Talk jock Doc: “I see myself as an entertainer…”

Fletcher Babb
News Editor

Listening to Doc Thompson in the afternoons might recall Howard Beale’s classic tirade from the 1976 film “Network:” “I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

Indeed Thompson, who hosts an afternoon talk show on 1140 WRVA-AM, always seems to be peeved about something. Since the inauguration of Barack Obama, the content of his show has narrowed focus to advocate three core principles: less spending, adhering to the Constitution and maintaining strict government accountability. It is no coincidence that these three principles are at the heart of the Tea Party movement.

Doc Thompson’s rhetoric has attracted national attention. In late 2007, Thompson got a call from a representative of “The Glenn Beck Program” — the third most listened-to program in America — who, according to Thompson, “stumbled across the station and then me and thought ‘Hey, he might fit our mold,’ so he contacted me.”

However, the trajectory of his radio career has not always aimed for politics. Thompson describes his shaky start in broadcasting:

“I never knew what I wanted to do. When I was in high school, I was very bored. I was in theater and I knew I enjoyed entertaining, but I really didn’t understand college. I didn’t understand degrees, the industry – I was very, very dumb about it. I kept thinking I wanted to do something under this umbrella called ‘communications.’”

Shortly after graduating high school, he attended the now-defunct Ohio School of Broadcast Technique where he “climbed the ladder, station to station, up and down the dial.”

Fast-forward to March 30, when Thompson was guest-hosting “The Glenn Beck Program.” As the national debate over Barack Obama’s Health Care Reform Act reached a fever pitch, Thompson took particular issue with a provision of the bill that required a 10 percent tax on tanning booth sessions. Thompson’s charge that the tanning tax unfairly targeted light-skinned people  followed Glenn Beck’s accusation of Obama being a racist with “a deep-seated hatred for white people.”

On August 30, Beck rescinded his racism charge, saying he has “a big fat mouth.” Thompson, however, said he is “steadfast” in his own accusations.

“I now know the pain of racism,” Thompson opined. “Racism has been dropped at my front door, and the front door of all Americans.”

Thompson continued,  “I would guess that most tanning sessions are from light-skinned Americans. Why would the President of the United States of America — a man who says he understands racism, a man who has been confronted with racism — why would he sign such a racist law?”

“I believe the president is a racist,” he says, “because I believe that anybody who continues to segregate people, even if for a noble cause, is still seeing the world through race.”

Despite some of his more controversial quips, Thompson maintains that he has a “very small role to play” in the development of the Tea Party.

‘I see myself as an entertainer, certainly. That’s a part of it. But as the years go on, and this isn’t just over the past 2 years, but over the past 5, 10, whatever – more and more, I see myself as having some other roles to play.’

On air, his voice thunders and his temper is incandescent. After the show, however, his politics are much the same, though his demeanor is calm and, instead of blurting out, his comments are anticipated by long pauses. He peppered serious political observations with witty punchlines and a cavernous belly laugh. When asked if he identified with a particular political ideology, he claimed to live a “fairly conservative life,” but that his political views skewed “more libertarian.”

Though his show often dwells on Tea Party-friendly topics like the economy and political corruption, Thompson claims no direct ties to the movement.

Colleen Owens, chairman of the Richmond Tea Party’s Action and Events Committee, corroborate this claim, simply stating that “We don’t have formal “membership” in the organization.”

Despite his easygoing nature when off-air, his show remains a crucible of Tea Party thought, which has garnered much media attention lately with its escalating anti-Obama rhetoric. Protestors, like those at Glenn Beck’s Aug. 28 rally which was allied with and populated by Tea Party members, have displayed signs featuring the president with a Hitler mustache or alongside a Communist sickle and hammer. Thompson said, under the First Amendment, he “actively supports” this.

To the chagrin of moderates, he adds: “I don’t think civil discourse is always the best answer. I think people are passionate and you have to express that.”

The Lee Brothers host a hard-right conservative weekend talk show on Thompson’s home of WRVA-AM. In a co-authored e-mail, they said “Doc’s role is not different then it was before the Tea Party movement.  As the host, he has been explaining the principles of the movement before it existed. Perhaps Doc [is] the Federalist Papers of the 21st Century.”

The November midterm elections will be the first and most important statement on the import and power of the Tea Party movement. Not surprisingly, he predicts a string of victories for Tea Party candidates.

According to Professor Jason Arnold of Virginia Commonwealth University’s political science department, Thompson’s prediction is correct, but for different reasons.

“A sluggish economy with high unemployment tends to benefit the party out of power,” Arnold said.  “Before every election people, typically moderates, express concerns about heated rhetoric and party polarization.”

“However, what’s likely to happen is that GOP gains will be attributed to the Tea Party movement,” Arnold continued. As a result, there will be pressure for Republicans to move closer to the Tea Party’s set of ideas.“

Carolyn Funk, associate professor political science, agreed with Arnold. The Tea Party, she argued, could have a “disproportionate effect on the outcome of the elections because they appear to be more likely to show up at the polling booth than do other voters,” she said.

Party alignment has no value to Thompson. On the Doc Thompson Show, it’s all about consistency.

Squinting his steely-blue eyes and sipping coffee from a Styrofoam cup, Thompson quips, “I try to avoid hypocrisy. I blast politicians and leaders left and right about being hypocritical. It’s not easy because it takes a great study of your own beliefs and knowledge of what’s going on.”

He continued, “There are plenty of gray areas where it’s easy for someone to venture into hypocrisy. Some of those are difficult. Most of them I get right.”

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