Thursday, July 01, 2010

KSL, Sean Hannity and the Mormon Ethic of Civility



In an earlier post I criticized KSL Radio for the apparent contradiction of programming Sean Hannity while adopting a mission statement that espoused civility. Today, KSL announced they are severing their relationship with Mr. Hannity. Today’s announcement comes on the heels of a new mission statement adopted by all LDS Church owned media. That new mission statement seems to be influenced by the Church's official statement entitled "The Mormon Ethic of Civility." While the official press release announcing the break up was amicable, sources tell Glen Warchol at the Salt Lake Tribune that the decision was made because the brass at KSL felt Mr. Hannity was uncivil and does not fit within the mission statement.


KSL deserves to be commended for this decision.


KSL isn’t just any radio station. It’s the Mormon news/talk station. And that’s not just because it is owned by the LDS Church. KSL went on the air in 1922 as KZN (Zion). The first voice broadcast on the station was President Heber J. Grant. KSL was first responsible for broadcasting LDS General Conference to the far reaches of the Great Basin Kingdom, a tradition it continues to this day. KSL is the flagship station for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s weekly national broadcast of Music & the Spoken Word. At the top of every hour, just seconds before ABC Network News, the Nauvoo Bell tolls across Mountain America. And of course KSL broadcasts the games of a certain polarizing sports team from Provo (who isn’t nearly as great as the Nebraska Cornhuskers ;-) ).

It’s understandable then, that people directly associate the LDS Church with what they hear on KSL.

And that’s what was so troubling about KSL programming Mr. Hannity. That choice reinforced the perceived philosophical alliance between conservative Republican politics and Mormonism. While the institutional Church remains fiercely neutral in partisan politics, Mormon culture is not. Mormons are decidedly conservative and Republican. Mormons are among the most partisan religious populations in the United States today.


This presents a problem for the LDS Church. The commission to share the gospel with the earth isn't narrowly construed to apply only to middle class, caucasian conservative Great Basin dwellers. The LDS Church cannot effectively reach out to all mankind so long as Mormonism is so tightly bound to a single political ideology.


Mr. Hannity has excaserbated this perception. Not only was Mr. Hannity broadcast in primetime on KSL, but he became a regular icon in local culture and politics. He was the Master of Ceremonies for Stadium of Fire at Church-owned (through BYU) LaVell Edwards Stadium. In response to UVSC having the audacity to invite liberal Michael Moore to speak on campus, Mr. Hannity volunteered to offer “balance” and to speak for “free.” Mr. Hannity also held a highly publicized public debate on the Iraq War with then Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson. There were many other Utah appearances by Mr. Hannity during his run with KSL.


Mr. Hannity frequently employed morally based rhetoric in his broadcast. Policy issues aren’t just policy issues in Mr. Hannity’s world- they are apocalyptic battles of good versus evil.

It is no wonder then, that when some heard Mr. Hannity’s good v. evil message on the Mormon radio station, they viewed him as a fellow foot soldier in the cause of righteousness. In fact, during the audience Q&A after Mr. Hannity’s speech at UVSC, he was asked when he was going to “take the discussions.” The McKay Events Center crowd erupted with approval.


That righteous agenda seemed to justify Mr. Hannity’s uncivil behavior. It’s OK to shout at liberals, personally attack them and call them names (socialist, Marxist, etc) because they are destroying this country. The end result is that many Hannity's audience end up seeing those who disagree with them politically as enemies to be defeated rather than friends and neighbors to be embraced. This inhibits the ability of the LDS Church to break free of Mormonism's cultural ties to conservative Republican politics.

Now, KSL’s dismissal of Mr. Hannity certainly won’t bring an end to uncivil discourse. He will still be broadcast across America every day for years to come, including in Salt Lake City (likely on KNRS). The dismissal also won’t bring an end to the strong tie between Mormon culture and conservative Republican politics (Glenn Beck, and the legacies of Ezra Taft Benson and Cleon Skousen will be sure to carry that banner for quite some time).


But the dismissal of Mr. Hannity and the shift within Church owned media does send a message. A strong message. Wholesome media is more than an absence of sex and violence. It is also the presence of civility. That means inclusiveness and respect for both sides of an argument. Just as violence and sexual content promote behaviors the corrode communities, so too does uncivil discourse.


With the exception of Mr. Hannity, KSL has already been providing compelling local, civil programming. And they have killed in the ratings doing it. Doug Wright, Ethan Millard and Alex Kirry are talk show hosts that are both entertaining and civil. The credibility of the KSL news department is second to none. There should be little doubt that KSL is capable of replacing Mr. Hannity with local programming while maintaining and extending their 2 to 1 ratings dominance of Clear Channel's syndicated programming on KNRS.


