Poor Taste or Plain Dangerous?

May 15 2007, 5:13 PM
Radio host Don Imus famously lost his talk show gig last month after calling members of the Rutgers women's basketball team "nappy headed 'hos." Critics and supporters around the country debated - seemingly endlessly, in fact - whether Imus' statement was so bad that it should have cost him his job. Ultimately, it did, in no small part because advertisers started to put their checkbooks away and stop supporting his radio show. In Colorado, KOA radio talk show host "Gunny" Bob Newman is facing a potentially similar problem after a well-known local company, "Three Tomatoes Catering," today pulled its advertising from his show for statements he made on the air last week. In case you missed it, and given that "Gunny's" show airs from 7:00 - 10:00 p.m., you probably did, here's what he said last week (as documented by Colorado Media Matters):
Discussing the breakup of an alleged terrorist plot to attack U.S. soldiers at New Jersey's Fort Dix, Newsradio 850 KOA host "Gunny" Bob Newman said on his May 8 show that "every Muslim immigrant to America who holds a green card, a visa, or who is a naturalized citizen [should] be required by law to wear a GPS tracking bracelet at all times," and that the government should "bug their places of work and their residences" and monitor "[a]ll mosques and community centers." Newman added, "If they don't like the idea, or if they refuse, throw their asses out of this country." Newman also suggested refusing Muslims entry into the United States by imposing a "moratorium" on visas for them. Speaking directly to the Muslim community, Newman warned, "You better get control of your own people. Once you get control of them, then come see us again and we'll think about -- however many decades down the road it is -- we'll think about maybe opening our doors to you again. But you are doing absolutely freaking nothing to help ... this nation."
Old "Gunny" certainly isn't the only Colorado radio host who will apparently say anything in order to get ratings, but should KOA put up with comments like this? Vincent Carroll of the Rocky Mountain News tackled the subject today in his blog:
Last weekend, two more New York City talk show hosts were forced to walk the plank for bad taste and worse judgment -- the Don Imus disease -- after what The Associated Press delicately calls a "prank phone call rife with offensive Asian stereotypes." Good riddance, you may say, and I wouldn't argue. But should the same unforgiving standard apply to off-the-wall political views?... ...Finally, the indefensible. Last week "Gunny" Bob Newman said he wants "every Muslim immigrant to America who holds a green card, a visa or who is a naturalized citizen to be required by law to wear a GPS tracking bracelet at all times. And the FBI and the NSA should monitor their phones and their e-mails ... as well as bug their places of work and their residences. If they don't like the idea, or if they refuse, throw their asses out of this country." Newman's extremist tirade on behalf of the unconstitutional monitoring of an entire class of citizens based upon their religion is, of course, vile -- and that is the kindest thing that can be said for it. If Newman were more influential, maybe I'd be more alarmed. The best protection against such bilge is the radio dial. Turn it to sports talk. Turn it to music. Turn it to any island of sanity and let Gunny Bob rant to his heart's content. The great thing about the "public airwaves," after all, is that there are so many of them.
This isn't a free speech issue, because free speech doesn't apply to commercial interests. "Gunny" can stand on a street corner and say whatever the hell he wants, but KOA and its owner, Clear Channel, have every right to tell him to watch what he says on the radio. But should they? If Imus can get canned for calling someone a "nappy headed 'ho," then I think "Gunny" certainly should be in hot water for suggesting that all Muslims be outfitted with tracking devices. What Imus said was, at best, in poor taste, but what "Gunny" said is potentially dangerous. Carroll says he isn't too worried about it because "Gunny" isn't that influential, but that doesn't make it better. What "Gunny" is doing is more than perpetuating a stereotype - he's inciting fear and telling listeners that it is okay to discriminate against people based on their religious beliefs. That's socially irresponsible, and it's dangerous. If you don't agree with me, think about this: would it be OK if "Gunny" said on his radio show that all children under the age of 10 should be kept in a closet and forced to eat and drink out of dog bowls? What if someone who was listening to "Gunny's" show did keep their children locked into a closet because what "Gunny" said made them think it was okay? Obviously this is an extreme example, but what if someone listening to "Gunny" last week went out and physically assaulted a Muslim in Denver because what "Gunny" said riled them up? I wouldn't place all of the blame on "Gunny" if that happened, but you couldn't then say that he hadn't contributed to the situation. What if a 12-year-old kid heard what "Gunny" said and agreed with him? Or think of it another way: replace the word "Muslim" with any other descriptive word and see how you feel about it then. What if he said that every Jew should be required to wear a tracking device? What if he said that every woman should be monitored by the FBI? What if he said that anyone who didn't graduate from high school should be thrown out of the country? The reason it's not OK isn't because "Gunny" was talking about Muslims. It's just not OK. Period. Carroll says the solution in this case is that people should just change the channel if they don't like what "Gunny" says, but that's a cop-out. By that logic, TV stations should be permitted to show hardcore pornography; if you don't like it, you can just change the channel, right? Radio goes over the airwaves for free, and so does television. As Spider Man's uncle once said, "With great power comes great responsibility." As a media company, Clear Channel definitely has a social responsibility. If they want to let "Gunny" be irresponsible, that's their call. But they shouldn't let him be dangerous.