The only sure loser is America. Or, I should say, the two Americas, as this presidential slog of two tomato cans only widened an ideological gulf that leaves us red in exasperation and blue in the face. All the election did was re-confirm a toxic reality: We are a bipolar country that will continue to wage a civil war despite Joe Biden’s vow “to unite, heal and come together as a nation’’ — and if you doubt the social divide, wait until Donald Trump launches a 24-hour TV channel programmed for half the U.S. population.
It wouldn’t be America, 2020, without a stupefying slugfest ending in coast-to-coast stench. The Democrats think the stink comes from Trump, who, in a remarkable last-stand media session, called himself a victim of election fraud and vowed to send packs of legal bulldogs to the Supreme Court. Trump thinks the stink is grounded in a wide-ranging conspiracy, and while he’s going to do need actual evidence before any judge considers the election was “stolen,’’ I will say this: Trump’s claims aren’t completely inane when an archaic, reckless process invites corruption and inefficacy.
“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,’’ he said. “If you count the illegal votes, they can try to steal the election from us.’’
Sour grapes? More lies? It’s difficult to trust a president who still thinks the coronavirus is fading into the wind — and a man who likely won a stolen election in 2016. Still, every wee-hours TV shot of a scene out of yesteryear — workers opening mail-in ballots, then placing them in piles on collapsible tables beside trash cans in dimly-lit warehouses — left me with the same haunting conclusion: We can trust neither Big Tech nor human beings to elect a president in the 21st century. It’s a broken system that should be condemned and overhauled, disposed into the same Washington dumpster as the irresponsible mainstream media — who never have looked worse in their failed bias-brainwashing — and the pollsters, who showed once and for all that they’re either nerds on the take or just inept.
There is no transparency — from Trump, from the Democrats, from the media, from the prognosticators, from the electoral process. There is no integrity. There is no faith.
Therefore, there is no America.
The clumsiness of it all only fed Trump’s suspicions that the vote was rigged via dishonest counting practices and phony media slanting. Rather than let him finish his speech Thursday evening, the three major networks that have contributed to dubious election reporting — ABC, NBC and CBS — suddenly dumped Trump and returned to regular coverage. “We have to cut away here because the president has made a number of false allegations,” NBC’s Lester Holt said. Was it their role to cancel the President of the United States? When, after all, he still extended the election into triple-overtime, still showed enough clout to remain a disruptive force into the future and still had enough supporters — a projected 70 million-plus votes — who wanted to hear him. At a critical juncture of an astounding moment in time, the networks wanted to control the narrative of a desperate and defeated Trump, bleeding in the 15th and final round, losing his mind once and for all. Sorry, it is not their place to do so. If he’s lying, let the American people see him lie. They have a right to decide for themselves.
I’ve often suggested a bulldozer will be required to remove Trump from the White House. I’ve amended that today to an army of M117 Guardian tanks, Stryker Combat vehicles, LVSR Wreckers and maybe a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, all coordinated by Dana White. It’s useless to plead for dignity from a man who has little (hell, Kanye West conceded quickly after landing only a few votes, probably because he missed filing deadlines). Instead, a thick, gobsmacked anxiety will continue to hang over America, with ugly protests reflecting the premise of voter fraud. As Trump was tweeting, “STOP THE COUNT’’ and “ANY VOTE THAT CAME IN AFTER ELECTION DAY WILL NOT BE COUNTED,’’ people in the city streets were chanting, “Count Every Vote!’’ This is America now.
If only our future could be as optimistic as Biden thinks. “Democracy is sometimes messy. It sometimes requires a little patience as well,’’ he said. “But that patience has been rewarded now for more than 240 years with a system of governance that’s been the envy of the world.” Envy of the world? Say it ain’t so, Joe. The world is laughing at us, and likely soon to be laughing at you.
