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.