Listening to the radio, these days, is
an engagement in naked decorum whereby which the listener’s
sensibilities are liable to be affronted and confronted.
Sometimes, we need our sensibilities confronted. There
are certainly some things in America society that we need
to talk about. However, sensitive though those issues
may be, America can’t continue to
run from itself. Whether it’s racism, sexism, narcissism
or anti-intellectualism, one thing is clear - that America has deep seated issues
that need to be resolved - issues that will not be resolved
without open discussion. We all need our perspective challenged
from time to time, and we grow intellectually from rational
public discourse. Even ideological discourse, as disagreeable
as it tends to be, tests one’s logic and reasoning about
the ways of the world, and either validates, or invalidates,
how we see, or should see, the world.
However, nobody listening to the radio
should have their sensibilities affronted. Edgy, or provocative,
programming has its place…that place is pay television
(cable) and pay radio, where those who desire to consume
that type of content can do so. This is known as commercial
free speech. Public radio is not the platform to espouse
offensive and indignant opinions that are an affront to
the public’s sense of decency and intelligence. American
society and its “shock culture,” has moved so far away
from rational discourse - it’s not even funny anymore.
In truth, it never has been. What’s funny about assaulting
someone’s dignity or making humor of a public or private
tragedy? What’s funny about that?
Nothing. It’s irrational and indignant
discourse at its worse.
Public airwaves are a public trust. They
are not owned by government or conglomerates. They are
regulated by the government (the FCC) and leased by companies
whose responsibility, first and foremost, is to inform
the public. Entertaining the public is a residual benefit
and advertisement represents a subsidy enhancement for
the cost of privatizing the airwaves. With that said,
nobody has the right to insult somebody, or assault the
dignity of someone, living or dead - for the sake of entertainment.
Recent comments by syndicated radio talk show host, Rush
Limbaugh, and Los Angeles KFI talk show hosts, John Kobylt
and Ken Chiampou (The John and Ken Show), show what happens
when commercial free speech incites unprotected free speech
and public decency standards are violated. Both talk shows
are products of communications conglomerate, Clear Channel.
Clear Channel has a problem, and it goes far beyond the
rationales being given for John and Ken’s, and Rush’s,
inappropriateness. Clear Channel pushes conservative talk
radio around the country. In most instances, they don’t
have a counter point of view to offset the rhetoric these
Its Los Angeles station, KFI, has to be the whitest station in their system,
with not one black person on the air. This might
be one of the reasons there is such a lack of respect
- the lack of another cultural perspective. This is where
colorblindness has taken us. We can’t talk about the sensitivities
of race without fearing we’ll assault the sensibilities
of those indicted in the process. Since KFI is the business
of affronting sensibilities, let’s afford theirs: KFI,
where’s all the on-air black people at your station? I
know, you couldn’t find any, right? Yeah, that’s what
they all say…Then, there’s the aspect of programming rudeness.
There’s a very thin line between provocative and rude.
John and Ken’s Show got in trouble first with loose and indignant comments
about the death of pop culture star, Whitney Houston.
Houston’s death was a shock to us all and many grieved, and still grieve
for her because of her life experience and the hope that
she’d make it back. The public, most of them anyway, wanted
to see Whitney make it back, and many felt she was on
her way back. Whitney Houston was not a person to be ridiculed
in life. She was respected. She was a pop icon who did
some amazing things. She just went through some tough
times, like everybody else, and really shouldn’t be remembered
for the low points in her life. We all should be remembered
for the sum accomplishments of our lives. The only thing
that John and Ken could remember was that Houston had
an addiction along the way, and they remembered Whitney
Houston in the most vile and insulting terms they could…by
calling her a “crack ho” on the air.
These clowns (excuse me, no disrespect
to clowns) have absolutely no respect for the dead, for
her family and for the millions of people who love her.
This is not John and Ken’s first time out on this ledge.
They have, over the years, insulted the dignity of many
in the African American community, assigning indignant
“nicknames” to people. True, they do it everybody - but
when they do it to others, it’s about their politics;
when they do it to black people, most of the time - it’s
about their race and/or a separation from their dignity.
This time, they went too far. That little suspension they
got was the proverbial “slap on the wrist.” You apologize,
you come back. You meet with black community - let ’em
call you a bunch of names, vent their indignation and
then you go back to doing business as usual. And they
will, if we let them. Limbaugh’s situation is a different,
but the same in principle.
Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern invented
this game of “rude radio.” Talk radio has been around
for years, but in the 1990s, it became a vehicle for ideological
conversion. When the Republicans took over Congress in
1994, new Speaker, Newt Gingrich, said at the time that
the number one reason for the takeover was talk radio.
He named Rush Limbaugh the “101st Senator” of the incoming
Congress. Stern was a “shock jock” that just insulted
people’s dignity without reason. He was followed by Don
Imus, who was fired after a “Nappy Headed Hos” comment
on his talk show, about the Rutgers Women’s Basketball
team, blew him up. People have to take responsibility
for their mike. It’s not just about an apology anymore…it’s
about changing a mindset.
Limbaugh, on the other hand, has always
had a political agenda and for the last 20 years, has
said some pretty outrageous and very insulting racial
things. Even with his own drug addiction, he spun it as
“an addict to painkillers.” His latest affront was an
assault on the dignity of Georgetown Law student, Sandra
Fluke, who testified before Congress on women’s right
to access birth control contraceptives. Limbaugh called
her “a slut” and “a prostitute” because he said she wanted
the U.S. taxpayer to pay for her
(to have) sex. Women have come out of the woodwork on
his @** on this one. This is not yo mama’s or grandma’s
generation. Contraception is a fact of life for
today’s women controlling what happens with their bodies
and who are smart enough not to leave it up to men. Fluke
could really sue Limbaugh for slander because she is not
a prostitute - and false statements and defamation of
character are not covered under protected free speech.
Limbaugh’s, and the Republicans’ views
on birth control are outdated. Limbaugh is the master
of the public apology for intentional mistakes.
For him to suggest he used the wrong words, in his three
minute diatribe, is insulting. What other word do you
substitute for “slut?” “Ho,” maybe??? Well, John and Ken
tried that already. But he called Fluke a prostitute,
too. Didn’t sound any “nicer” than the John and Ken version.
Calling women “hos” and “sluts” insults their dignity
and personal integrity - in life and in death. The radio
is not the place for that kind of conversation. Rush,
John and Ken are entertainers at the end of the day. Their
conversations are not useful discourse. They are mindless
babble about what they don’t like about the world that
Clear Channel uses to fill air time and sell advertisement.
They are expressing their opinions. They have the right
to free speech - but not unprotected. And not on the radio,
assaulting people’s dignity.
Listeners are consumers, connected to advertisers.
Once advertisers start paying attention, that’s when Clear
Channel pays attention. They fired Sterns over his rude
and righteous indignation. A couple more advertisers lost,
and Rush is out the door, too. Bet that Clear Channel
doesn’t love him that much. He’s on his hands and knees
apologizing, so he knows he’s in trouble. But KFI thinks
John and Ken are funny, and ain’t nothing funny about
assaulting people’s dignity. Nothing funny at all - not
in life or in death.
And that’s gonna’ be a problem for Clear
Channel, who has lost its perspective about what talk
radio is really supposed to be about - discourse. Not
rude, indignant and worthless perspective. But now that
they have our attention…we’ll see how serious talk radio
is about decorum and diversity of perspective. Your play,
Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad, is a national columnist,
managing director of the
Urban Issues Forum
and author of
Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is AnthonySamad.com. Twitter @dranthonysamad. Click
to contact Dr. Samad.