Assuming Biden survives Trump — and his legal weaponry — and takes over the most unforgiving political hotseat in the history of humankind, he’ll be treated with kid gloves by media who have no shame. There is no doubt about this: They did try to fix the race with deceptive, one-sided coverage. What happened to the so-called “Blue Wave,’’ an assumption the Democrats would control the White House and Congress? As seen all week, four years of Trump-bashing backfired on organizations that allowed wishful-thinking agendas to slant coverage — and projections. The pollsters must go away, starting with the now-miserably-unreliable Nate Silver, who once called 50 states correct for Barack Obama but since has crashed twice on Trump forecasts (he gave Biden an 89 percent chance of winning). The amateurs at MSNBC, meanwhile, literally looked ready to cry as Trump was making it a long race, with Nicolle Wallace abandoning hopes for a Biden landslide and saying, “You can see the hopes and dreams of our viewers falling down and liquor cabinets opening.’’ Later, host Brian Williams stayed with the booze angle when, referring to a Democrat guest, he said, “Wondering how much closer he is to the liquor cabinet.”
They excoriate Trump for four years, then want to get drunk when they are embarrassingly wrong about a predicted landslide defeat. Just what they teach in journalism school. “What’s journalism?’’ you ask. I think it died, too, this week.
With nearly every major news outlet needing major chiropractic surgery — leaning in yoga-like contortions to project a winner according to naked in-house schemes — we wanted to believe in an equilibrium-based news source when we can’t believe in the New York Times, the Washington Post and other hysterically anti-Trump organs. They didn’t learn lessons from four years ago, when Trump’s supporters — many blue-collar, many rural, few reading elitist websites — helped him win and shocked editors who pretended those sectors didn’t exist. Nothing changed this time, with the ivory towers assuming 2016 was an aberration and that Biden would win big. The Post, in a purported poll with ABC, said before the election that Biden was up 17 percent in Wisconsin. They were shot full of holes like a piece of Dairyland cheese.
It was shocking to see Fox News, long considered Trump’s unapologetic rooting section, incur his wrath by calling Arizona for Biden early and becoming the first network to credit Biden with as many as 264 electoral votes. Trump was so enraged, he reportedly called Fox patriarch Rupert Murdoch and ranted. “Many Americans will never again accept the results of a presidential election,’’ said the network’s popular host, Tucker Carlson, who lashed out at mainstream media for pro-Biden bias. As for CNN, I’m amazed at how John King breaks down every new blip from some distant Georgia county with a barrage of data; but eventually, I was ready to strangle him, too.
The traditional news networks weren’t immune from stumbling. Before the election, NBC projected a “slight lead’’ for Biden in Florida, while CBS was trumpeting Texas as an “unlikely battleground.’’ Wrong. And wrong. Those networks plead for our trust, but they blow it because they are influenced by the same corporate directives that taint Fox News and CNN and, well, most American media.
How refreshing to see one sturdy, tried-and-true organization show how am election should be reported. The Associated Press never has plunged into the we-broke-it-first cesspool, refusing to predict or name a winner until finality is certain. Nothing was different this year in the most volatile election in modern U.S. history, when only a fool trusted what was reported on a cable network or a traditional legacy site. Even Jack Dorsey got it behind his Amish farmer-meets-ZZ Top beard, listing the AP among only seven outlets that Twitter trusted for results. So I believed the AP when it called Arizona early for Biden. The news service uses 4,000 freelance local reporters who carefully wait for vote counts from every county in the 50 states, then report results to hundreds of AP entry clerks who grill the freelancers and verify the information for publication.
“There’s no winner in the presidential race. That’s OK,’’ an AP headline said in mid-week, above a story explaining that “the closer the margin in a state is, the more votes are needed for The Associated Press to declare a winner.’’ Professionalism and patience. What a concept.
Which is in direct contrast to race-baiting that often sounds like an act for attention and traffic. Case in point: The Atlantic’s Jemele Hill, who wrote, “If Trump wins re-election, it’s on white people.’’ She might want to ask Hispanic voters in Miami-Dade County and Texas who embraced Trump at the polls.
