April 20, 2007

Commentary:

The Victimization of Talk Show Hosts

By Joe Ortiz

The recent fiasco concerning shock jock host Don Imus has opened the doors to a new dialogue that has been lying dormant for decades. Imus’ removal from the lofty platform that provided numerous elected officials, media personalities and civic leaders a bully pulpit to showcase their respective agendas, has been toppled over by an outcry of indignation, mainly from African Americans.

Some media folks are still debating whether the Imus firing was justified. Losing three million dollars in salary per year is steep. Imus apologized personally to the members of the Rutgers woman basketball players for his loathsome remarks and they accepted his apology. Was it fair for him to be fired for making negative remarks about the Rutger’s woman basketball team? Was he a victim of an overzealous segment of American society?

Being a radio talk show is not an easy job. I know. Being the first Mexican American in US history to conduct a talk show on an English-language, commercial radio station (KABC Talk Radio, 1971) was difficult on many fronts. I experienced mail filled with racial epithets from hundreds of white folks. My career at KABC was short-lived. No! I didn’t make any derogatory remarks against blacks, Hispanics, whites or any other race; I was let go because I didn’t know enough about the state of Israel.

One late December morning, while hosting the 9 am to 1 pm shift, a caller asked me how I felt about concentration camps in Israel. I responded that concentration camps should be banned throughout the whole world. The next caller called me and began to dress me down, stating that there are no concentration camps in Israel. I responded that I don’t know whether there were any such camps in Israel, but if there is, they should be shut down. Suddenly my board lit up with hundreds of callers ready to join the fiery debate, which lasted for hours. Later that evening, as I attended a Christmas Party at the home of the radio station’s general manager, I overheard a stunning conversation by two of my KABC colleagues who were standing a few feet away from me.

“Boy, did they ever crucify Joe Ortiz today.”

“Yeah” responded the other colleague, “They really set him up good. He won’t last the week.”

The next Sunday, when I came to do my shift, I was told by my supervisor that I was being terminated. He said they appreciated my work, but that the station was going in a different direction. I didn’t cry, mope or get angry; I just continued my craft for another 22 years, and quite successfully.

The message here is that radio talk show hosts can be fired for any reason if enough people from certain sectors of our country cry loud enough. Be forewarned talk show hosts, what you say on the air can haunt you for the rest of your life. I know now, 30 years later, after extensive study of Israel and the Jewish community, if I ever return to talk radio, I know I would never make the same mistake I made on that frustrating day. I know that today I am more than prepared to discuss the affairs of Israel and its people with greater clarity. Regardless of Imus’ lack of knowledge and sensitivity of African Americans, he had more than 30 on air years to learn about and know their heart and soul. But, it’s too late now!

Joe Ortiz, a former Los Angeles based talk show host, is the author of two books recently published by Author House: The End Times Passover and Why Christians Will Suffer Great Tribulation.

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