The Message

The media's massive buildup to battle makes war seem almost anti-climactic.

Still, the genuinely significant developments during recent weeks were occurring in locales like the United Nations. In acknowledgement of this reality, the Rocky wisely sent its finest scribe, columnist Mike Littwin, to New York City, where he wrote about the assorted diplomatic debates from the sort of jaundiced perspective they deserved. (Littwin will be doing more on-location reporting in the coming weeks.) The Post, meanwhile, ordered foreign-affairs writer Bruce Finley to roam the region around Iraq without embedding himself in anyone or anything. Moreover, Finley apparently has carte blanche to infuse his articles with some personal beliefs, as was made obvious by his March 16 effort from Syria headlined "'No Welcome' Seen for U.S. Troops as Iraqis Vow a Fight to the Death." The piece was fresh and open-eyed, but readers of the sort who once accused former Rocky writer Holger Jensen of injecting opinion into his news articles probably took Finley's name in vain anyhow.

Once the explosions commence, Finley is all but certain to be utilized extensively by Channel 9 as part of its partnership with the Post; the paper's Web site, www.denverpost.com, lists Finley's recent articles as appearing in the "War For 9News" section. If so, his contributions will mark a minor departure for Channel 9, which has largely relied upon network footage or tried to localize Iraq matters -- a tack its rivals have duplicated. Over the past several months, the station has blended coverage of regional events (mostly anti-war rallies), interviews with military and academic experts, and touchy-feely features, like the reading of letters sent from soldiers on Hussein's doorstep to loved ones back home.

Too bad relatively benign efforts like the letters segments are regularly undercut by the use of graphics that simplify the impending clash to the point of idiocy. Channel 9's label of choice, "Target: Iraq," which it inherited from its sister network, NBC, is hardly the worst of these, and it will work fine now that decision-makers in the United States have decided to move forward without a new resolution from the U.N. Security Council. Before that point, however, it came across as needlessly aggressive, implying that attempts to prevent a military encounter were a charade that served as mere prelude to bloodshed. Just because this interpretation was probably accurate in the end doesn't mean news organizations should be in the business of casting their lot with one cause or another. No wonder so many viewers believe TV execs are practically quivering with excitement at the prospect of some nice ratings-boosting mayhem.

At talk radio, a similar philosophy is in play. A memo from a Clear Channel station in California that was quoted in this space last week puts it plainly: "People who have never listened to our stations will be tuning in out of curiosity, desperation, panic and a hunger for information. We must make sure we meet their expectations, otherwise they're gone forever and they ain't coming back."

Scott Redmond, the afternoon-drive host at Clear Channel-owned KHOW, seems to be taking this advice to heart. As noted in a recent Westword profile ("Seeing Red," January 16), Redmond, who arrived at KHOW last year, has had a difficult time cobbling together enough of a following to ensure his survival in the market. On many occasions, Redmond's numbers have been lower than those garnered by his predecessor, Reggie Rivers -- and even though Rivers resigned from KHOW rather than being canned, his departure probably wouldn't have been voluntary had he stuck around much longer.

The pressure on Redmond was certainly building, which may explain his sudden stylistic shift. In the past, he spent the majority of his time taking fuzzy stands on themes like "personal responsibility" and defending the rights of homosexuals when he wasn't chatting about contemporary music, film, television and other pop-cultural touchstones as a way of establishing his hipness. Then, within the past month or so, he transformed himself into the most bellicose Denver war booster with access to a microphone, making KOA conservative Mike Rosen seem like an appeaser by comparison. Unlike Rosen, Redmond doesn't offer arguments for actions that are ideologically rigorous or intellectually sound. Instead, he either leans on the expertise of regular guest Bob Newman, who, as Clear Channel's military analyst, at least backs up his pugnacious rhetoric with in-the-trenches expertise, or hurls red meat to the most Alley Oop-like members of the talk-radio audience.

For anyone who considers this description an exaggeration, consider that, according to one of his listeners, Redmond recently said Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean, a Vermonter who opposes the war, should be shot as a traitor. On the same program, the host contended that former Colorado senator Gary Hart, himself a likely presidential aspirant with doubts about initiating hostilities in Iraq, wants to screw the country as he did Donna Rice, whose tryst with Hart doomed an earlier White House bid. And during a subsequent show, Redmond asked callers to tell him what products they intended to boycott in order to express their displeasure with France, Germany and Russia for their anti-war opinions. To demonstrate that he was willing to make such a sacrifice, Redmond pledged to give up Russian vodka -- a good idea only if this beverage was responsible for the dumbest and most pathetic of his Iraq-baiting rants.

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