Would it surprise you that the most listened-to talk radio station in the country, owned by one of the most important media companies, has as its highest rated host a man who sounds like a recruiter for the Ku Klux Klan?
The station is New York City’s WABC, flagship of the ABC Radio Network, and the host is Bob Grant. Grant is an important player in regional politics; conservative politicians like U.S. Sen. Al D’Amato, New Jersey Gov. Christine Todd Whitman, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and New York Governor-elect George Pataki have called in to Grant’s show to thank him for his support, often saying that it made a crucial difference in their elections.
Grant’s embrace of a candidate became an issue in New Jersey’s U.S. Senate race, with Democratic incumbent Frank Lautenberg running ads criticizing Republican challenger Chuck Haytaian for accepting the support of a racist. While Governor Whitman briefly distanced herself from Grant, other political allies rallied around him, denying that the talkshow host was bigoted.
But Grant’s racism is not particularly hard to decode. “Minorities are the Big Apple’s majority, you don’t need the papers to tell you that, walk around and you know it,” he has declared (quoted in Newsday, 6/2/92). “To me, that’s a bad thing. I’m a white person.” Grant repeatedly expresses his belief in the scientific form of racism called eugenics, and frequently promotes the “Bob Grant Mandatory Sterilization Program.”
One of Grant’s favorite words for African-Americans is “savages”: The U.S., he said (1/6/92), has “millions of sub-humanoids, savages, who really would feel more at home careening along the sands of the Kalahari or the dry deserts of eastern Kenya–people who, for whatever reason, have not become civilized.” He declared (10/15/93) that “if they didn’t observe Martin King Day, there would be trouble from the savages.”
Apologists for Grant say that he only uses “savages” to refer to rioters and criminals (as if applying racial stereotypes to criminals was not racist). But it isn’t true: Grant has referred to black churchgoers as “screaming savages” (4/30/93); he’s said (7/15/93) that black fraternity members represent “the savage mind, the primitive, primordial mentality.” After overcrowding at a charity event led to deaths, Grant referred to the crowd (1/6/92) as “the 3,000 to 5,000 savages who showed up for the rap stars’ basketball game.”
He denounced a federal judge for being “one of them” (6/9/93): “You know Sterling Johnson has been made a federal judge only because he had that marvelous commodity called melanin.” Grant says he’s been praying for the death of Magic Johnson (10/1/92): “Why is it taking so long for the HIV to go into full-blown AIDS?”
Haitian refugees are “swine” and “sub-human infiltrators” who multiply “like maggots on a hot day” (3/20/92). AIDS in Haiti, according to Grant (6/28/94), is “not prevalent enough; there’s too many of them.”
African-Americans are not the only target of Grant’s bile: He remarked after a gay pride parade (6/29/94), “Ideally, it would have been nice to have a few phalanxes of policemen with machine guns and mow them down.”
Grant’s expression of hatred for various groups is protected by the First Amendment. (ABC, of course, also has the right to decide it does not want to broadcast hate speech.) Sometimes, however, Grant approaches the line separating free speech from advocacy of violence.
Once a listener, obviously distraught, called Grant’s show looking for advice (3/18/94): “What could I do as a citizen of this country, which I believe in and have seen fall apart as I’ve been growing up?”
“Well, get a gun and go do something then, OK?” was Grant’s response.
Jay Diamond, a protege of Grant who also has a show on WABC, has repeatedly talked to police officers on the air, urging them to arrange for criminal suspects to “commit suicide in police custody.” “You know, guys get depressed in prison sometimes and they sometimes put a bullet in the back of their own head,” he told one officer (9/29/93). “You’re absolutely right, Jay,” was the officer’s response.
Bob Grant’s repeated slurs have inspired African-American clergy and others to stage protests at WABC and to call for sponsors to boycott his show. An obviously worried Grant has toned down his rhetoric, expressed his respect for Nelson Mandela (whom he used to denounce as a “terrorist”), and generally tried to display his warm and fuzzy side.
But the old Bob Grant had simply denied that it was possible for whites to express racism, saying that it wasn’t allowed (12/13/93): “If they did allow it, the thugs, the savages, the refugees from the Kalahari would tear the place apart. But I guess our group has evolved too far. I guess that’s the price we pay for being a little higher up on the evolutionary scale.”
In fact, the Grant controversy shows that it is possible for major media corporations to air blatant racism. All they have to do is deny that that’s what they’re doing.