Let me say publicly that DonBoy’s answer exudes a combination of intuitive genius and confidence that make me think DonBoy is going to do big things in his life. -- Steven D. Levitt (Freakonomics blog)
Monday, June 11, 2007

For a change of pace, I was listening to mostly-conservative talk radio WRKO for a few minutes the other day, and heard something kind of odd. (Let me point out up front that I didn't hear the whole discussion, but I heard the last 10 minutes or so.) The host was Mariellen Burns, who has a Saturday 1-4PM slot. The topic was a law that went into effect this week in Connecticut that bans protests at funerals. The trigger for this bill is the recent outbreak of funeral disruptions or attempted disruptions by the "God Hates Fags" Westboro Baptist Church, which has branched out from its core competency -- screaming at the funerals of dead gay men -- into screaming at the funerals of dead servicemen, on the theory that they died because God's angry at America for not being anti-gay enough. (Obligatory obvious point: shouting "God Hates Fags" at the funerals of actual fags didn't cause any laws to get passed.)

Now, Burns, unlike the right-wing talkers usually heard on RKO (they carry Limbaugh and Savage during the week) , didn't talk like a right-winger, in either her tone or her choice of words, which is why I kept listening to try to figure her out. But the odd thing -- and again, I missed the beginning -- is that she kept referring to "this group" that was protesting the funerals of Americans who had died in Iraq. She didn't mention the "God Hates Fags" context at all. Now, if a radio host knew the history of the group, you'd think she might mention it. If she didn't know the history of the group, she might conclude that it's an extremist anti-war group, and then say so. She didn't say so. But if she knew the history of the group, and didn't mind leaving the audience with the belief that this was an anti-war group, but didn't want to get called out for a lie, she might do what she did -- leave it up to the listeners to get the wrong idea.

Since I missed the beginning, I thought I'd see if WKRO has audio archives of its shows. It turns out that it does, but only of their two weekday stars (Howie Carr and Tom Finneran) and of Red Sox games. These archives are supposedly text-searchable, using software technology from a company called Podzinger, and not surprisingly, it doesn't work as well as you'd like. Here are some hits from searching for "Baptist" in the WRKO archives, along with the words that got mangled into it in the transcripts:
... this go quiet talk about it took part is. Very opinion it Baptist -- that last week on the broadcast the red dot broadcast we talked about without. Startled I ... ["this particular issue"]

... I think you need to have more consistent grown -- Baptist I think so often. What you see a guy struggling usual -- out and it'll kind of stay would you. I think ... ["at-bats"]

.. to do take up work or -- afterschool game out not a Baptist who paid so it's here and a outsmart the weather. You better be right and you'd better still have ... ["afterschool" game, which it got right the first time in the sentence]

... Indianapolis people who were leaders today -- aren't reverend Walt our religion Baptist Bible on our egos in every Friday night with a group of about ten people ... [correct!]

... the country. Banning partial birth abortion a chemist out where the southern Baptist assembly of god groups well there -- years ago not too many years -- -- they ... [yes!]

... not about liberal or conservative. It's about holding people accountable they do Baptist . ... ["bad things". Ooh, that's gotta smart.]
So: an inconclusive investigation. Maybe I should see if the Language Log people will take an interest.

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