Hold Your Tongue, Unless You’re Criticizing a Conservative by David Almasi

Comments considered to cross the line of good taste recently have led to a surprisingly large number of firings among radio hosts and staff.

Most notable was Don Imus’s April firing from CBS Radio and MSNBC after he called the Rutgers University women’s basketball team “nappy-headed hos.” The outrage from Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and others quickly got the veteran broadcaster fired.

But Imus was not the only one:

  • As the Imus controversy raged, Gary Smith of WSBG in Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania was fired when he made “I’m a nappy-headed ho” the “Phrase that Pays.”
  • In May, CBS Radio fired Jeff Vandergrift and Dan Lay – hosts of WFNY’s “The Dog House with JV and Elvis” in New York City – for broadcasting a prank call in April to a Chinese restaurant that used a caller with an exaggerated Asian accent and demeaned Asian stereotypes.
  • Producer Eric Gray of San Antonio’s KTKR was fired by Clear Channel Communications in May for a segment featuring an impersonation of black professional basketball player Allen Iverson, saying Iverson shot an illegal alien and solicited sex from a Mexican woman.
  • In Boston, WRKO host John DePetro was fired by Entercom Boston last November for calling Massachusetts gubernatorial candidate Grace Ross a “fat lesbian.”

In each case, retribution was swift and decisive. After all, intolerant attitudes – especially those involving race – are frowned upon these days… unless the target is a black conservative.

Consider the abuse heaped upon Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. On May 9 – after the firings of Imus, Smith, Gray and DePetro and the same week Vandergrift and Lay were fired – XM satellite radio hosts Gregg “Opie” Hughes and Anthony Cumia laughed as a guest they called “Homeless Charlie” talked about wanting to rape Secretary Rice. Cumia gleefully said, “I just imagine the horror in Condoleezza Rice’s face… as you were just like holding her down…”

XM officials condemned the segment, Opie and Anthony apologized and they were suspended – reportedly with pay – for 30 days. They still, however, have their XM jobs. They even continued to broadcast on their other nationally-syndicated CBS Radio show. Al Sharpton said they should be fired, but only days later and after consulting his “associates.” Jesse Jackson refused to comment.

In Madison, Wisconsin in November of 2004, WTDY program director and morning host John Sylvester called Rice – then the nation’s national security advisor – “Aunt Jemima.” When asked to apologize by his critics, Sylvester said, “I will apologize to Aunt Jemima.” He was not punished by his employer.

Dave Lenihan, formerly of KTRS in St. Louis, Missouri, did lose his job. On March 22, 2006, while discussing rumors that Secretary Rice might apply for the job of NFL commissioner, Lenihan said: “She’s African-American, which would be kind of a big coon. A big coon. Oh my God. I am totally, totally, totally, totally sorry for that.” He never finished the show. He was fired immediately – not for demeaning Secretary Rice, but for accidentally saying “coon.”

In the comics, Garry Trudeau can call Secretary Rice “Brown Sugar” in “Doonesbury” and Aaron McGruder can suggest a boyfriend might stop her from being “hell-bent to destroy” the world in the now-defunct “The Boondocks.” Ted Rall can suggest she is a “house nigga” who needs “racial re-education.” On the supposedly more-respectable editorial pages, Jeff Danziger and Pat Oliphant can draw her with accentuated black features and using poor diction.

All of these people, of course, have a right to their opinion. They may not deserve the jobs they have (or had), but their fundamental freedom of speech is a cornerstone of our republic. The true outrage is the selective indignation – particularly among those who claim to abhor racism – when it comes to black conservatives. When it’s someone such as Condoleezza Rice – an accomplished woman who has reached the top of her field – it seems a free pass is given to those who embrace the lowest common denominator.

Whatever happened to the notion that a sin against one is a sin against all?

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David Almasi is the director of Project 21, where he coordinates media activities on behalf of the members of the black leadership network. Comments may be sent to [email protected].

Published by The National Center for Public Policy Research. Reprints permitted provided source is credited. New Visions Commentaries reflect the views of their author, and not necessarily those of Project 21 or the National Center for Public Policy Research.

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