The credibility is gone and not retrievable. If the media entered the election with a low trust quotient, they’ve completely lost the American people. And this comes from a guy — me — who has been in the industry since I was 18, has made a comfortable living from it for decades and has been alarmed to see a rapid deterioration of transparency starting with the Internet boom. When we need reality in this country, we get self-styled b.s. EVERY DAMNED DAY.
If nothing else, Trump would leave Washington knowing that his derisive term for the media — fake news — is a permanent staple of the national lexicon. I just didn’t feel like seeing it drop into my in-box at 6:43 p.m. Pacific time. “DEFEND THE RESULTS! THE DEMOCRATS WILL TRY TO STEAL THIS ELECTION!’’ said the e-mail, signed by Donald J. Trump himself. He also wanted me to help bankroll his lawyers, asking for $2,750. Or more. “Donald Trump is going to court to stop votes from being counted,’’ Biden tweeted. “We have assembled the largest election protection effort in history to fight back.”
I was going to pass along the e-mail to a Trumper I know. But in a week when the U.S. — in other news — recorded a single-day record for COVID-19 infections, I am exhausted and ready for someone else in the top office, even if that someone else soon will have me wanting someone else. If this crazed American episode was, as Biden said, a “battle for the soul of the nation,’’ that soul is bludgeoned.
The Cost of “Thoughts”
Jack Del Rio made a classic mistake of wondering aloud about topics that people in public positions aren’t allowed to think about on Twitter.
The first recorded use of the expression, “A penny for your thoughts,” was made by Sir Thomas Moore precisely 500 years ago (1522). But, no doubt, a penny went much further in the 16th century.
The U.S. Department of Labor’s most recent Consumer Price Index (CPI) shows that inflation continues to increase above expectations. The current annual rate of 8.6% is the highest since 1981. The cost of thoughts, or at least saying them aloud, well, saying certain things in a public forum, has gone up far more than the CPI.
Jack Del Rio, defensive coordinator for the Washington Commanders (formerly known as the “Washington Football Team,” and before that, the Washington Redskins), made a classic mistake of wondering aloud about topics that people in public positions aren’t allowed to think about on Twitter. Specifically, his Tweets compared (what he called) “the summer of riots” to January 6th at the U.S. Capitol. As the late, great Alex Trebek would say, Del Rio’s comments were “in the form of a question.”
Faced with media scrutiny about his Tweets, rather than back down, Del Rio referred to January 6th as a “dust-up at the Capitol.”
Can I tell you a trade secret of press flacks? They all have a small can of lighter fluid and a pack of matches within reach behind a piece of glass with the words “break only in the case of emergency” scrawled on it. Certain phrases or words will cause a press person, at great personal danger and sacrifice, to break the glass, douse themselves with the accelerant, and strike a match before flinging their immolating body in front of the podium. Okay, not literally, but I guarantee the Commanders’ public relations director would think this alternative less painful than hearing those words come out of Del Rio’s mouth in front of the press gaggle.
The controversy that followed was swift and certain: as was the reaction from Commanders Head Coach Ron Rivera. He promptly assessed a $100,000 fine on Del Rio for his comments.
Two points here: First, this is not a sports story. Talk Radio observers should be far more concerned with the consequences of this story than NFL or sports fans. Second, it doesn’t matter what you think happened on January 6th. You should still find the fine issued by Rivera chilling, whether you call it an insurrection or a dust-up.
I used to believe that comedian Bill Maher and I were about as far apart on the political spectrum as any two Americans could be. Maher and I, however, hold similar views on freedom of expression.
On his HBO show, “Real Time,” Maher defended Del Rio by saying: “In America, you have the right to be wrong. They fined him; the team fined him $100,000 for this opinion. Fining people for an opinion. I am not down with that.”
