Out of that fiasco of cannibalism came the few voices that actually succeeded. Those voices succeeded for the same reason liberal voices on radio do not succeed. They cater to the lowest common denominator with a single theme, and make that theme their daily topic. Whether it is illegal immigration, or anti-liberal ranting it is still one theme. Liberals have so many fractured parts of their loose membership, a single theme cannot be held. The anti-war theme has worn thin with good news and the Bush lied theme has fallen to the facts. ‘Conservative’ talk hosts are starting to fall into the same mold as the corporate conglomerates they bow to. They are focusing in on the simple obvious, while ignoring what it takes to get there. And they are applying inductive reasoning in catching the ‘he said the whole name’ argument, when McCain’s distancing involved everything else Cunningham said too.

“I’m gonna follow the lead of Ann Coulter. I’ve had it with John McCain,” Cunningham told FOX News’ “Hannity & Colmes.” “Cunningham said McCain ‘embarrassed himself,’ and then made up a name of his own for the Arizona senator, ‘John Juan Pablo McCain,’ an apparent reference to McCain’s sponsorship of immigration reform legislation. He added that McCain should be ‘repudiating Democrats and leaving conservatives alone.’ That isn’t too easy to do when they keep making fools of themselves. It is the food of vacant minds to mock in absurdity and only serves two things: the emboldenment of the lame and the disgust of the sane.

Now, the ‘conservative’ talk hosts are out and about the talking head circuit bemoaning John McCain for setting the record straight on how he will run his campaign, and a single topic is paramount to their moaning: how dare McCain go out and say something against what Cunningham said. That is simple. Cunningham is not running for President. Cunningham is not using his head. Cunningham is trying to be another Ann Coulter and make a name for himself. Well, not at the expense of civility and not at the expense of the most important political election in modern times. So what was Bill Cunningham thinking? Your guess is as good as mine. But I can rest assured it wasn’t potential consequences to the nation.

About the Author: Lee Kent Hempfling is a human from Apache Junction, Arizona who writes about humans and other creations at, critiques neuroscience claims at, proudly supports Patriots at, and waits patiently at

(Lee Kent) Hempfling’s radio career spans decades, including positions as news anchor, program director, morning personality, general manager and air talent in markets like Cincinnati, Dayton, Little Rock, Austin, Corpus Christi, Fort Smith, Greenville, New Bern-Jacksonville, and Charleston among others.

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