You win, Jay Severin

I had him right where I wanted him. And I let the little bugger get away again.

Jay Severin was at the Hard Rock Cafe on Thursday in Boston. I went down there, thinking that I might be able to accomplish in person what I’ve been unable to do by phone; that is, to expose Jay as a liar, hypocrite, and fool. He gave me plenty of ammo so I loaded up, took aim, fired … and missed. Here’s how it went down.

I arrived shortly after 2:30 pm to find Jay holding court in front of 12-15 listeners (a considerable minority of the restaurant patrons). I had listened to earlier portions of the day’s broadcast and I listened for a while at the restaurant before getting up to speak. My plan was to take Jay to task, not for past misdeeds but for what he’d said that very day. He gave me a few things to work with:

  • He implied, simultaneously and without the least hint of irony, that (a) Barack Obama could have prevented the environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico with earlier intervention – an act or omission for which Jay thinks Obama should be impeached; and (b) there was no real environmental catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico – the amount of oil spilled from Deepwater Horizon spills into the Gulf every year, and all the oil from the beaches is gone.
  • In the space of an hour, he went from the responsible position of saying that he heard someone claim that Obama could have stopped the leak quickly to the irresponsible position of saying “we know now” that this happened.
  • A caller suggested that the solution to the illegal immigration problem would be for law enforcement to watch people from a distance as they crossed the border and then, once they’d gone a quarter-mile into US territory, to slaughter them with a variety of firearms. Jay’s response: no comment.
  • He implied that Republicans were perfectly reasonable in refusing to extend unemployment benefits if doing so would add to the deficit, because those benefits could have been paid for by cutting, by a small fraction, the amount of money spent on needle exchange programs.
  • He proclaimed, citing no evidence whatsoever, that punishing crack cocaine possession more harshly than powdered cocaine possession is justified because crack users harm other people whereas cocaine users harm only themselves.
  • He cited Barack Obama’s mention of the new legislation regarding cocaine possession in a speech to the Urban League as evidence of Obama being “racialist.” (Obama included one sentence about the drug law in a 45-minute speech.)

I was planning to call him out on any or all of these as evidence of my broader point about how he misleads his audience. I decided to frame it using another point from earlier in the show. Jay had opened with a bit about Shirley Sherrod’s decision to sue Andrew Breitbart. Jay assumed that the suit would be based on a claim of libel or defamation and he predicted that it would be impossible for her to win because, as he’s repeated ad nauseum on his show, “truth is an absolute defense.” A caller soon informed Jay that Sherrod might indeed have a case under the legal theory of “false light.” I thought that false light was a good metaphor for Jay’s entire program.

So a little before 3:40 pm, I went to the mic – the first of his live audience members to do so. It started out OK but I was done before I realized it. (The audio is terrible, I’m afraid. I recorded it on a mobile phone stuffed in my shirt pocket. I’ve done my best with the transcription, but there are probably some mistakes.)

With those simple words, “I don’t remember our conversations,” Jay threw me off my game. I reminded him about our last conversation, and suddenly the discussion was no longer about him, but about me and about the logistics of his show.

Ugh. I let him characterize a simple statement of my objective – to challenge him to a fair fight – as “histrionics.” I had let myself get moved from accuser to accused. I made a decent attempt to regroup, but once again he deflected my attack.

You see what he did there? He turned my attack against him into a perceived attack against his audience. This threw me off message again, and I started talking about his audience. Also, and I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but at that moment my mic cut out for a split second causing me to ask if I was still on. Jay seized on that as well.

The game was lost at that point. He started talking over me, and then came the inevitable insults and disconnection.

Those insults were shockingly familiar, weren’t they? Twenty-nine months later, and he’s still using the same material. What’s astonishing is how Jay manages to keep his head from exploding with all the cognitive dissonance that must be going on inside. The only insulting, spiteful, hateful, personal comments were the ones he directed at me, and yet he accuses me of directing them toward the audience. And the audience cheers.

