What a difference eight months can make.
Back in March, we wrote a column about powerful radio personality Bob Grant and his brand of hate-filled talkshow. We complained that the rantings of bigots like Grant — who hosts the biggest talkshow on the country's biggest radio station, New York's WABC — were largely ignored or winked at by the mainstream press.
We noted that while national news outlets were fixated on black haters among the Nation of Islam leadership, they were neglecting white racists whose messages are amplified by the largest broadcast stations in the country.
We observed that media commentators kept prodding black politicians to distance themselves from the Louis Farrakhans — but did not ask white politicians to distance themselves from the Bob Grants.
How things have changed...at long last. In recent weeks, news reports spotlighting Grant's on-air racism have appeared prominently in New York media, national outlets, and even the British press.
Over the years, major national advertisers like Sears, Amtrak and Lincoln-Mercury have paid big bucks for access to Grant's 1 million listeners per week. Now, the threat of a sponsor boycott led by African-American ministers has caused several advertisers to pull away from the show.
In past elections, Republican politicians from George Bush on down have cozied up to Grant, seeking his support. Now, his endorsement may be a liability. The high point of a recent televised debate came when New Jersey's Democratic senator handed a cassette tape containing samples of Grant's racist remarks to his Republican challenger and demanded that he reject the talkshow host's support.
A year ago Republican Christine Todd Whitman — who'd just won a close election for New Jersey governor — appeared on Grant's show to thank him for "all that you did to help the campaign." She appeared again two weeks later to personally invite him to her inauguration. Whitman now says she will never again be a guest on Grant's show — unless it's to confront him about his bigotry.
Because Grant has been so successful in building his drive-time audience (he grosses $7 million yearly for his ABC-owned station), he has imitators across the country. As one of the originals in talkshow hate, Grant runs a program that often resembles a Ku Klux Klan rally of the airwaves — cruel, racist, with hints of violence.
Grant espouses a "scientific" form of racism known as eugenics and speaks of the bad "genes" of black youths. He praises City College of New York professor Michael Levin, who asserts that blacks are hereditarily less intelligent than whites, and he regularly promotes the "Bob Grant Mandatory Sterilization Plan" for women on welfare.
Never heard the Bob Grant show? Here's the kind of dialogue you're missing.
Caller: "Well, like you say, we'll become a Third World—I think you know, in another 50 or 60 years where everybody is half-black, half-white, and the mentality has gone down around 10 IQ points."
Grant: "By the way, we're not supposed to talk about genetics in all of this. And I've been called a lot of names because I do believe in the science of genetics."
Grant's favorite words for blacks include "savages" and "subhumanoids." When black college students gathered at a New Jersey beach, Grant talked of "the savage mind, the primitive, primordial mentality.... As far as that stretch of beach there at Belmar, it's being written off by, shall we say, civilized people."
Referring to thousands of blacks who attended a celebrity basketball game involving rap stars, he spoke of "subhumanoids, savages, who would feel more at home careening along the sands of the Kalahari...people who, for whatever reason, have not become civilized."
The few blacks who call the show can expect to be insulted — and perhaps derided as "shoeshine boys." In hanging up on a black caller, Grant said: "Get off my phone, you creep, we don't need the toilets cleaned right now." When he hangs up on black women, he yells: "I don't need the windows washed today."
When an African-American caller pointed out that the KKK was more violent than the Nation of Islam, Grant hung up on the "swine": "On the evolutionary scale, you're about 25 generations behind me."
Besides verbally abusing callers, Grant continually expresses violent fantasies. "I'd like to get every environmentalist, put 'em up against a wall, and shoot 'em," he once said. Last June, he spoke of his wish that police had machine-gunned New York City's gay pride parade. He frequently hopes for the deaths of those he dislikes — Magic Johnson, Bill Clinton, Haitian refugees and others.
His regular listeners cannot escape the violent message. Several months ago, an obviously troubled man phoned the show: "I just wanted to call and vent the hurt and anger I'm experiencing now.... 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?" Grant's response: "Well, get a gun and go do something, then."
We could say that Bob Grant wannabees have sprouted across the country like mushrooms after a downpour — but that would suggest a wild or natural process. What's happened is something else: a deliberate process in which major broadcasters like ABC/Cap Cities have chosen to narrowcast to conservative audiences by stoking prejudice and fear.
Quaint concepts like decency, fairness and rational debate have been tossed out the window.
(The talk lineup on WABC, for example — even in a city as liberal as New York — is so filled with right-wing hatred that Rush Limbaugh almost sounds like a voice of compassion on the station.)
The best answer to hate speech is not suppression, but more speech. And the best answer to hate radio is diverse programs offering opposing views. Unfortunately, since the FCC abolished the Fairness Doctrine seven years ago, many station managers don't feel the need to offer even the semblance of balancing perspectives.
The recent uproar over Bob Grant may point to a brighter future. For now, however, on talk radio — the hate just keeps on coming.