Monday, April 26, 2004

SEVERIN REPORTEDLY TO APOLOGIZE. Well, this should be interesting. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) claims it has been promised that WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) talk-show host Jay Severin will apologize today during his show for saying, "I've got an idea, let's kill all Muslims." Severin allegedly made that remark last Thursday.

CAIR quotes from an e-mail the organization says it received from the station's general manager, Mark Mills: "I have spoken to Jay Severin and he knows we take this seriously and do not condone offensive remarks toward any religious groups and he will be apologizing on his show Monday afternoon. He did not intend to offend anyone."

Severin's alleged outburst reportedly came he while talking about a supposed Muslim plan to take over America, even if it takes centuries. CAIR is calling for Severin to be fired. The organization's chairman, Omar Ahmad, is quoted as saying: "We believe a mere reprimand and apology is insufficient and demand that he be taken off the air as he would be if he had attacked any other religious or ethnic group."

The Boston Globe reported on Severin's latest on Saturday.

I didn't hear Severin, so I don't want to prejudge this. I'll wait to hear what he has to say shortly after 3. But if past is prologue, this is unsurprising. As I've observed previously, Severin regularly refers to Arabs and Muslims as "towelheads" and illegal immigrants as "wetbacks." He has often advocated the use of nuclear weapons against enemies of the United States. And with the death toll in Iraq rising, Severin has expressed frustration that the US military is engaging in urban warfare - thus costing American lives - instead of essentially leveling areas where the Iraqi opposition is strong.

But doesn't Severin have a First Amendment right to say such things? Yes, of course. What he doesn't have is a First Amendment right to host a talk show. Hate speech is protected, but it's up to the management of WTKK to decide whether it wants to pay for such garbage. And CAIR has a First Amendment right to protest and to demand that Severin be fired.

Recently another 'TKK talk-show host, Mike Barnicle, apologized for using the word "Mandingo" in referring to the marriage of former secretary of defense William Cohen, who's white, and former Boston television personality Janet Langhart, who's black.

Last October, WEEI Radio (AM 850), after initially trying to ride it out, suspended John Dennis and Gerry Callahan for two weeks after they jokingly referred to a gorilla that had escaped from the Franklin Park Zoo as a "Metco gorilla." Metco is a program that lets urban African-American kids attend public schools in the suburbs.

Two months before that, one of 'EEI's sister stations, WRKO Radio (AM 680), parted company with John "Ozone" Osterlind after Osterlind allegedly called for the "eradication" of the Palestinian people on the air. (At the time of his departure, Osterlind disputed what happened, and a complete tape of his offending remarks has never surfaced. And a disclosure: WRKO pays me to talk about the media on The Pat Whitley Show every Friday at 9 a.m.)

All this is only tangentially tied to the uproar over indecency. That, after all, only dates back to the Super Bowl. Rather, what all of these local incidents have in common is that they involve ugly joking, or even hate speech, about race, ethnicity, and/or religion. Such a thing would have been unheard of - literally - 10 years ago, but it has become a staple as corporate-owned radio chains have continued their downward spiral.

I suspect that Severin will slide by with an apology, and that he'll be able to claim his remarks were made within an entirely political context. In any event, stay tuned.

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