And I guess that’s a refreshing truth. Civil, entertaining broadcasts still draw an audience.


At least in Utah anyway.

10 comments:

Richard Okelberry said...

Tom,

As I understand it, Bonneville International which is part of the LDS owned media group also owns 30 other stations besides KSL. At least one of those stations, KTAR-FM out of Phoenix, AZ carries Glenn Beck in their noon to 3pm time slot. For me personally, Glenn Beck is far more divisive and far less “civil” than Hannity. As such, have you seen any indication that the LDS will be publically severing ties with Beck as well?

Also, considering that Beck is LDS, couldn’t such a reaction by the LDS Church against one of their own be seen as a stern warning to its members regarding “civility” in public discourse? Conversely, if they continue to carry Beck but give Hannity the boot, wouldn’t that be seen by many as showing favoritism towards one of their own.

Personally, I think that this is a terrible move by the LDS Church. While I fully support the right of any Church to have vested interests and holdings and to use those holdings as they see fit, this action screams of Church censorship and only helps re-enforce the idea that information coming from LDS media holdings is being crafted and formed by Church authorities. Such public perceptions will only help to fuel suspicions and animosity towards the Church.

There is no doubt in my mind that many fans of Hannity, especially those that are not LDS, will blame the LDS Church directly for taking Hannity off the air in their areas. With that blame will come intense resentment and for the LDS Church

(continued)

Richard Okelberry said...

This decision ultimately hijacks the very free market that I believe should be the primary force behind what reaches the public air ways and what doesn’t. While I’ll say again that I respect the right of the LDS Church to limit its broadcast content, I also respect the right of the people to reject such limits. I think it’s fair to say that from this point onward, listeners should certainly be advised that anything they hear coming from one of these Church owned stations has been screened by Church authorities for content and approved for mass consumption by those that feel they have a better grasp of what is and isn’t civil than the general public does.

Ultimately, I feel that this action by the LDS Church represents an attempt to use these stations to further a religious agenda. While it certainly is its right to do so, it is also our right as listeners to know when we are being fed such an agenda. While I am certain that this is an attempt by Church leaders to show the Church as being more inviting and less divisive (a noble cause), you simply cannot show that by increasing restrictions over what is allowed to be heard by the people over the public air waves.

- Richard Okelberry

BTW: Great essay as always Tom! Very thorough and well thought out.

Richard Okelberry said...

What I find most disturbing about this decision is; who will become the arbiter or this new “civility?” Is the Church going to be employing appointed “civility” police that constantly monitor the content of each broadcast and has the authority to reprimand/remove any voices that they deem to be too offensive, inflammatory or uncivil? Would for example the LDS Church permit the following broadcast by Ronald Reagan warning against the dangers of Socialism from back in 1961 if it were produced today and his name was Sean Hannity, instead of Ronald Reagan?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRdLpem-AAs

“Back in 1927 an American socialist, Norman Thomas, six times candidate for president on the Socialist Party ticket, said the American people would never vote for socialism. But he said under the name of liberalism the American people will adopt every fragment of the socialist program.
There are many ways in which our government has invaded the precincts of private citizens, method of earning a living; our government is in business to the extent of owning more than 19,000 businesses covering 47 different lines of activity. This amounts to a fifth of the total industrial capacity of the United States.
But at the moment I would like to talk about another way because this threat is with us, and at the moment, is more imminent.
One of the traditional methods of imposing statism or socialism on a people has been by way of medicine.” – Ronald Reagan



To me that broadcast by Ronald Reagan sound EXACTLY like the type of rhetoric we hear coming out of both Hannity and Beck today. So what has changed?

(continued)

Thoughtfull Democrat said...

The only time I heard Shawn Hannity I was a captive audience, driving across Wyoming and listening for tornado alerts, which alternated with Mr. Hannity's program.

I could not believe the hate and vitriol spewing forth from this man. He was not interested in truth, just winding up his audience into a dangerous frenzy.

Kudos to KSL.

Tom Grover said...

Richard,

Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

KSL is no longer owned by Bonneville, but instead is its own company that is owned by Deseret Management Corp. The ultimate owner is obviously unchanged, but it is managed separately from other Church owned media now.

With the exception of news/talk stations almost all of the stations now owned by Bonneville have rather benign programming in terms of what might be considered wholesome entertainment. Nonetheless, KIRO and KTAR - talkers owned by Bonneville - continue to carry programs that might be considered uncivil by DMC standards.

