Why is Radio Live spreading anti-semitic lies?
The ongoing turbulence in global financial markets has alarmed many New Zealanders. More than a few Kiwis fear that the nosediving US sharemarket signals the beginning of a global depression that will cost them their jobs and mortgages. This week alone the Reserve Bank has been forced to issue two separate statements insisting that the country's banks are safe from the danger of collapse.
Many people are looking around for explanations for the economic calamity that now seems to threaten them. Talkback radio is one forum where Kiwis have been sharing their experiences of the financial crisis and suggesting reasons for its existence.
Unfortunately, some callers to talkback radio have been taking advantage of the current crisis to disseminate some old and ugly ideas.
Last Tuesday night tens of thousands of Kiwis tuned in to the talkback station Radio Live to hear a succession of callers blaming the chaos in the world's financial markets on a conspiracy run by Jewish capitalists and their allies. Radio Live talkback hosts Karyn Hay and Andrew Fagan not only refrained from criticising these anti-semitic arguments - at certain points in the evening they actually joined in the myth-making.
The deluge of calls began just before eight o'clock on Tuesday evening, and didn't end until ten o'clock, when Fagan and Hay ended their shift. The first caller to advance an anti-semitic explanation for the financial crisis identified himself as 'Dean'. Saying 'it's alright for me to kick the Jews, because I'm Jewish myself', Dean argued that the 'greed' of a group of 'Jewish bankers' had caused the insolvency of American banks and the collapse of Wall St shares. Dean claimed that Jewish bankers had also caused the Great Depression and World War Two, and that the Holocaust had been a 'backlash' against them. Near the end of his call, Dean announced that he had been promoting his views at public meetings, and predicted that a 'new backlash' would punish Jews for the latest crisis.
Talkback radio hosts tend to set a 'tone' which determines the sort of people who ring their shows. A left-wing host, for instance, will usually attract more callers with left-wing views than a right-wing host. Listeners feel empowered to call in when they hear a host espousing or accepting views similar to their own. Neither Karen Hay nor Andrew Fagan had a word of criticism for Dean's anti-semitic rant; not surprisingly, they were soon deluged with callers who advanced similar views.
Several of the callers explicitly defended Hitler and Nazism. One woman argued that Hitler's rise to power was an inevitable and understandable result of 'multiculturalism', which supposedly tore apart the 'fabric' of German society after World War One. She suggested that the same sort of 'multiculturalism' was ruining contemporary New Zealand society.
Another caller insisted that Hitler was a 'great leader' before he 'went mad' and started World War Two. According to this caller, Hitler was a hero in the 1930s because he stood up to 'international bankers' in the same way that New Zealander's first Labour government supposedly did. If the examples of Michael Joseph Savage and Hitler had been heeded, then the 'the bankers' would never have been able to create the current financial crisis.
Yet another caller to Radio Live claimed that the peoples of the world were the victims of an international Jewish conspiracy that stretched back to the Boston Tea Party, and suggested that gold from the World Trade Centre had been secretly shipped to Tel Aviv in the aftermath of 9/11. Other callers condemned Nazism and anti-semitism, but claimed that Hitler was only the tool of the same international conspiracy of bankers behind the financial crisis of 2008.
At no stage in the evening did either Karyn Hay or Andrew Fagan confront callers about the crackpot theories they were touting. One caller recommended that Hay read Antony Sutton's Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler, which argues that a cabal of financiers were behind the Bolshevik Revolution, the two World Wars, and Hitler's regime; in response, Hay looked the book up on the internet, read its publisher's blurb, and said that Sutton's arguments 'sounded very interesting' and 'made sense'. Later in the show Hay opined that 'it does look like Hitler's rise was all to do with money'. Andrew Fagan responded to the caller who praised Hitler as a 'great leader' by saying 'with your knowledge, you need to get into politics'. An elderly woman who rang Radio Live to say she was outraged by the 'rubbish being talked about Hitler and the 1930s' was cut off by Hay.
It is not hard to trace the geneaology of the arguments that were made on Radio Live last Tuesday night. Most of them descend from the anti-semitic mythology that the Nazis and other fascist movements popularised in the 1930s. The argument that communism is a weapon of Jewish financiers, for instance, was a stock in trade of the Nazis, and recurs frequently in Mein Kampf. The claim that a cabal of mostly-Jewish financiers control world events has been a staple of the extreme right since the late nineteenth century, and was made famous by Nazi broadcasters like Lord Haw Haw, who blamed World War Two on greedy Jewish bankers, rather than the belligerence of Hitler.
Not all of the callers to Radio Live advanced explicitly anti-semitic arguments. Some of them talked of a conspiracy by 'international finance' or 'the New World Order' rather than by Jews. Anthony Sutton's book is not explicitly anti-Semitic. Neither is None Dare Call It Conspiracy, a booklet produced in America by the John Birch Society and distributed for free to tens of thousands of New Zealanders by the right-wing religious cult Zenith Applied Philosophy. But conspiracy theories about a cabal of international financiers frequently refer to sinister Jews, and just as frequently rely on anti-semitic material for their references. None Dare Call It Conspiracy, for instance, cites the nakedly anti-semitic newspapers funded by Henry Ford as 'evidence' for its claim that a small group of bankers funded the Bolshevik revolution. Many of the financiers fingered as sinister conspirators by Sutton are Jewish.
Karyn Hay and Andrew Fagan are not bigots. Their radio show is usually an inoffensive mixture of good music, jokes, gossip, and semi-serious discussions of current events. It is perhaps ignorance, rather than prejudice, which stopped Hay from confronting and criticising the conspiracy theorists and anti-semites who inundated her show last Tuesday evening. At one point during the show, Hay admitted that 'I'm not that well-versed historically', and it is possible she didn't even recognise the sinister overtones in the arguments that some callers made. For his part, Fagan seems averse to discussing politics in any detail. He preferred to try to change the subject, rather than challenge the arguments of callers.
Like the rest of the media, talkback radio should be free of censorship. The fullest spectrum of views should be heard in places like Radio Live, even if the price is the sort of anti-semitic ranting that was heard on Tuesday night.
Is it too much, though, to ask hosts like Karyn Hay and Andrew Fagan to challenge and refute a set of myths which have such a long and evil history? Is it really so hard to see through the claim that Hitler was a great leader during the time of the Nuremberg Laws and the Kristallnacht? Is it so hard to see the absurdity of the claim that capitalist bankers orchestrated communist revolutions in Russia and China? Does the claim that Jews were behind the 9/11 attacks really deserve to go unchallenged, when it lacks a shred of supporting evidence?
If they want to take calls about serious subjects like the current financial crisis, then perhaps Hay and Fagan need to adopt a more serious attitude toward the politics of history. Radio hosts who allow anti-semitic arguments to go unchallenged become complicit in anti-semitism.