Because this is where we meet, I’d like to buy Bill Maher a drink and have a laugh over all the times he’s been wrong, or we can share that drink and a smile for understanding that freedom of expression IS the foundation of democracy – no matter who’s right or wrong. Freedom of expression is an issue where liberals and conservatives must find common ground.
The football team currently known as the Washington Commanders may need another name change. Perhaps the “Comrades” would reflect the team’s philosophy better? Levying such a hefty punishment for stating a political (and non-football) point of view because it is out of step with what is apparently official policy seems more reminiscent of the Politburo’s posture than a free society.
Del Rio’s words are understandably offensive to many. At the very least, they were ham-handed for someone who has been in the public spotlight for so long. But a $100,000 fine? Stifling political opinion is far more dangerous than anything Del Rio said.
Taking the Del Rio incident into context with the “Cancel Culture” of the past few years, Talk Radio hosts should look over their shoulders. Del Rio is also an excellent reminder to think twice before posting a politically unpopular opinion on social media.
Inflation has eaten away at the value of a penny and increased the cost of making politically incorrect statements, including on the air in recent years. What inhibits individuals from expressing their thoughts, beliefs, opinions, and emotions is a threat to Talk Radio and democracy.
Joe Pags’ Dream to Work In Media Started Early
Pags knew a career in media was for him ever since he was ten years old, even before his vocal chords did.
If you’ve ever been required to interview someone for a segment or article, you know pretty quickly when it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
Joe Pags was answering my initial questions as freely as Ebeneezer Scrooge hands out Krugerrands. Teeth have been pulled from the human head with greater ease. It just wasn’t happening.
After a few minutes, I think I grew on him.
I discovered we actually had a few things in common; both of us lived in Lake Worth, Florida, we knew a lot of the same places and faces, and we both understood that summer heat in Florida is like purgatory.
However, Pags and I will both have a fond devotion to The Noid. We will always share the memories of being a manager at Domino’s Pizza.
“I worked at Domino’s when pizzas were delivered to your door within 30-minutes, or it was free,” Pags said. “After a while they went to 30 minutes or three dollars off the price. Too many people were getting into accidents trying to beat the clock.”
What Pags did not mention was that even when you legitimately made it in less than 30 minutes, you had people questioning your delivery time. I guess that’s human nature.
Soon, pizzas were just for eating, not working; Pags started his radio career in 1989 in Palm Beach County, Florida.
After that, it was a stint as a television anchor from 1994-2005 in Saginaw, Michigan, and then Albany, New York. From there he was called back to radio and landed at the Clear Channel Talk Flagship, WOAI, in 2005. The Joe Pags Show has been a fan favorite since its debut in 2005.
For Pags, the media dream started early on.
“I grew up listening to talk radio at a very young age and was determined to make my living doing it one day,” Pags says. “I actually have a tape somewhere on which I erased the DJ’s voice and recorded mine over the songs.”
Pags is probably thrilled that the tape will never be released.
Years later, he found he could pay the bills doing something he loved. “I’m lucky enough to work with great people on both local, and national radio and television,” Pags explained.
“I also remember Steve Cain, Rick, and Suds on that station,” Pags said. “It was a lot of talk radio, but it was fun. It was entertainment. Rush Limbaugh was doing the politics stuff back then.”
Pags knew a career in media was for him ever since he was ten years old, even before his vocal chords did.
“When my voice changed at 13, I developed more of a bass tone; I knew I was on my way. I had a New York accent and had to shake that.”
Before he embarked on a career in radio, his music career was going well. Pags played French horn and saxophone; apparently, he was pretty good.
He played gigs at the prestigious Breakers Hotel, among many others. “I used to play at the Backstage lounge adjacent to the old Burt Reynolds Dinner Theater in Jupiter,” Pags said.
No word on whether Reynolds ever caught Pags live or not.
As a kid, he played baseball. Pags said he was pretty good. What took center stage for Pags was music. It was the French horn and saxophone that captured his heart.