I guess my first point is that KSL isn't like KIRO or KTAR. KIRO and KTAR are owned by the Church, but that's it. KSL is more than that. It is, in a sense, a moutpiece for the Church. It is *the* Church radio station. That being said, don't be surprised if the other DMC/Bonneville talkers are purged of the likes of Hannity and Beck in the coming months.

As to free markets & censorship- it looks like free markets are working fine and there is no censorship. There is a demand for Hannity in Utah and KNRS will now feel that demand.

As long as KSL programs the right show in the afternoons, don't be surprised if they beat KNRS. Talk radio has been moving toward more local content for quite some time now.

I doubt anyone will be upset with the LDS Church over this. Those who love Hannity will still get to listen to him just like they always have. Those who find Hannity incongruous with the Church are happy. I don't see too many people being upset about this (other than Hannity himself, but he will keep that to himself).

Anonymous said...

It is for sure a free market choice. Anybody who has listened to Hannity knows he is agenda driven. He started his "Stop Hillary Express" the day after the 2006 midterms. It ran daily for the next 18+ months until Hannity stated to realize Obama was going to get the nomination. Desparately trying to regroup, the best Hannity cane come up with is an attack on Obamas church and Jerimiah Wright. And to remind listeners Obamas middle name is Hussien. KSL has made a savvy business move that will benefit their listeners: we must come together to make a change. Not be divided by the Olbermans, Becks, Hannittys, and Maddows. United we have the numbers to make a change. Right now they have us divided 51/49. Classic divide and conquer tactics that have worked well until now...

josh said...

Interesting post.. very well-said. I must respond to the point made my Richard Okelberry that this decision by KSL is wrong because it violates the free market. Wow, libertarians throw out the "free market" argument almost by reflex it seems. Think for a second.. Radio stations all over the dial are selective when choosing programming. Sports stations choose nationally syndicated sports programs based completely on content.. they also exclude nationally syndicated programs based on content the deem wrong for their audience. Non-LDS church radio broadcasts all over the south (where I live) choose programming to fit their audience, even though it may not necessarily rake in the most advertising dollars. On the flip side, a program like Howard Stern's would probably get great ratings (even in UT) so should KSL, following the invisible hand of the free market, give Stern a time slot? No. I commend the church for this decision. Should have been made years ago but better late than never.

Richard Okelberry said...

Josh,

“Wow, libertarians throw out the "free market" argument almost by reflex it seems.” - Josh

Nice example of “Dicto Simpliciter.” First, you should know that I am far from libertarian as your fallacious statement insists. I truly understand the need that human beings have to group and stereotype individuals in such a knee jerk fashion. It is far easier than thoughtfully determining through deductive or inductive reasoning the true nature of an individual and the content of their argument.

While I will avoid going into too much detail on this subject; I personally disagree on many levels with libertarianism because I believe it has a tendency to ignore the vital role of government to manage both natural resources and Natural Monopolies. Also, I believe that if taken to its logical conclusion, philosophically libertarianism devolves into Panarchism, where individuals begin to reject out right the legitimate authority of any government.

“Think for a second.. Radio stations all over the dial are selective when choosing programming. Sports stations choose nationally syndicated sports programs based completely on content.. they also exclude nationally syndicated programs based on content the deem wrong for their audience. Non-LDS church radio broadcasts all over the south (where I live) choose programming to fit their audience, even though it may not necessarily rake in the most advertising dollars. On the flip side, a program like Howard Stern's would probably get great ratings (even in UT) so should KSL, following the invisible hand of the free market, give Stern a time slot? No. I commend the church for this decision. Should have been made years ago but better late than never.” – Josh

You are correct that individual companies do have the right and privileges to sell the products that they wish and that they do select programming based on content. Still, I believe that my argument about hijacking the free market system is still valid because within the a free market system it is the end consumer, not the distributer, who is best at deciding which products are superior in quality ad price, not the distributor. It is this concept of having the end consumer the final presiding factor in a market that is at the center of the principal of supply and demand. While these stations may be selecting programming based on content, ultimately it is the end consumer that decides through their listenership which of these programs remains on the air.

Of course with most businesses the main motivator is profits. In this case because this particular “business” or franchise is owned and operated not by a governing board of directors but by a church authority, the motives shift away from free market principals and towards creating ethical boundaries. In essence, the church is deciding what is good for the listening audience rather than the audience deciding for them selves which is the superior product.

