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Martz has chance to promote civility

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Wednesday, May 23, 2001 MISSOULIAN EDITORIAL

SUMMARY: Go ahead with the radio show, governor. This audience could use a talking-to.

Gov. Judy Martz is under considerable pressure to cancel a scheduled appearance Friday on a controversial Kalispell radio show hosted by the inflammatory John Stokes. But not from us. Actually, we're kind of interested in hearing what she has to say.

Maybe the governor will take the opportunity to talk sense to Stokes and his audience. They could stand to hear a voice of moderation.

Stokes is a showman, a wannabe "shock jock" like Howard Stern or conservative provocateur like Rush Limbaugh. He's merely the latest man with a microphone who's discovered there's money to be made riling people. Attorney General Mike McGrath recently canceled a scheduled appearance on the show, saying, "Clearly, this radio show promotes hate."

Stokes' show has struck a chord with some listeners who've been energized by his attacks on environmentalists, whom Stokes refers to as "green Nazis." Like much of the West, the Flathead is in transition. The economy's changing; the area's growing; and among the steady flow of newcomers are folks, many of them well-heeled, bringing with them new ideas and values. The pressures in the Flathead aren't unlike those familiar to people elsewhere in western Montana. Change can be unsettling, and unsettled people are susceptible to provocation.

We've editorialized against this inflamed rhetoric and the hostility it encourages. It's harmful and, ultimately, counterproductive. It fosters a neighbor-vs.-neighbor mentality that never produces anything good. Angry, threatened people may get some affirmation or satisfaction from the heated rhetoric, but ultimately they will be disappointed to learn than anger is off-putting to most people.

Gov. Martz is taking a risk by appearing on Stokes' show. There's a danger some people will read into her participation an affinity for the views voiced by others on that show. It's also a live, call-in show, a challenging format for a governor who is at her best when following a script.

But the governor doesn't have to aid and abet Stokes. Nothing says she must reinforce the animosity the show promotes or foster the fears of its listeners. Indeed, if there's anyone in the state who might be able to get through to Stokes audience to counsel civility, it's probably the governor.

It'll be very interesting to hear what she says.

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