“I played professionally on the Empress Dinner Cruise on the Intracoastal Waterway,” Pags said. “I also did gigs at The Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach. We made some good money.”
Before Domino’s and radio and music, it all started with a strong desire to succeed. That often comes from your family’s belief in you. Sometimes it’s not there.
“I knew that if I worked hard enough, if I showed the love for the work I was doing, then I’d succeed,” Pags said.
His family lived in Lake Worth, Florida, from 1973-74, and Pags returned every so often. “I got back to Florida recently when I went to Mara Lago and watched 2,000 Mules.”
San Antonio has been home for the past 17 years for Pags and his family. “I’ve been here at WOAI. I’ve got my own studio in a great area.” His daughter Sam is his executive producer. I asked Pags if there was any nepotism when it came to hiring Sam.
“Darn right, there is nepotism,” he said. “This is Joe Pags media. I get to hire whoever I want,” he quipped. “Sam has always had a love of broadcasting. When I became syndicated in this business, I told her I trusted her more than anyone else I knew and asked her to produce my show.”
The other day I spoke with Will Cain for a piece. He told me if I visited Austin, I should also see Texas. So I asked Pags what Cain was trying to say. “He means Austin is a city like Portland; only it’s in Texas. There’s a lot of homelessness in Austin. A lot of crime. The University of Texas in Austin goes far to the Left.”
Where does Pags’ tough demeanor come from?
“My father was 100 percent Italian. We had some good pasta dishes around our house with my grandparents around,” Pags explained. “We didn’t have a good bakery in Lake Worth, so I remember my mother and aunts bringing great bread recipes over from the homeland.”
Pags has always been interested in what takes place on the periphery, not just the core of matters. He’s done a lot of things throughout his life. That experience has helped shape his radio show. Pags said his show tends to be white-collar, but he grew up blue-collar all the way.
“I liked the Superman movies. I enjoyed Rocky,” Pags explained. “As a car-buff, I loved the Burt Reynolds films with Smokey and the Bandit. Stuff like that.”
Lake Worth, like a lot of other Floridia areas, has been known to be a little rough and tumble. Just watch Cops for a week if you don’t believe me.
Pags said other than a little shoving match at the bus stop, he didn’t encounter much rough stuff. “I was a musician, I wasn’t in that mix. Perhaps a scuffle in little league.”
When he was a teenager, he thought music would be it. “I’d played with some big-hitters at the time, like The Coasters,” Pags said.
“Music career opportunities really didn’t come along as I’d hoped. In some ways, people in the industry were full of it. I still did some freelance work on the saxophone.”
Pags said he was always willing to work for what he got. “I poured coffee and ran errands for $4 an hour,” Pags said. “I had my car repossessed, and got evicted from my apartment. I still kept at it. I never was deterred from what I wanted. I knew what I wanted, but never really expected things to happen the way they did.”
Pags said if some youngster asked how to be what Pags is today, his answer was succinct. “Pour coffee, run errands, whatever you have to do.”
I asked Pags what he does in his downtime? Let’s just say he’s not running to tee-off at 7:00 am with the guys at the club on his day off.
“I’m a domestic sports car guy,” he says with pride. “I’ve got three Corvettes, a Camaro Super Sport. My Camaro was a 1967, red with white stripes. I sold that car so we could afford to adopt our daughter. I got the better end of that deal.”
He doesn’t do any weekend racing on local tracks like other aging Indy wannabes. “I like to look at those cars in the garage,” Pags said. “My dad was a big car guy. My dad is probably why I’ve succeeded in my life and career. Not for the reasons you’d think.”
Pags’ relationship with his father had the typical ups and downs. Same as it is for most men.
“My father didn’t think I’d amount to anything and had no problem relating that to me,” Pags said. “Conversely, my Mom was always extremely supportive of my interests and goals. I knew if you were good at what you did, people would take notice.”
Pags said his father excelled at being a naysayer. A glass is a half-empty kind of guy.
