Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Dumber Than Dirt

Once upon a time, the FCC required that radio stations prove their actions in "the public interest, convenience and necessity" in order to maintain their licences.

Can someone explain to me how defaming a women's basketball team meets any of those criteria?
I didn't think so.

These women are not celebrities, nor politicians, nor public figures by virtue of anything other than their participation in an amateur sporting event - they are private citizens. And yet, one of the most popular radio figures in the US deemed it acceptable to utter a racist, tasteless and inaccurate characterization of them, offered up as "entertainment".

I've admired this person for a long time. But there are lines that should not ever be crossed, and the more experience you have, the clearer your judgement should be. A justifiable howl has gone up in response to this error in judgement, but the saddest thing for me to watch are people rising in defense of the indefensible.

Let's consider: if this happened at a local station, the person would have been fired already. That is an appropriate response to an action of such stupidity (but even firing does not remove the threat of liability to the station). The person might or might not find another radio job, depending on his or her past performance, acknowledgement of the error and committment never to repeat it.

The person in question may have had a long and successful career, may generate millions of dollars for his employer, and may be a wonderful family man who loves kittens. But that doesn't matter, and the proposed punishment, a two week suspension, is sending a message that this behavior is, if not acceptable, at least tolerable. It is not.

Interestingly, the programs' sponsors are leading the way in doing the right thing, by pulling their advertising dollars. In the limit, this effectively cancels the program. But even a large enough partial response might give the employer enough backbone to make a stronger response to this boneheaded, thoughtless, irresponsible (i could go on...) episode.

It wouldn't hurt this person to be off the air for a year. As a condition for his return, he would have to travel to the top 100 radio markets at his own expense, and meet with local radio people to explain that they should never, ever want to get to a position where they don't think about what they are saying to a mass audience, and the negative effects their speech can have.