While Melanie Morgan debates with Ann Coulter about whether the executive editor of the New York Times should be killed by gas chamber or firing squad, the institutional forces behind the San Francisco radio host deserve to share in the national spotlight now focused on her. Morgan's brand of authoritarian extremism is brought to her radio listeners every day courtesy of the Disney Corp., which owns KSFO-AM -- a station that functions as a mouthpiece and fundraising mechanism for the Republican Party.
Through KSFO and Move America Forward, a right-wing nonprofit (and "nonpartisan") organization that she co-chairs, Morgan enjoys an extensive network of connections in the Californian Republican Party. The founder and "chief strategist" of Move America Forward is noted Republican consultant Sal Russo, whose firm has represented a broad spectrum of GOP candidates around the country over the past three decades.
Started as a vehicle for the recall of California Gov. Gray Davis, the group has pursued such disparate causes as discouraging theaters from screening Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," promoting the confirmation of United Nations Ambassador John Bolton, promoting happy news from Baghdad -- and, last December, launching an ad campaign to persuade Americans that Saddam Hussein really did possess a hidden arsenal of weapons of mass destruction.
For a commercial radio station, KSFO maintains an unusually close relationship with the local Republican Party. The station's Web site links to Political Vanguard, which is operated by Contra Costa County GOP chairman Thomas Del Beccaro. Both his site and KSFO feature a series of party fundraising events, notably a gala hosted by Morgan herself and an upcoming speech by Wall Street Journal columnist John Fund. (Perhaps Morgan will take the opportunity to harangue Fund about his traitorous Journal colleagues, who also published the story about the financial tracking of terrorists by the SWIFT bank consortium.)
Anyone wishing to purchase tickets to these KSFO-sponsored events is advised to make out a check to "Contra Costa Republican Party" and mail it to the party headquarters in Walnut Creek, Calif.
Morgan and her co-hosts at KSFO (formerly the home of hatemonger Michael Savage) are predictably thrilled by the attention she has received ever since she called for Times executive editor Bill Keller to be sent to the gas chamber (after a "trial," of course). To listen to them is to wonder whether they may have gotten a little overexcited about their newfound notoriety -- Morgan's daily program specializes in primitive politics, with aging frat-boy high jinks provided by male sidekick Lee Rodgers and another character known as "Officer Vic."
On June 27, following a news item about President Bush's denunciation of the Times story on financial tracking of suspected terrorists via the SWIFT (Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications ) bank consortium, Morgan sputtered, "Get 'em! Yes, hang 'em! Yeah!"
Two days later, her sidekick Rodgers became exasperated with the Associated Press for reporting that antiwar activist Cindy Sheehan and others had begun a hunger strike. "Why don't you dopes at the Associated Press do the world a favor? Commit mass suicide!"
"Oh, Lee!" tittered Morgan.
The hilarity continued on June 30 when Morgan clarified her position. For the sake of listeners who wondered why she kept calling for prosecution of the New York Times but not of the other newspapers that had published stories on the SWIFT tracking, she explained that they're all traitors in her mind.
"I'm going to say this one more time," she barked peevishly. "Yes, we're picking on the New York Times, the poor defenseless New York Times. But I don't care if it was the New York Times or the L.A. Times or the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal. All of you people are equally guilty of treasonous behavior!"
By then Rodgers had gotten plenty fed up with all the criticism of his co-host, and he issued an ominous warning. "God Almighty," he muttered. "The day will come ... The day will come when unpleasant things are going to happen to a bunch of stupid liberals. It's going to be amusing to watch, it's going to be very amusing to watch." Morgan cackled as if on cue, "Heh heh heh."
Like many right-wingers, the KSFO crew can dish it out, but they can't take it. Their feelings get hurt when anyone slaps back. On July 10, New York Times columnist Frank Rich published a Sunday column identifying Morgan as part of a "get the press lynch mob." Although Rich didn't urge any summary punishment for her, Morgan reacted the next day by calling him "one of the meanest liberals that's on staff there in the columns department" and wrongly accused him and other Times staffers of having "lied about what I've actually said." (In the same breath she made a similar bogus complaint about a column I wrote for Salon.)
Then she and her crew came up with a new position regarding what should happen to those journalists whom she deems traitors. Not what should happen, actually, but how it should happen.
"I really do believe that anybody who publishes classified information that results in a charge of treason should be fried! Fry 'em! Trial, conviction, death penalty!"
At that point one of her co-hosts cheerfully interjects, "You originally called for the gas chamber ... but we kind of like Ole Sparky," meaning the electric chair. To shrieks of laughter from Morgan, he launched into a gruesome description of execution by electrocution: "Their hair would go up and everything, smoke, electrical jets shooting out of their eyeballs ... We'd take Bill Keller, put him in the electric chair -- after a trial -- and then fire it up." He then launched into a series of oral sound effects -- buzzing, screeching, hissing and blubbering sounds meant to simulate the high-voltage end of the Times editor.
While Morgan modestly bills herself as a fount of "intellect and wit," her brand of fascist vaudeville isn't universally admired. That could be why, according to a blogger and media activist who calls himself Spocko, several KSFO sponsors have canceled their commercials. Yet Morgan and her cronies, straining to keep up with Coulter, seem confident that Disney, ABC Radio and their advertisers love broadcasting the mock electrocution of a New York Times editor. Who cares about journalism or freedom of the press, or even standards of taste? There must be a lot of money to be made in jackboot radio.