While I continue to argue that it is the LDS Church’s right, and even possibly its moral obligation to limit the content of it’s broadcast based on it own particular ethical diagrams, I personally believe that the church is putting it’s self in a difficult position. This issue certainly illustrates why religion and business can often be a difficult union. Both religion and business have entirely different motivations and any attempt by a religion to manipulate a market or limit fair choice in information might be met with animosity by the general public.

Chelsea said...

To comment on this discussion: Richard, you said,
"Of course with most businesses the main motivator is profits. In this case because this particular “business” or franchise is owned and operated not by a governing board of directors but by a church authority, the motives shift away from free market principals and towards creating ethical boundaries. In essence, the church is deciding what is good for the listening audience rather than the audience deciding for them selves which is the superior product."

This assumes that most, or all of the LDS people that listen to KSL disagree with the boundaries that the Church authority is setting. If the people disagree with these boundaries, I am sure that KSL will be hearing about it very quickly. It is wrong to assume that because a Church board of Directors is making the decisions instead of a Business Board of Directors that they are impervious and totally unresponsive to imput from the public. There are many religious people on many boards that make these decisions. You have also intimated that by limiting it's programming to what the Church considers "Ethical and Civil" that it is secretly trying to feed people religion that they do not want. I have listened to KSL for a long time and I listened to their announcement of this change in policy. Only those who do not listen on a regular basis or who do not listen to all of a particular show could miss the explicit notices that the content is coming from an LDS perspective. I have heard Doug Wright, Ethan Millard, and Alex Kirry all mention repeatedly their membership in the church and even discuss how it shapes their opinions. I disagree with your example of Ronald Reagan. A speach or discourse is not by nature as capable of being uncivil as Mr. Hannity's yelling, belittleing and hanging up on every liberal that comes on his show. One does not need to be a liberal, a libertarian, a republican, or any other classification to realize that Civility is a tone and method more than it is a content. I do not believe that the Church directly tells Doug Wright what he can or cannot say on his show. He has even expressed opinions that are unpopular with his largely conservative listenership. If the church, through KSL were in the business of filtering all content, then Doug Wright's show may have been cancelled by now for allowing opposing views to be expressed. I do believe that the cancellation of Hannity is specifically a commentary on his tone and method, not on his content, and therefore is not "hijaking the free-market system." Religion and business does not need to be a difficult union. I believe that all businesses that are run by moral men will be more successful in the long run that those run by cheaters, liars, etc. It is only corrupt men that cause a problem when religion and business meet.

Chelsea said...

To comment on this discussion: Richard, you said,
"Of course with most businesses the main motivator is profits. In this case because this particular “business” or franchise is owned and operated not by a governing board of directors but by a church authority, the motives shift away from free market principals and towards creating ethical boundaries. In essence, the church is deciding what is good for the listening audience rather than the audience deciding for them selves which is the superior product."

This assumes that most, or all of the LDS people that listen to KSL disagree with the boundaries that the Church authority is setting. If the people disagree with these boundaries, I am sure that KSL will be hearing about it very quickly. It is wrong to assume that because a Church board of Directors is making the decisions instead of a Business Board of Directors that they are impervious and totally unresponsive to imput from the public. There are many religious people on many boards that make these decisions. You have also intimated that by limiting it's programming to what the Church considers "Ethical and Civil" that it is secretly trying to feed people religion that they do not want. I have listened to KSL for a long time and I listened to their announcement of this change in policy. Only those who do not listen on a regular basis or who do not listen to all of a particular show could miss the explicit notices that the content is coming from an LDS perspective. I have heard Doug Wright, Ethan Millard, and Alex Kirry all mention repeatedly their membership in the church and even discuss how it shapes their opinions. I disagree with your example of Ronald Reagan. A speach or discourse is not by nature as capable of being uncivil as Mr. Hannity's yelling, belittleing and hanging up on every liberal that comes on his show. One does not need to be a liberal, a libertarian, a republican, or any other classification to realize that Civility is a tone and method more than it is a content. I do not believe that the Church directly tells Doug Wright what he can or cannot say on his show. He has even expressed opinions that are unpopular with his largely conservative listenership. If the church, through KSL were in the business of filtering all content, then Doug Wright's show may have been cancelled by now for allowing opposing views to be expressed. I do believe that the cancellation of Hannity is specifically a commentary on his tone and method, not on his content, and therefore is not "hijaking the free-market system." Religion and business does not need to be a difficult union. I believe that all businesses that are run by moral men will be more successful in the long run that those run by cheaters, liars, etc. It is only corrupt men that cause a problem when religion and business meet.