One saving grace from the day. As I left the restaurant, an employee of the Hard Rock Cafe opened the door for me. He smiled at me, and shook my hand. In a way, that made the whole experience worth it.

And with that, I’m done. I gave it my best shot, but my best wasn’t good enough. Jay Severin is a coward, a liar, and an idiot, but he plays good defense. I’m never going to be able to get my point through to his audience. So I have no more need to listen or call in to his show. I’ll keep this blog open, in case anyone’s interested in the history, and I renew my invitation for other correspondents to chip in with their own bylines.

Ultimately, I really don’t care about Jay Severin. He’s one guy with no real power to do anything. What I worry about is Jay’s audience. It may be that what Jay suggested is true: either they are too dumb to know what I know, or they like lies. If either of those is true, it’s really not good for our society.

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Jay Watch is back

A year ago, the Boston Globe’s  Scott Lehigh announced “Jay Watch”, an attempt to call Jay Severin to task for “utterances that debase the dialogue.” As far as I know, Lehigh hasn’t published any columns on Severin since then. Until today, that is, when he relayed the news that Media Matters is now tracking Severin’s remarks.

Mr. Lehigh, I hope you will stay on the Severin beat. I haven’t been posting much here lately, partly because these days I find Severin completely insufferable. What I’ve heard lately hasn’t been offensive, necessarily, but merely stupid. Commenting on Severin’s nonsense feels somewhat akin to beating up a six-year-old.

I hope that Severin’s recent efforts in social media such as Twitter and Facebook represent his struggles to hold onto a declining audience. Any insider information on that, Mr. Lehigh?

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Jay Severin’s favorite pollster

Remember when Jay used to go on and on about how Zogby was the only poll you could trust? Not anymore.  These days, only Rasmussen matters. Jonathan Chait of The New Republic has some background on this pollster and why he’s so popular with conservapundits.

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I defriended Jay Severin

Jay (or Jay’s people) finally figured out that public figures are supposed to have fan pages on Facebook rather than (or in addition to) regular individual profiles. So as soon as his Official Fan Page went up, I “liked” it and removed Jay from my list of friends. I feel much cleaner now.

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Jay Severin called me an a-hole again

After listening to an hour or so of nonsense about the biggest story ever, I had to call in. I got through after three or four attempts. After giving my name and town, I said to the producer, “does Jay have any interest in having a serious conversation with someone who disagrees with him?” I was on hold for just a few minutes, and then here’s what happened:

I wish I knew whether it was really my question that made him hang up on me, or whether he recognized my name and/or voice and knew he’d be in trouble if he actually had that conversation. I’d like to think it was the latter.

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Jay Severin is talking about the biggest story ever

Jay Severin said today, “without hyperbole,” that he is discussing “the biggest story ever.” Not only the biggest story ever, but “the biggest story in American history since the Revolution.” Still not impressed? Well it’s also “the biggest story in the history of talk radio.” Now THAT’S big!

So what could he have been talking about? The Louisiana Purchase? Slavery and the Civil War? Universal suffrage? World War II? September 11?

Nope, he’s talking about President Obama’s plan to “grant amnesty, citizenship, and the vote to twenty million illegal immigrants.”

OK …

And here’s the kicker: Jay thinks that “the biggest story ever” is so important that it will be “the dominant story [on talk radio] for the next month.” [Emphasis added.] Good to know that Jay’s listeners can concentrate on the biggest story in American history for an entire month. That’s a serious commitment!

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Jay Severin signs on with the birthers

Here’s Jay’s Facebook status update from April 22, 2010, at 7:44 pm:

GO ARIZONA! (Obama: show us the birth certificate! I demand as an American citizen to see it.)

I really don’t think any further comment is necessary.

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I predict that Jay Severin is wrong

Jay has a nice way of making predictions that can’t be proven wrong. He won’t say “this is what’s going to happen.” He’ll say “it is looking more and more likely that this will happen.” Then if it happens, he says “as I predicted ….” And if it doesn’t happen and someone dares challenge his foresight, he’ll say “I didn’t say it was going to happen, I said it was looking more and more likely, and it would have happened if not for ….”

