(Reprinted from The Journal of Rational Recovery, July – September., 2002, Vol. 14, Iss. 4; Copyright, 2002, Jack Trimpey; All rights reserved.)
[This reprint is a reader’s reference for a forthcoming blog update on the conservative talkshow community. Ed. – JT]
Since Rational Recovery entered public consciousness, I have had the privilege of appearing on a good number – actually hundreds – of TV and radio talkshows. Some were tiresome affairs hosted by 12-steppers, others were single-station shows, sometimes at late hours when most listeners were in dreamland, but some talkshows were actually stimulating interviews with hosts who could understand AVRT on the fly and make great dialog and commentary. Thus, it was with great anticipation that we received invitations from several of America’s best-known media hosts, Bill O’Reilly, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and Michael Savage.Each of these three very popular, radically-conservative talkshow icons have seemed to offer great hope for constructive social reforms. Their simple, shoot-from-the-hip approach to complex problems is more than entertaining; their industrial-strength chutzpah is powerful, if not demagoguery, and each of them has gained power in the media through their blunt-language critiques of liberalism. They have a lot in common, and, as we shall see, that includes a blind spot in the shape of “Alcoholics Anonymous.”
In 1997, I appeared on The O’Reilly Factor, along with a 12-step advocate to insure a “fair and balanced” presentation. At the beginning of the program, Bill O’Reilly made his opinion clear that he does not believe that addiction or alcoholism is or is caused by a disease. I debated a physician who argued very awkwardly that alcoholism is a disease, for which AA is the best form of help. I prevailed in the debate, but was caught off guard by Bill O’Reilly’s staunch, protective stance toward AA.O’Reilly is blissfully unaware that AA is the chief source of the disease concept of addiction, and he believes that the majority of those who attend AA are securely abstinent. He accepts AA’s figures claiming that 55% of those who attend regularly for five years are “sober,” but ignores or is unaware of the fact that the 55% is of the 5% who continue attending meetings for more than a year, which results in an actual “recovery rate” of about 2% of newcomers.
More recent O’Reilly Factor shows have had guests who are members of AA, gushing steptalk to the masses while Bill O paternalistically endorses AA’s humble program of coercion as the benchmark approach to recovery. He has not responded to several emails from me setting the record straight about AA’s record of abject failure. Mr. O’Reilly often uses academic trump cards to score points, including his Master’s Degree in public administration. I have learned from credible sources, however, that his master’s thesis was an argument for coerced addiction treatment. Thus, his frequent authoritarian outbursts against substance abusers is couched in the belief that coerced participation in “counseling” or “treatment” is the best remedy. I have my doubts that Mr. O’Reilly knows the difference between 12-step counseling and cognitive-behavioral therapy, and that both are equally ineffective in producing abstinence.
Michael Savage needs no introduction on the West Coast, where his daily diatribes are broadcast from San Francisco‘s KSFO talkshow, “The Savage Nation.“ He, too, eschews the disease concept of addiction, but like O’Reilly, he also believes that AA is the best resource for substance abusers. In a one-hour show in 1998, listeners were highly responsive to my message of hope for people who are repelled by AA, but, even when callers days later commented on the exciting show on Rational Recovery, Michael was unimpressed with their enthusiasm.
That brings us to that champion of hypocrisy, Dr. Laura Schlessinger. I like listening to conservative talk- radio, and I have admired Dr. Laura’s stance on such issues as child discipline, sexual morality, and professional guilds. On this last topic, she has set forth some very solid statements about how professionals often take advantage of the public trust for financial gain, and in that she is among a small group to complain about ethical standards within the professions. Like her other conservative talkshow compatriots, she has guts, tells it like she sees it, bluntly and in your face, e.g., “You don’t like it? Then you gotta problem.” Kinda like me.
In April, 2002, I was a guest on her show, but not as an interviewed guest, as had been agreed earlier, but along with someone from AA, “for a balanced presentation.” I complained to the producer upon being informed of this, pointing out that AA has gained its monopoly by crowding out other viewpoints. “Why not just have a clear presentation of RR for once, without the gladiator thing,” I asked, to no avail.
Twenty minutes before showtime, I got connected to Dr. Laura off-the-air, and got this from her, “Her name is Fran. She’s from AA and she works here, but we won’t say anything about that, right? Tee-hee.” Nonplussed, I went on the air intending to make the best of a bad situation.
Fran was a typical 12-stepper, endlessly contradicting my statements of fact, and injecting nonsensical steptalk at every opportunity. She was a pest, but I didn’t blow her off, and I didn’t divulge Dr. Laura’s little dirty secret, that Fran worked right there in the office.
Near the end of the show, during which callers resoundingly supported my viewpoint, Dr. Laura took the liberty of directly contradicting me, when I said that in our view, addiction is driven by the desire for pleasure, and when people quit they become more moral. She said, “Oh, no! That’s not true at all, Mr. Trimpey. Psychological evidence shows very clearly that just quitting doesn’t result in one becoming more moral!” Morality, she implied, would result from psychological counseling!
My little ship listed somewhat, but I continued connecting with listeners with solid AVRT. Then, as the final minutes of the show were nigh, Fran lit into me, “I know that you’ve been setting up all of these calls supporting Rational Recovery. You’re such an angry person, and AA will always be there for anyone who really wants help.”
As if that wasn’t bad enough, what I learned after the show was over, topped it all — Fran of AA doesn’t just work there; she’s the office manager. I had been set up, manipulated, and betrayed.
The show was a success for Rational Recovery, because when people in need hear about AVRT, the message of hope gets through. Millions of people heard Dr. Laura lie about studies showing or proving that problems cause addiction, and they heard 12-stepper Fran first ambush me and then lose her cool when I failed to lose mine. Our phone rang for weeks from Dr. Laura Show callers, and we still get several a week saying, “I heard you on the Dr. Laura Show, and it was really great to hear that something else exists besides AA.”
When push came to shove, Dr. Laura served herself instead of her listeners. She wouldn’t resist Fran’s unethical intrusion, and she functioned well as a member of the addiction treatment industry, defending the psychological disease concept of addiction. Her rebukes of professional guilds are mere marshmallows thrown before the masses.
AA-Shaped Blind Spot
I wish I could report that the American media might do an about-face on the addiction tragedy, and start applying the founding values of American society to addiction, i.e., AVRT. I am convinced that professionals cannot comprehend the simple truth about addiction and recovery, and therefore they can provide no real guidance for substance abusers or the nation, other than blind acceptance of familiar clichés drawn from the culture of AA. I have been saying this about physicians and psychologists in particular for about a decade, and now, with the help of Bill, Laura and Michael, I am extending my caveat to the news and media professions as well.
All of them have academic degrees, espouse strong moral codes, and speak in strong language against all manner of social evils, but none of them can see the mother of the evil dancing before their eyes. I have considered that possibly they worship ratings to the extent that they would pull punches against America’s friendly foe, AA, but they all have waded neck-deep into the turbulent waters of other social storms.
The truth is that addiction is so unbelievable that just about anyone, any academic loser, any media hack, or anyone who can repeat clichés or grind out sophistry can transfix the public with mysterious explanations about the causes and remedies for habitual drunkenness or drug abuse. The cutting edge of the truth is just as ugly as addiction itself, so it is always nicer and neater to pretend that our learned class and its media shamans really know what they’re talking about. Could any of them learn AVRT, if they really tried? I seriously doubt it. They’ve made themselves so comfortable with the lie!