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Media Literacy Review
Center for Advanced Technology in Education - College of Education - University of Oregon - Eugene

Hard to Believe

Bill Walsh, Contributing Writer

You're not going to believe this story. I'm warning you.

But it's true.

Every word of it.

No foolin'.

It centers around Bob Grant, who sounds like not a very nice man. Mr. Grant says that Blacks and Hispanics are genetically inferior to whites. He calls Blacks "screaming savages," "maggots," and "primates." He's characterized Martin Luther King Jr. as "a scumbag;" he's called former New York Mayor David Dinkins "a men's room attendant;" he calls the Reverend Jesse Jackson "Jerkson." Grant said that he was sorry that that the HIV virus might take a long time to kill Magic Johnson. He wishes that the Haitian refugees would drown. He told one guy that if he was realy fed up with the way this country was going, he should "get a gun and do something about it." He's started the "Bob Grant Mandatory Sterilization Plan" for welfare mothers.

Sounds like not a nice guy at all.

But until three weeks ago, Bob Grant was New York City's most popular radio talk show host. WABC radio paid him more than half a million dollars a year to say these things and be controversial in the highly-lucrative 4 PM - 7 PM "evening drive-time" slot. Grant generated about seven million dollars in advertising revenues for WABC, despite the fact that his program was boycotted by advertisers such as Dodge, AT&T, and Amtrak.

When Ron Brown's plane crashed a few weeks ago -- and when early news reports suggested that there might be at least one survivor -- Grant said that he had a hunch that the survivor was Secretary of Commerce Brown. "Maybe that's because, at heart, I'm a pessimist," he added.

Not surprisingly, people complained. They complained not only to Grant himself (he's denigrated callers as "imbeciles," "idiots," and "skunks" and said he'd like put some of them up against the wall and shoot them), but to ABC and ABC/Capital City's new owners, the Walt Disney Company (which is supposed to have a "family" type image).

People also complained to Alan Dershowitz (the lawyer), who also had a talk show on WABC. Dershowitz called Grant a racist, a bigot, and "a despicable talk-show host."

One of the golden rules in radio broadcasting is not to call someone on your own station names. WABC fired Dershowitz for bad-mouthing Grant.

Then, as the storm of protest over Grant's Ron Brown comments continued to escalate, WABC (with prompting from Disney chief Michael Eisner) fired Grant.

But wait! There's more!

Ten days later, Grant was hired by New York station WOR (a competitor of WABC) and assigned the same 4 PM - 7 PM time slot he'd just been fired from over at the other station!

Then WOR hired Dershowitz, too!

It gets still curioser, though.

Amidst all these hirings and firings and racism and name calling over the public airwaves, some very basic First Amendment issues have arisen. You know -- the right of free speech. Who has it? Where does it end? How should it be used? The National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts (recognizing the limelight instantly), decided to present their 1996 Freedom of Speech Award to someone in this New York City talk show mess.

You must remember the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts and their annual Freedom of Speech Award. Last year they gave it to former Watergate conspirator G. Gordon Liddy (who is now a right-wing talk show host). Last year was using his freedom of speech to suggest that when citizens are confronted by federal agents, they should aim for a "head shot," because that is the only part of an enforcement official's body not protected from bullets.

So the association wanted to honor SOMEONE'S use of Freedom of Speech. But whose?

Grant -- for saying outrageous things despite a storm of protest?

Dershowitz -- for calling Grant names in violation of station policy?

Eisener -- who exercised his own freedom of speech by firing Dershowitz and Grant?

In a decision worthy of Solomon himself, last week the Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts announced their intention to present the award this year to ALL THREE of these guys -- Grant, Dershowitz and Eisner.

In making the announcement, association president Gene Burns said (apparently with a straight face) "The actions of each of these three . . . illustrate different, key aspects of the First Amendment in practice." (The three award recipients will not share the head table, it was further announced, but will each be given their own tables in different parts of the room at the award ceremony on June 23 in Washington). Smart move.

The bigot. O. J.'s lawyer. And the boss.

Each a giant in the world of First Amendment rights. Just like Liddy, the co-conspirator.

That noise you hear is probably the Founding Fathers, turning over in their graves.

Bill Walsh is the A/V Media Specialist at Billerica High School, Billerica, MA.