His latest quasi-prediction is that there will be a third political party by 2012 that will not only rival the Republicans and Democrats but will represent “an overwhelming majority of the vote.” Of course, he doesn’t say that will happen. He says that this scenario is “increasingly realistic” and “absolutely plausible.”

I say that ain’t gonna happen. Period. If it does – in fact, if the total number of House and Senate members seated in January 2013 belonging to a party that is neither Republican nor Democrat exceeds 50 – I’ll quit this blog and send $100 to whatever that third party is. Go ahead … prove me wrong.

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Does Jay Severin know his tax history?

Jay Severin has complained about many things during his 10+ years on Boston radio, but by my reckoning his most frequent and vociferous rants are about how much he pays in taxes. (“Half my money,” he often remarks.)

Using the historical tax calculator from USA Today, we can get some idea of how much Jay is paying in taxes now compared to what he might have paid at the same relative income level in years past. The calculator only provides information for single filers using the standard deduction and one exemption, so it probably overstates how much Jay is or would have been paying in taxes. On the other hand, the calculator does NOT take the Alternative Minimum Tax into account, so it’s possible that there’s some understatement as well.

It’s been estimated that Jay makes $1,000,000 a year, but let’s play it very conservatively and say that after all the trouble he’s gotten himself into, he makes only $500,000.

In 2010, Jay’s effective federal tax rate will be 33%. That includes federal income tax, Social Security tax, and Medicare tax. He’s in the 35% bracket – every dollar he earns over $490,700 is subject to 35% income tax plus 1.45% Medicare tax. (Wages above about $108,000 are NOT subject to Social Security tax.) If he were making $1,000,000 his effective tax rate would be higher, but not much higher: 35%.

What if we rolled the clock back? Things were better before the Great Society, right? So let’s go all the way back to 1951, the year Jay was born. Adjusted for inflation, Jay’s salary back then would have been $60,024, and his effective tax rate would have been only … 59%. That’s right. Sixty years ago, Jay would have been paying 24 percentage points MORE in taxes than he’s paying today. And his marginal tax rate would have been not 35%, but 75%.

I’m sure Jay wouldn’t want to go back to 1951’s tax rates. After all, Democrat Harry Truman was still President then. How were things in 1960, after eight years of Eisenhower? He would have been making about $68,335. And sure enough, his effective tax rate would have gone down. From 59% to 58%. And he’d have bumped up into the 78% bracket. Funny, but I don’t remember Ike being called a Socialist or Communist.

So it’s not 1960 that Jay longs for, either. It turns out, in fact, that the only years since World War II in which Jay would have had a lower effective federal tax rate were 1988 – 1992, when they bottomed out between 29% and 31%. And during those four years, George H. W. “Read My Lips” Bush decided that they had to go up again.

So the next time Jay complains about his federal tax bill, I hope someone asks him exactly when he thinks tax rates were reasonable. I’d love to hear the answer.

Now it’s true that the federal government spends a lot of money on things today that it didn’t spend money on in 1951 or 1960. But would Jay’s taxes go down if we stopped spending money on “bastard factories in Newark” or “turkey basters for lesbians?” History suggests otherwise.

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Can I be to Jay Severin what Bob Cesca is to Glenn Beck?

Read this and you’ll understand what I’m talking about. Recall that Jay Severin has called Glenn Beck his “hero.” You could pretty much do a search and replace on Bob Cesca’s column to substitute Severin for Beck in terms of communication strategy. One difference, of course, is that Severin doesn’t seem to be doing nearly as well financially as Beck.

It’s tempting, as Cesca notes, to ignore these charlatans. But to the extent that they are really influencing opinions, and to the extent that those opinions are having an impact in Washington and in state capitals, ignoring them is bad for the country. And we’ll never know for sure what role talk radio had in Scott Brown’s election, but it’s just possible that the Severins, Becks, and Limbaughs of the world are responsible.

I’m following you on Twitter, Bob Cesca. Show me how to expose a fraud.

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