Ever wonder how the cable TV political talk shows got so ugly and argumentative?

One person, the late Joe Pyne, an American original, is credited with making those shows so hateful and hostile. 

Today, the bellicose Pyne (pronounced Pine) is considered the granddaddy of all the loud-mouthed and opinionated talk show hosts. Pyne plowed the path with his attack-style journalism that all the talking heads use today as their top weapon.

Old Joe elevated to a high degree of skill his savage interviews, hitting his non-suspecting guests with outrageous accusations from the get-go.

I was just out of college when Pyne’s original TV talk show hit the airwaves in the late 1960s. Pyne had been a radio host for years, blistering listeners’ ears with his savage words. 

Then, old Joe turned to TV to unleash his wrath on the new format talk show. His hot air blew away guests who disagreed with his warped opinions. By doing that, old Joe set the stage for an army of followers. 

Over the years they have included Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly, Morton Downey, Mike Wallace, Sean Hannity, Chris Matthews, Laura Ingraham, Tucker Carlson, Geraldo Rivera, Ann Coulter, Keith Olbermann — to name a few of the usual suspects.

Back in the 1960s, Time magazine referred to Joe as “Killer Joe” for two reasons: for going on the kill with each guest, but also popularizing the modern-day TV shout-fest that has become a stable for the cable channels.

Try as hard as we might, we cannot separate the attack journalism into Democratic or Republican camps. They occupied both then as well as now, depending on whose ox gets gored. 

But Joe was, without doubt, the grand-pappy of them all. Over the years there have been many hot-heated, fiery-tongued conservatives and liberal hosts shouting across the air waves in imitation of Joe. Only a few have come close to him.

The finger points to Pyne as the true original. None has matched Pyne’s abrasive style. He is still regarded today as TV’s first shock jock.

His intro to his TV talk shows was “I’m Joe Pyne, and the action starts right here.” So true. Bill O’Reilly opened his talk show with the words “the spin stops here,” in imitation of Joe. 

The “action,” though, was more like a cannon going off in the studio. The arguing and screaming quickly got under when the show hit the airwaves.

The only actual fist-fighting I recall came on the Morton Downey Show when a brawl broke out between “skin heads” and flaming liberals. Fists were swung, chairs thrown and Geraldo Rivera ended up with a broken nose. 

Most folks, though, who tuned in at the beginning were caught off guard by Joe’s blistering attacks. But then they settled in and got used to it. Some even enjoyed the savagery.

Soon after, shock jocks started popping up on most of the channels, and when cable came along they were all over the screen like roaches. 

Scan around the dial today. There are more TV political opinion shows than there are cooking shows, and that’s saying a lot.

Come to think of it, why didn’t someone come up with a combination politics-cooking show? It would have been a huge hit. How to fix tasty Republican collards or yummy Democratic rutabagas in an overheated kitchen.

Just imagine, the studios would be filled with the heat of the ovens plus the hot air of the hosts. 

I got to thinking about Pyne the other day after accidentally tuning into Limbaugh’s midday radio show, with all his snorting and bellowing. I could visualize Rush bouncing in his chair while he spouted his angry remarks at the Democrats. 

All this brings me back to the thought of why we allowed these shows to go so far. Why didn’t we demand civility for the hosts and their guests? A few advertising cancellations surely would have caught someone’s attention in the money office. 

And, did we really enjoy this hate spewed back and forth, this arguing over who was, or is, politically right or wrong, if there is such a thing?

Where do we go from here? Is there a reset button? Or has Old Joe and the other hot heads delivered us beyond the point where we can turn back? Sure seems so.

So it leads to a bigger question — will the different political parties ever be able to get along after tearing each other apart? Pyne perhaps did not foresee what he was starting or where it would lead. But we certainly can see where it has gone.

Where there are no feelings, no respect, no compassion, no compromises is not a good place. The political divide keeps getting wider. It may be beyond the point of no return.

Ralph Morris is a retired newspaperman who lives near Auburn. His email address is r.morris@ctvea.net.

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