“He was so negative. He thought I’d never succeed at anything,” Pags explained. “I was out of the house at 17, and I was determined to become something. To prove him wrong.”
Before his father passed away, Pags believes his father became aware of a lot of things.
“A light went on in his head, and he was just so surprised I could make a living doing what I did,” Pags explains. “When I became a big enough success, he recognized my drive and determination. I’m still not sure if he was hard on me because he thought it would help me in the end. Whatever his reasoning was, it gave me the drive and determination to see things through.”
Pags’ father became so proud of his son that he’d tell friends Joe was going to be on Fox News and how they should tune in.
“It was my mother, with her ultimate support, that really made me want to succeed. For her,” Pags explained.
“I learned that if someone disparages you or makes you feel small, you have choices. You can go into a shell and take it. Believe what people say. Or you can go out and knock down some doors. If you want me to do something, tell me I can’t do it. Soon I will be syndicated on 200 stations. All that came from believing in myself. I’ll prove it to iHeart. To other broadcasters.”
Pags said at some point; you’ve got to find some kind of edge.
“I knew I wasn’t going to agree with things my father believed and said, just to shut him up. I had to stand up for my own beliefs.”
I can relate to a guy like Pags. He’s got a tough exterior, not easy to crack. But like me, I know in the center is a soft, creamy nougat.
The Rise of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
According to BNM’s Pete Mundo, Ron DeSantis sounds an awful lot like someone who is gearing up for something bigger than “just” being the Governor of Florida.
For at least the last six years, the long-standing belief is that talk radio has been the home for Donald Trump sycophants. While I’ve always viewed this as an overly-simplistic analysis of tens of millions of weekly talk radio listeners in this country, it’s fair to say that certainly, from 2015 through 2020; the news talk audience was supportive of the 45th President.
And now, as time goes on, there are signs that the dam is breaking. There’s anecdotal data I can share and then more scientific data to touch on.
This past Monday, I spent one segment of my show saying I would burn through as many calls as I could over 8-9 minutes on Trump or Ron DeSantis to be the 2024 Republican Presidential nominee. I brought this up in the wake of DeSantis’ criticism of Joe Biden’s energy policy from late last week. He sounded an awful lot like someone who is gearing up for something bigger than “just” being the Governor of Florida.
Over those 8-9 minutes, I fit in 14 phone calls. Going into it, I told my producers privately that my guess was that the calls would split fairly evenly but probably lean towards Trump.
That’s not what happened.
Instead, we ended up with nine of the 14 callers in favor of DeSantis, with five going for Trump.
Then there was some interesting polling this week. One poll of likely Republican primary voters in New Hampshire found DeSantis edging out Trump 39 percent to 37 percent. The most telling fact about the New Hampshire poll is that while DeSantis leads Trump by just two points overall, he leads among Fox News watchers by 14 points and among conservative radio listeners by 16 points.
As is always the case, one poll should not be viewed as an absolute, but there are clear signs that Donald Trump’s stranglehold over Republican voters is waning. And from my perspective, it’s waning faster than I expected.
Politics move fast. One day you’re hot; the next day, not so much. And to see DeSantis rise this quickly when all the focus is on Joe Biden and the 2022 midterms, not the Republican primary in 2024, makes this poll even more surprising.
And while I have no interest in getting ahead of myself, talk radio is likely to be the battleground for this issue if and when it does ultimately come to fruition. Talk radio is obviously far more interactive than cable news. Callers, texters, and Facebook/Twitter users can all be participants and have their perspectives shared with thousands of listeners at any given time.
And if those most in tune with the news cycle of the moment find themselves shifting to someone like Ron DeSantis, then the run-of-the-mill Republican voter is likely to follow suit when the time comes.
But, if we do end up getting a Trump vs. DeSantis primary, then 2024 could end up making 2016 look like child’s play. But I’ll stop here because, once again, I’m not looking to get ahead of myself.