Dear Tony Dale,
I'm one of those radio listeners who think that a community can't have too many local talk shows. Good talk radio expands dialogue, gives regular folks who call in a rare chance to sound off on important local and national issues, and provides a crucial check on the local print media.
So I was dismayed by the recent news that WISE-AM 1310 has canceled its local talk show as the station switches to an all-sports format. That means your program -- WWNC-AM 570's The Tony Dale Show, which airs weekdays from 3 to 6 p.m. -- is now Asheville's sole remaining local talk-radio show.
I tuned in to your entire broadcast on Feb. 9 -- your first day as our only local talk jock -- to see what local listeners have in store. (I should mention that this wasn't my first time; I've listened to your show regularly since last summer.) One thing I want from local talk radio is good information. To know if information is good or not, we need to know where it's coming from. So I kept a keen ear out for the sources of what you had to say.
As you'll recall, you covered a lot of ground that day, hitting many topics. But for a good two-thirds of the show, you homed in on one of your staples: homosexuality. It seems fair to say that you're agin it, especially when it comes to gay marriage. "Look, there is a cultural war going on, there can be no doubt about that," you told us, and "The main battlefront, in many ways, has been homosexuality."
Speaking of cultural war, you began by reading a commentary against gay marriage by Pat Buchanan. I'm always interested in what Buchanan has to say on hot-button issues, since it's usually a good barometer of the latest arguments circulating on the radical right, which I like to keep an eye on. So thanks for that.
But then you launched into another, longer screed, this one about pro-tolerance school curricula prepared by gay-activist groups. Only this time, you didn't tell us what we were listening to. It sounded like you were reading something, but you didn't say so. Curious, I punched an excerpt of your comments into the Google search engine and soon found what you were reading: an article posted that day on CNSNews.com, "Same-Sex Marriage Debate Moves Into Schools," by Robert B. Bluey.
Now, reading Web sides on a radio show can be all well and good (if a little unoriginal), but c'mon, Tony. That's a 1,300-word commentary, and you read almost the entire piece without citing the source. When I was in journalism school, they taught us that there's a name for using someone else's work without crediting them: plagiarism. Besides, it's so easy to name your sources (even Rush Limbaugh does it), so why not identify all of the authors whose work you are sharing with your listeners? It's not just a courtesy to those of us who are tuned in, it's a bedrock principle of journalism -- even for radio talk-show hosts.
But that was the least of your Web gaffes that day. Here I'll summon another common-sense journalistic caution: Just because something circulates on the Internet, that doesn't make it true. I didn't think a radio commentator would still need to be told that. But there you were, sharing what you described as some "facts" you'd found online about what you called the "incredibly dangerous and unhealthy lifestyle" of homosexuals.
You said that "the average homosexual has between 20 and 106 partners a year; the average heterosexual has approximately 8 in a lifetime"; that "homosexuals live very unhealthy lives and historically account for the bulk of sexual diseases but also mental diseases"; that "between 25 and 33 percent of gays are alcoholic"; that "43 percent admit to 500 or more partners in a lifetime"; that "they account for half of the murders in large cities; that "50 percent of suicides are attributed to gays"; and finally: "Do you know what the average age of a gay person is? Forty-eight. That is the average lifespan."
Hmm, Tony, where to begin? I suppose the most important thing to mention is that none of the above "information" has been shown to be true, certainly not by any scientific understanding of the word. And when you consider the source of these assertions (which you evidently didn't), there are ample clues as to why the data don't stand up to scrutiny.
This time, you told us where you got your material: www.inoohr.org/homosexualstatistics.htm. "It is all footnoted, all attributed," you advised. "I urge you to go to this site, because this is the most comprehensive collection of some of these data that I've seen. I think it's compelling reading. I think you'd be hard-pressed to defend the gay lifestyle as anything but dangerous, diseased and degenerate after reading it. Read it and I will defy you, I will challenge anyone, to call me and defend that lifestyle."
But it's your so-called facts, Tony, that can't mount a defense against a little critical thinking. Again, smart news consumers always consider the source. And your source was a Web page put up by the International Organization of Heterosexual Rights. The page does, in fact, use footnotes, but a footnote does not a fact make, as anyone who examines this page closely can quickly discern.
To begin with, many of the citations are incomplete and don't begin to back up the "statistics." For example, here's the citation for the assertion that gays account for half of the murders in big cities and half of the suicides: "Kaifetz, J. 'Homosexual Rights Are Concern for Some,' Post-Tribune, 18 December 1992." A quick Web search turned up the fact that there is an anti-gay activist in Indiana named Jerry Kaifetz who frequently writes angry letters to newspapers. But he's neither a reporter nor a scientist, and if he is indeed the source of those stats, clearly it's time to find some more credible sources.
To cite an even worse example, consider the citation used for several of the other outlandish "statistics" listed on the page, including the claim, which you repeated, that the average homosexual dies in their 40s: "Fields, Dr. E. 'Is Homosexual Activity Normal?' Marietta, GA." Here, we don't even get a publication.
So who is Dr. E. Fields of Marietta? I hope he's not, but expect he is, the same individual described in a report by the Center for Democratic Renewal, an Atlanta-based hate-group watchdog organization: "The Truth At Last, handed out by various KKK factions, Populist Party, and neo-Nazi groups, is published by Marietta's Ed Fields. Fields was co-founder of the America First Party, a white supremacist political party."
The International Organization for Heterosexual Rights certainly doesn't seem like the sort of group that would mind passing on disinformation from the likes of Fields. I learned that much when I clicked to their home page, scrolled down, and came across a link that read, "The 'Army of God' *****Recommended Site*****." Clicking on the link, I found that, as I expected, this is the same "Army of God" that champions abortion-clinic arsonists and Paul Hill, the Florida double murderer who was executed in September 2003 for killing an abortion doctor and his volunteer escort.
I could go on, Tony, but you get the idea. Your "homosexual statistics" are bunk, and that's no surprise, considering that they come from a group driven more by homophobia than by a search for the facts. I'll keep listening to your show, and I hope to hear a correction soon. You owe your listeners that much.
In the meantime, I can't help but notice that a promo spot frequently aired on WWNC boasts that the station has "the largest radio news staff in all of Western North Carolina." So maybe the station could spare a fact-checker for your show?
[Jon Elliston is a freelance writer based in Asheville.]