Sometimes the Grassroots Wins: KRXQ Hosts Apologize for Defaming Transgendered Children

What a couple of weeks it’s been for Sacramento radio station KRXQ and its wacky morning show hosts Rob, Arnie & Dawn. Their travails in meeting the wrath of outraged supporters of transgendered adults and children ended this morning when the hosts apologized on air and engaged in an open conversation with transgendered people and advocates. But it took quite a bit of pressure to get them to see the light.

Last week I told you about their May 28 broadcast wherein Arnie States talked about how he would hit his son with a shoe if he found him crossdressing, as part of a half-hour discussion generally defaming transgendered children. When word of this disgusting broadcast started to get around folks like myself who found good reason to be outraged at the broadcast took aim at the station.

Of course, as I noted, there was nothing particularly illegal about the broadcast, failing to meet the standard of being indecent. So FCC action was out of the question. Instead folks took aim at KRXQ’s advertisers, asking them to listen to archives of the May 28 program and judge for themselves if that’s the sort of intolerant rhetoric they want to sponsor.

For a large portion of the station’s national sponsors, the answer was a resounding “no.” By June 4, about 4 days into national publicity of the program, major advertisers Chipotle Grill, Snapple and Sonic Drive-In pulled their accounts from the station in response to it. The count was up to ten lost accounts by the next day following a wholly unrepentant broadcast on June 4 when Rob and Arnie attempted to defend themselves by explaining that the May 28 broadcast was just a joke.

Not long thereafter KRXQ pulled its list of advertisers from the station’s website as more local and national sponsors got wind of not only how awful the May 28 broadcast was but how boneheaded Arnie and Rob were in defending themselves on air rather than thoughtfully considering the concerns of listeners, transgendered people and their supporters. Just like the June 4 show where the hosts were supposed to be seriously taking up the ramifications of their May 28 broadcast, pulling the advertiser list was another example of too-little, too-late, since lists of the station’s advertisers had been circulating freely across twitter, facebook and blogs for days.

Pressure got high enough that by Friday June 5 station management reached out to the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) to try and find a resolution to the situation. On the following Monday, June 7, the Rob, Arnie and Dawn show didn’t air in its usual timeslot. Instead, Rob Williams, who actually owns and produces the show, posted a statement on the show’s and on the station’s website saying the program would be off air until today, June 11. In his statement Williams acknowledged, (in original all caps):



By the time Rob Williams and Arnie States publicly apologized on their show this morning, their dehumanizing statements and arrogant and ignorant attempts to defend themselves had cost the biggest station carrying their program over thirteen local and national advertisers. Their co-host Dawn Rossi owed no personal apology for the broadcast because she actively tried to both defend transgendered people during the May 28 show and made other reasonable on air arguments against Arnie and Rob’s defaming tirade and ignorant defense.

I’d like to hope that both Arnie States and Rob Williams have truly acknowledged the damage that their words inflicted, I also have no doubt that the financial strike of so many advertisers pulling their accounts did much to change their attitudes. In an era when the public service obligations of broadcasters is a lip-service joke rather than a real an enforceable requirement, hitting stations in the pocketbook is a very effective tool for making them acknowledge the rights of minorities of all stripes.

In the corporate radio world Rob Williams and Arnie States are tiny players. And while their forced about-face on the issue of transgendered children is a victory, it’s still a small one. Unfortunately other radio hosts who deal in hatred towards minorities like Michael Savage and Rush Limbaugh have a much stronger base of support both in terms of advertisers, listeners and mainstream credibility. But I don’t think they’re immune either.

Demonstrating just how vulnerable they might be, Rockstar energy drink has threatened Alternet with a defamation lawsuit for publicizing the hard-to-deny connection between right-wing insane hate-spewing radio host Michael Savage and his son, Russell Weiner, who is the founder and CEO of the company. It’s not just a father-son connection, however. According to Alternet, “Savage’s wife serves as director of energy drink company, and Savage Productions shares an address with Rockstar(!).”

Apparently at the behest of Rockstar, facebook took down a group encouraging a boycott of Rockstar, which recently established a lucrative distribution deal with Pepsi.

Seems like even Savage’s own son’s company is a little nervous about its connection to the right-wing violent hate spewed on the Michael Savage show. I wonder how nervous Pepsi might be with the connection, too?

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2 Responses to Sometimes the Grassroots Wins: KRXQ Hosts Apologize for Defaming Transgendered Children

  1. Chris Weagel June 19, 2009 at 2:52 pm #

    So where does this end? Who decides which line is drawn where?

    I don’t agree with the hosts diatribe against trans kids and I don’t agree with someone like Bill O’Reilly’s endless hate against abortion providers, but as someone who creates comedy and media I can also see the flip side of limiting what people can and cannot say – even on a publicly regulated spectrum like radio frequencies.

  2. Paul June 21, 2009 at 11:14 pm #

    In the case of KRXQ nobody has stopped anyone from doing anything. Rob & Arnie could continue to defame TG children all they wanted, except that their sponsors wouldn’t continue to pay for it. If they choose that they can do without the sponsors, no problem.

    You’ll note that neither the FCC nor any other gov’t regulator stepped in. And I think it’s well within any sponsor’s rights to choose what it wants to pay for, or to choose what segment of its customer base it wants to listen to.

    Rob & Arnie had a choice — they could choose to ignore the loss of sponsors, or try to find other sponsors who don’t care if they advocate the physical abuse of TG children. They could choose to go to another station or start a podcast. In the end, I think the money mattered more to them.

    And that’s really the crux. It’s not about free speech. They have free speech, but that doesn’t mean they’re free from experiencing consequences from what they say, like the loss of sponsors. Apparently the consequences weren’t worth it for them.

    I don’t think we need to worry about “where it will end.” Grassroots groups of all kinds contact sponsors of programs they don’t like and very few succeed. I think the success happens when a particular program crosses a line that the culture at large starts to think is intolerable. Targeted violence against racial minorities is no longer considered tolerable in most mainstream programming, either. It’s not illegal, but most sponsors don’t want to be associated with it. Go online or maybe even troll the late night AM radio dial and you might find that speech — you just won’t find it in the mainstream, and that’s a good thing by my reckoning.

    If everyone could have an FM radio station if s/he wanted one, then I might not care so much. But an FM license is still a rare monopoly over a single frequency that few get to use. It’s given free in exchange for operating in the public interest. Advocating violence towards TG in no way is in the public interest.

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