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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