Beware of the Dogma

When KFYI radio host John Dayl spews mindless hate, David Winkler listens

Some of them agree with Winkler's assessments. Others don't. But everyone, including Dayl, agrees that there's little opportunity for Arizonans to hear political left commentary on the air.

Until that happens, Winkler says, he'll continue to be a nuisance to John Dayl.

Last August, the Annenberg School of Communication at the University of Pennsylvania issued the findings of a detailed analysis of political talk radio. Among the study's conclusions: that the mainstream media had exaggerated the conservative nature of political talk radio and its influence.

Scientific method, the report insisted, had found a remarkable diversity of opinion on the air, with a robust supply of hosts with conservative, moderate and liberal leanings.

In fact, of the 53 national talk-show hosts the Annenberg researchers studied, a total of 12 were found to be "liberal." Two can be heard in Phoenix.

Neither of them--NPR's Diane Rehm and KXAM's Bernie Ward--can be heard on the two most-listened-to talk stations, KTAR and KFYI. And except for Bill Strauss, who can be heard evenings on KTAR, none of the local hosts on the Valley's stations can be easily described as "liberal."

Day and night, however, the Valley's ample conservative population can choose from a plethora of right-leaning offerings, which begin at corporate-Republican Rush Limbaugh and go far into the right's most rarefied extremes.

Among the most repeated messages heard from those hosts: that conservative thought gets short shrift from the mainstream media. Perhaps partly as a direct result of that criticism (and partly to take advantage of what has turned out to be a lucrative media niche), networks, newspapers and public television have in recent years added conservative voices to prove that they're not biased.

The ironic result, says David Winkler: a censoring of views from the left.
He's come to that conclusion relatively recently, he says. It's only been in the past few years that liberal politics and studying media bias have really mattered to him.

Until that time, he had impeccable conservative credentials.
During the late Sixties, Winkler majored in economics at Washington University in Missouri. "I wanted to make a lot of money," he says with a laugh. After graduation in 1972, Winkler drew a low number in the draft lottery.

So he enlisted in the Army and was sent to West Germany. Afterward, he went to work in the insurance industry. Today, he's 46, he's a claims supervisor, he holds an MBA from Arizona State University, he's divorced, and he lives alone in a well-kept home with two cats and a large collection of books on the nation's media.

Until about seven years ago, Winkler says, he considered himself a liberal Republican with only a mild interest in politics.

"I was a George Bush fan. Bush was an economics major and former CIA leader. Ivy League. I thought that was cool," he says.

Then, in 1990, Winkler began a reading binge. Motivated by doubts he'd developed as a veteran during the Vietnam War era, Winkler took an interest in books about American wars and interventions. That led to a fascination with how the media helped sell the Vietnam War to the American public, and how it has acquiesced in other foreign interventions.

He devoured books on the subject and then dove into activism. He joined groups such as Arizona Media Action, volunteering for such activities as helping to bring the film The Panama Deception to Phoenix. He also began writing about the Valley's media for The Current, a local monthly.

One of his main concerns was the overwhelming right-ward slant of radio opinion.

"The radio spectrum theoretically belongs to the public," Winkler says. "It was always believed that commercial broadcasters serve the public in some way. . . . It was assumed that they would go beyond one-sided and erroneous information."

Winkler cites radio history, in particular the Fairness Doctrine, which from 1949 until its repeal in 1987 required radio stations to provide opposing viewpoints when running political commentaries.

"The Fairness Doctrine was supposed to prevent propaganda stations," Winkler says, adding that KFYI's all-conservative lineup is just the kind of monolithic programming the Fairness Doctrine was intended to prevent.

"Even with the Fairness Doctrine, [talk] radio was a right-wing medium," he says. "But there was a small modicum of balance." Since the doctrine's repeal, Winkler says, that modicum has disappeared.

In his column, Winkler kept track of the increasing conservative takeover of local radio and the parade of right-wing guests on local shows.

Then, on July 7, 1996, he discovered John Dayl.
Driving in his car that day, Winkler tuned in KFYI and heard Dayl make statements that seemed to condone the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

Winkler could hardly believe what he was hearing.
The next time Dayl came on the air, Winkler rolled tape.
Feeling justified that his skepticism about claims made by government officials in the Viper Militia arrest had turned out to be prescient, Dayl announced that he was in a good mood. He had predicted that the government had overstated its case against the Vipers and its purported plans to blow up federal buildings.

"And, ohhhhh, the innocent victims," Dayl mocked. As far as he was concerned, the government workers, such as those who had died in the Oklahoma City bombing, weren't innocent victims. Dayl claimed that a state of war existed between the American government and the public, and like rear-guard troops in Vietnam, the employees in the Murrah building were working for the enemy.

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