You can't just fire a talk-radio bigot who draws in all those listeners -- can you?

April 22, 1996|By MIKE LITTWIN

IT'S APRIL 3, another day in talk-radio land.

Up in New York on megastation WABC, Bob Grant, one of the stars of radio talk, is discussing with a caller the fact that Commerce Secretary Ron Brown's plane has just plowed into a Croatian mountainside.

Since it's Bob Grant, who believes in many things, including the First Amendment right to speak the outrageous, he comes up with this:

"My hunch," he says of Brown, "is that he is the one survivor. I just have that on a hunch. Maybe it's because, at heart, I'm a pessimist."

The caller laughs.

Grant laughs.

Well, it is funny that a lot of people die in a plane crash, so you can see the humor.

And then they move on, maybe to Unabomber jokes I don't know. More likely, something nasty about Hillary. Or possibly Madonna.

(A friend called to tell me that Rush Limbaugh, Bob Grant's buddy and colleague on WABC, was talking the other day about Madonna, saying that the boy-toy's husbandless pregnancy shows that feminists want nothing to do with men. Huh? He later amended that to mean militant feminists, who, I suppose, are the heavily armed feminists holed up in Montana.)

Anyway, at the time, Grant thought nothing of what he'd said, which is probably the case more often than not. After all, this is the big-city talk-show host who routinely calls blacks "savages." A little Ron Brown joke couldn't hurt him.

Not everyone was laughing, however.

Some people who heard about the comment thought it was, well, tasteless. They complained to family-values Disney Inc., which happens to own WABC and, as we know, welcomes controversy in much the same way that Pat Buchanan welcomes Mexican immigrants.

Disney officials said they'd look into it. But Bob Grant, who has been working in New York radio for over 25 years, isn't the kind of guy you just fire.

For one thing, as they say in the entertainment business, he puts fannies in the seats hundreds of thousands each day.

And for another, he has important friends.

Christine Todd Whitman, who once thanked Grant for helping her get elected, was his friend until she was shamed out of it. Rudolph Giuliani has gladly appeared on Grant's show even though Grant likes to call the former mayor, David Dinkins, a "washroom attendant."

Al D'Amato has been a regular guest. Buchanan once called him -- according to FAIR, a media watchdog group that has been hounding Grant -- "the dean of us all."

And if you fired your talk-show host every time he stepped across some undefined line, where would you be? I mean, what would you do with G. Gordon Liddy when he advises people on taking down federal agents with head shots?

Besides, Grant has said far worse than tasteless jokes about dead people. Here are a few quotes I came across, courtesy of several New York newspapers, that nobody thought he should be fired for saying:

On blacks who attended a celebrity basketball game starring rap stars: "We have in our nation millions of subhumanoids, savages who 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."

On Magic Johnson: "Unfortunately, all he has is the HIV virus and could last for a long time."

On Martin Luther King's birthday: "If they didn't observe Martin King Day, there would be trouble from the savages."

On Haitian immigrants: "The ideal situation -- you know what the ideal situation would be -- if they drowned them, then they would stop coming."

Clearly, being a bigot doesn't get you fired. In fact, last month Alan Dershowitz, on his talk show, called Grant a bigot. WABC, which ran the syndicated show, dropped Dershowitz. Him, they fired.

And Grant?

Well, guess what.

Despite all the evidence, there are apparently lines which even a talk-show host cannot cross. And now we know one of them: rooting for a cabinet member to be killed in a plane crash. It took them two weeks to decide, but Disney officials finally told Grant that he was through.

You can tell. Lift your nose to the sky and sniff. The airwaves are a little cleaner today.

But don't think of this as in any way a victory. You can bet that Grant will be back on another station. He has too many friends, and most of them are the people who listen to his show.

He has an audience. And that's the real story.

Pub Date: 4/22/96

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