TNB Night Owl – Kenneth’s Frequency

Dan Rather, photo from Moody College of Communication

A discussion in the Post-It Note inspired tonight’s Owl. I was surprised to see that not everyone remembered the attack… and then I suddenly realized that I was fifty years old. (Grumble… kids… grumble. But I digress.)

In 1986, in one of the more famous attacks on a media personage, Dan Rather was assaulted while walking down Park Avenue. After being pushed to the ground, Rather was repeatedly kicked. The question of a mistaken identity was naturally raised, as the attacker kept repeating a single question that has since been consistently misquoted.

It was not “What’s the frequency, Kenneth?” It was the very similar “Kenneth, what’s the frequency?” with occasional shifts to “Kenneth, what is the frequency?”

The attacker got away, and some raised the question of whether anyone had actually kicked him or whether it was a publicity stunt. While that type of stunt is possible (for example, a co-host of Air America radio personality Randi Rhodes claimed, years later, that she was attacked on the streets of New York because of her anti-Bush stance… her injuries turned out to be due to her leashed dog pulling her off-balance) there was never any indication that Rather faked his assault.

Such allegations are the domain of conspiracy theorists… and about eleven years after he was attacked, the conspiracy theorist connection to Rather was established. In 1997, he was able to positively identify his attacker as William Tager, who had gone to prison for shooting a man to death in 1994. The reason for the shooting was simple: Tager believed there was a media conspiracy to beam messages into his head and control his thoughts. He was focused on discovering the frequency of the mind control beam, so he could design a protective device against it. The man shot to death was a technician for NBC who had been unable to identify the imaginary carrier wave.

One might think the experience would have kept Rather far away from conspiracy peddlers for the remainder of his life, but such was not to be.

The question becomes, why the disparity between the real quote and the false one? The answer is simple: pop culture and relative success.

“What’s the Frequency, Kenneth?” became a hit song by R.E.M, a standout alternative rock band which grew to prominence in the 1980s. “Kenneth, What’s the Frequency?” was a less than one minute opening track by Game Theory, an experimental alternative rock band who, as described on the liner notes to one of their albums, rode the success of their song “24” from regional obscurity to national obscurity.

(And just because that track alone isn’t exactly a fair representation of the post-psychedelia sound from Scott Miller and his crew…)

Question of the night: What’s a song you like that’s inspired by an historical event?

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About AlienMotives 1991 Articles
Ex-Navy Reactor Operator turned bookseller. Father of an amazing girl and husband to an amazing wife. Tired of willful political blindness, but never tired of politics. Hopeful for the future.