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Political Animal

One of a Kind

By Brian Morton | Posted 6/1/2005

I’m gonna miss Bob Lopez.

With radio stations being bought and packaged like candy, and programming being shipped in from airless cubicles originating who-knows-where, where will we find newspeople with opinions based on solid facts, broadcasters who don’t mind their beliefs being tagged as “unabashed liberalism” (as Lopez’s were in his obituary on WBAL.com), liberals who love supposedly red-state things like guns and fishing? Megaconglomerates like Clear Channel, with their right-wing owners, chew up and spit out so-called “personalities” every day of the week. Even if you’re at the very top, like Howard Stern, it’s dangerous to have a political opinion in radio, especially if it’s left of center. There’s just no room for it.

I came to Baltimore in 1990 and worked in the same room every morning with Lopez—him on the other side of the room, head down over the monitor, as we culled the wire services for the news each morning. In a room full of conservatives, the longtime 98 Rock newsman who died of cancer last week and I were the only ones who would snort loudly when one of the WBAL voice-of-God morning guys would loudly pontificate something like, “Rap music is just a fad.”

Hardly anyone works in the same job for 28 years, much less in a transitory industry like radio. Me, I’ve been fired twice in my broadcasting career. Linda Ellerbee used to say about the broadcasting industry: “Never trust anyone in this business who hasn’t been fired at least once. I’ve been fired four times, and always for cause—I am trustworthy.” I think Ellerbee—a cancer survivor herself—would gladly admit that Lopez was the exception that proved the rule.

At 52, Lopez died young—for many today life is just beginning at 50. He had a wife who was a lovely hostess, a daughter, and a world full of technological promise. But as a liberal, he also knew that at present we live in a land that has careened off the path of promise, and people on the left side of the spectrum are embattled and in many cases, embittered. If he were able to read the news the week after he died, he’d see stories of a judge in Indiana intervening in the case of a family of wiccans who were told by the judge in their divorce case that they are not allowed to expose their child to “nonmainstream religious beliefs and rituals.” This even though religion is not a bone of contention between the parents—they’re both wiccans!

He’d be reading about the recently released FBI reports showing that in 2002 prisoners in Guantanamo Bay did allege that guards flushed a Koran in the toilet, and that Amnesty International is calling the naval base prison “the Gulag of our time.”

If I know Lopez, he’d have pointed out the story about how Republican House Armed Services Committee Chairman Duncan Hunter—a Vietnam veteran—killed a provision in the defense authorization bill that would have extended the regular military’s health-care system to members of the National Guard and Reserves, the same people who are bearing the brunt of the work in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hunter said he nixed the provision because it would have been “gaming the system,” and would have pushed spending levels over what House leaders authorized in the 2006 budget resolution. Not that this will stop GOP leaders from pushing even more tax cuts for the wealthy.

He probably would have chuckled at the fact that George W. Bush all but admitted that his drive to kill Social Security was stalling when he said of his Bamboozlepalooza tour, “See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.”

And I think Lopez would have brought his trademark low-key outrage to the story about the trial of James Tobin, the former political director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Tobin has been indicted in the case where the New Hampshire GOP jammed the phones of Democratic get-out-the-vote efforts in 2002. The phone jamming happened in a tight race resulting in John Sununu beating former N.H. governor Jeanne Shaheen for a U.S. Senate seat.

Apparently, people like Lopez and I shouldn’t be allowed to sit on a jury in a case such as this. As Tobin’s lawyers are arguing, the indictment should be thrown out because there were liberals—Democrats!—on the grand jury. So now, only Republicans can sit in judgment of other Republicans? That one’s a hoot, any day of the week.

I’m gonna miss Lopez. It was good to have him on the radio, on the other side of that third-floor newsroom. My deepest sympathies go out to Trixie and Leandra. The husband, the father, the man—of all of these, he was a great one. There won’t be any like him again anytime soon. Requiescat in pacem.

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Political Animal archives

More from Brian Morton

The Fix (8/4/2010)

Police State (7/7/2010)

Funny Business (6/9/2010)

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