Skepticism

Radio-free skepticism?

A few days ago, reader Francois sent me a link to this Washington Post article about a talk radio host getting booted off XM satellite radio for daring to question what may be a widely held myth in the black community: Memorandum 46. This memo is purportedly written by Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser and details ways to undermine the power of black American leaders, but there’s a lot of evidence that says it’s complete B.S.

The radio host in question is Casey Lartigue, who says in the article that his show is aimed at black listeners and deals with a lot of urban legend debunking, making me very sorry that this is the first I’ve heard of him (possibly owing to the fact that I’m a white girl who doesn’t have XM). Here’s what Casey has to say about his research into Memo 46:

Everywhere we looked, we found evidence that the document was fake: a 1980 news clipping in which the Carter administration denounced it as a forgery; a September 1980 National Security Council memo noting that the “scurrilous document” referred to nonexistent entities such as the “NSC Political Analysis Committee”; 1982 testimony by the deputy director of the CIA presenting Memorandum 46 as part of a dozen suspected forgeries by the Soviet Union; a 2002 article by Paul Lee, a consultant to the Malcolm X movie by Spike Lee, dismissing Memorandum 46 as a fraud; and the real Presidential Review Memorandum 46, a bland call for a bureaucratic review of U.S. policy toward Central American issues, which is available on the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum’s Web site.

We also contacted Zbigniew Brzezinski, the liberal lion who supposedly authored the memo. Not only did he say he had nothing to do with it, but the former national security adviser pointed out that in one of the versions circulating on the Internet, “the idiot-forger could not even spell my name correctly.”

Saying as much on air led to vehement criticism from listeners as well as colleagues at the station. A fight with the station manager and another host eventually led to the demise of the Casey Lartigue Show.

Now, go back up and sprinkle a few “allegedly”s throughout those paragraphs, since that’s all from Casey’s POV. I’ve never heard the show, and I haven’t heard XM’s side of the story — for all I know, the show was pulled because of low ratings, or because the host was insulting, or because of a vast government conspiracy of some sort. Those of you not at work like I am can hear Casey and others discuss the story on NPR’s Tell Me More: link one and link two.

If the story is as Casey has reported, it’s a damned shame because we need more minorities stepping up to the plate for critical thinking to reach their own communities more effectively than those of us on the outside. It’s also a shame if honest skepticism can’t find a home even on anything-goes satellite radio.

I wonder how this bodes for my future in public radio? If I were to get my own show through the Talent Quest (and, ahem, voting for this round ends this Sunday evening so please vote if you haven’t), would my days be numbered if I were to critically examine the wrong pet belief?

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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One Comment

  1. Hmm. Yeah, I'd heard about this story a few days ago and felt about the same as Rebecca. If this version of the tale is accurate, it really is a HUGE shame. We need as many skeptical voices as we can get to stem the tide of the woo-woos and conspiracy theorists who hold sway over people and put out misleading or blatantly false information.

    I will, however, admit that reading Lartigue's account ever-so-slightly gave me the feeling of not hearing the complete story. I really don't know what, exactly, made me feel that way, but I'll be somewhat doubtful until I get a fuller picture of the events…which, sadly, may never come.

    Regardless, I can only hope that the two weren't fired for puncturing popular myths with unpopular truths. It's hard enough to believe most of what's in the media as it is, we don't need to lose those few people willing to research stories and find out if they're actually based in reality.

    Oh, and Rebecca: I hope you continue your success in the Talent Quest…do keep us posted! :)

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