Talk show host sues councilman for slander

April 12, 1991|By David Michael Ettlin

Les Kinsolving, the controversial host of a program billed as "uninhibited radio," is rarely shy in bestowing nicknames on the targets of his conservative ire.

But in a $1.1 million slander suit he filed in Baltimore County Circuit Court, Mr. Kinsolving contends that a Baltimore city councilman whose actions he criticized on the air went beyond the bounds of decency on another radio show by calling him "Lester the kid molester."

Both programs aired on WCBM-AM, where Charles Lester Kinsolving is an employee and paid host of the "Les Kinsolving Show -- Uninhibited Radio" weekdays from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Defendants are Councilman Carl Stokes, D-2nd, and Michael Graham and his Michael Graham Communications Inc. -- a business that buys air time on WCBM from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Sundays for its talk show, "Focus on Baltimore."

The name-hurling was sparked by discussions on both programs about the Baltimore councilmanic redistricting plan forged in large part by Mr. Stokes and adopted by the City Council March 22 after heated debate largely on racial lines. The plan created five majority black districts and left one majority white.

In his suit, Mr. Kinsolving said that he criticized the manner in which the plan was debated and enacted and characterized it as a "power grab by Afro-Americans" on the council. He predicted it would "cause non-Afro-Americans living in Baltimore City to relocate to other metropolitan jurisdictions."

"With his typical sense of political satire and humor," the suit claims, "Les Kinsolving referred to Carl Stokes as Master Stokes, referred to [City Council President] Mary Pat Clarke as Mary Pat 'Poison' and referred to Councilman Lawrence Bell and [sic] Lawrence 'Ding Dong.' "

The night of March 24, Mr. Kinsolving alleged, participants in the Graham Communications-run broadcast of "Focus on Baltimore" -- including Mr. Graham, Mr. Stokes and Mr. Bell, D-4th, and Delegate Curtis S. Anderson, D-Baltimore -- discussed the redistricting plan and replied to his comments.

"Almost immediately," Mr. Kinsolving alleged, "Councilman Bell and Carl Stokes criticized Les Kinsolving by name for 'name calling' and 'race baiting.' . . . Carl Stokes referred to Les Kinsolving as ignorant. Councilman Bell objected to having been called 'Ding Dong.' . . . Michael Graham then called Les Kinsolving 'Lester the jester.' Then Carl Stokes said 'Lester the kid molester.' "

The suit seeks compensatory damages of $100,000 and punitive damages of $1 million each from Mr. Stokes, Graham Communications and Mr. Graham, who Mr. Kinsolving contends could have prevented the remark from being aired during the seven-second delay between the time it was made and its transmission from the WCBM antenna.

Mr. Kinsolving said that WCBM subsequently received objections from anonymous callers to the appearance of a child molester on the station and that one person called a sponsor of his show to ask whether the sponsor knew the radio host was a child molester.

In an interview last night, Mr. Kinsolving said it was "the first time I have ever sued anybody for slander, and if you think it's not serious, then we're in strong disagreement."

But Councilman Stokes, a former Baltimore Sun employee who is now a consultant to the newspaper company on community services, said last night that the "Focus" broadcast was anything but serious.

"Our show was a send-up really on Les," he said. "What we were doing was playing with him for his serious attacks and defamation of character on Lawrence. The whole thing was done in a farce manner. We were laughing as we were doing it."

The general manager of WCBM, Michael J. Plumstead, said that "based on the tape, it would appear to be a slanderous comment." But he quickly added, "That's up to the courts to decide. As general manager I have to take a neutral stance."

Mr. Stokes said that "the intelligent thing" would be for all concerned to simply apologize and shake hands all around.

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