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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lilly Ledbetter And The Toxicity of Talk Radio

Today is a big day for American workers as President Barack Obama signs the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act. The law's roots are firmly planted in Alabama soil.

The act is named for Lilly Ledbetter, a 70-year-old widow and former employee at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber plant in Gadsden, Alabama. The law grew from a U.S. Supreme Court decision that deprived Ledbetter of compensation for the gender discrimination she experienced for years.

The Ledbetter case touches on many of our major themes here at Legal Schnauzer--employment law, discrimination, judicial corruption, political shenanigans, and more. We're going to take a "rest of the story" look at the case shortly. But first, I would like to use the case as an example of how our political discourse has been tainted.

I was driving home from a college football game on a Saturday evening back in October. The presidential election was on the horizon, but I had more important things on my mind. So I decided to scan the AM dial for a college-football scoreboard show.

(You know you are a certified Southerner when it isn't enough to spend five or six hours at a stadium on Saturday; no, you have to hear scores of other games on the way home.)

I was amazed when I couldn't find a scoreboard show, but came across all sorts of right-wing talkfests. At 8 o'clock on a Saturday night!

"Obama's father was in a terrorist organization," a genius on one station was saying.

"William Ayers is an unofficial advisor to the Obama campaign," said a wise guy on another station.

"Dear God," I thought, "do these people ever give it a rest?"

That was my first thought. My second thought was, "Jo Lynn Orr was right."

Jo Lynn is one of my favorite former colleagues at UAB. I grew up in the Ozarks of southwest Missouri, and Jo Lynn grew up partly in the Ozarks of northwest Arkansas, so we have that connection. And I've always appreciated the fact that Jo Lynn has a backstory that is, well, "different."

She is in her early 60s and actually knew Elvis--and as Dave Barry would say, I'm not making this up. Jo Lynn lived in Memphis for a time, and Elvis' family lived in the same apartment complex. If I remember the story correctly, Elvis was friends with Jo Lynn's older brother.

Jo Lynn lived in LA for many years--that's Los Angeles, not Lower Alabama--before returning to her Southern roots. Along the way, she became a Buddhist. And she became such a liberal that she makes me look like Grover Norquist.

Suffice to say that Jo Lynn is not a standard-issue Southerner, and I seem to have an affinity for those types--heck, I married one.

Anyway, one of the many wise things I've heard Jo Lynn say is that the demise of the Fairness Doctrine during the Reagan years was one of the worst things that ever happened to our democracy. Jo Lynn's theory was that, under the Fairness Doctrine, broadcasters had to present both sides of an issue, and that led to balanced, educational programming. Without the Fairness Doctrine, right-wing radio took over because it was attractive to sponsors, and millions of Americans began to form opinions based largely on the spewings of talkmeisters like Rush Limbaugh. The airwaves became less about education and more about ideology--and the electorate seems to have been dumbed down as a result.

A few days after my failed effort to find a scoreboard show, I was reminded again about what I call "Jo Lynn's Theory of Modern Broadcasting." I came across a Birmingham talk show hosted by Lee Davis.

I've known Lee for many years, mainly because we both used to be sportswriters, and always considered him a likable fellow. Only recently did I become aware that he is afflicted with a right-wing political mindset.

On this afternoon, Lee was talking with a lawyer who apparently had worked on the management side of the Lilly Ledbetter employment-discrimination case. The equal-pay issue had come up in a presidential debate a night or two earlier, and Barack Obama had mentioned that he was concerned about the U.S. Supreme Court's finding in the Ledbetter case.

Lee and his guest ran with that, essentially saying that Obama was misguided and the Ledbetter case had been correctly decided. At issue in the case was whether Ledbetter had filed her discrimination claim within the prescribed statute of limitations and how that limitations period was to be applied in an equal-pay case.

Lee's guest said that Ledbetter had testified in a deposition that she had known she was receiving unequal pay long before filing her complaint. This meant, the guest said, that the high court was correct in ruling that Ledbetter's claim was barred by the statute of limitations.

As I listened to this, I was reminded of "Jo Lynn's Theory of Modern Broadcasting." And as has become commonplace in broadcasting today, Lee Davis did not present the "pro worker" side of the story. He did not interview, for example, a lawyer who had represented Lilly Ledbetter.

I, and other listeners I'm sure, were left with the impression that the Supreme Court got it right when it kicked out the Ledbetter claim.

But with Jo Lynn's words echoing in my head, I thought, "Is that the whole story? Did Lee Davis and his guest present the full picture?"

With that, I vowed to conduct a little Legal Schnauzer research on the Lilly Ledbetter case. And guess what I found out?

Let's just say the Bush v. Gore case of 2000 is not the only case the U.S. Supremes have butchered lately.

(To be continued)

4 comments:

Matt Osborne said...

Waiting to read the rest...

virtualredhead said...

This is long overdue, but I'm not sure it's going to make much of a difference. As a society we need to start raising our daughters to ASK for what they want rather than politely waiting for someone to notice them.

mberenis said...

Obama is a great president. His presence is impacting grants like no other president prior. Grant funding for minorities and middle class have increased nearly 10,000% in the past week.

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Anonymous said...

I find it sadly amusing and telling that forums throughout the web have been full of right-wingers SCREAMING that President Obama is going to reinstitute the fairness doctrine--and destroy(!) talk radio. They know right-wing talk radio is heavily slanted and they want it to remain that way. Perhaps the fairness doctrine would force them to hear alternate veiwpoints (and the other side of the story). But they don't WANT to! The good news is that the Republican party is alarmed about becoming a "regional" (southern) party and is at present doing some soul searching. The only problem: I must wonder if they have any souls.