So for months, Harold Camping and his followers told us the Rapture was coming. Signs screaming “JUDGEMENT DAY” and “MAY 21″ were posted all over the country. For a while, I couldn’t even make my morning commute to work without having the date of Earth’s impending doom being shoved in my face. Of course, May 21 came and 6 PM shifted from coast to coast, and behold – Judgement Day never came (or at least, I don’t think it did. Maybe I was just left behind?). Most people weren’t surprised, or didn’t even know about the issue. But Camper’s followers – particularly those who had poured their life savings into Camping’s prediction and confidence in the date (FYI: Apparently, he had the year and date right not not the month – according to him. Now mark October 21 on your calendars) – have had the biggest shock of all: the knowledge that just because it’s on the radio, and the voice saying it sounds so sure, doesn’t mean it’s real.Camping’s followers and what happened with the May 21 Judgement Day is a prime example of the supreme influence that talkradio can have on people. Now, of course, there are a few differences between Camping and the conservative talk radio that we’re all familiar with. Camping advertises himself as a preacher, a man of god, an expert in the subject at hand – saving one’s soul. Conservative radio hosts advertise themselves as men of the public – one of the guys, just a regular Joe behind a microphone. But the events surrounding May 21 can help us understand our political system and why this is so indicative of how it works.
The media is a powerful tool. People listen to it, read it, talk about it. In nearly every conversation I have, an article someone read somewhere or a piece heard on the radio or TV (be it Fox News, NPR, CNN, MSNBC, or even some online webzine) comes up as a point of reference to read or that had a fact that one might find interesting. Camping’s followers listened to his radio program. They listened every day for years. He built up a bond of trust with his listeners – he entertained them or captivated them in some way, and they supported his endeavors. So when he claimed he had correctly calculated Judgement Day (despite his faulty previous track records), they poured their funds into him, his predictions. People paid to make sure someone would be around to care for their dogs when the day of reckoning came. They were sure. They believed in him.
Once May 21 passed, Camping’s followers were in a tough position: they realized that a media figure they loved was simply, flat-out, wrong. Camping had simply been incorrect, and they had poured millions into promoting his ideas, strained relationships with friends and family and loved ones, all to push a failed theory of world destruction.
One day, the conservative media’s talk radio bubble will be popped, just as Harold Camping’s was. Listeners will see flaws and cracks in the logic of these thought processes, and redefine their political discourse and in the process, make our democracy a better place to be and a safer place to truly express one’s opinion. It’s only a matter of time.