By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
Controversial WSPD radio host Scott Sloan has been suspended indefinitely while he undergoes sensitivity training, and corporate officials will be keeping a closer eye on his colleague at WVKS, Denny Schaffer.
Mr. Sloan apologized for some remarks and he and Mr. Schaffer will have to apologize for other comments that some consider racist and hateful.
“We sincerely apologize for the unfortunate comments of two individuals that in no way reflect the policies or opinions of the company,” said David Crowl, senior vice president of radio for Clear Channel Communications, in a prepared statement yesterday. Clear Channel owns WSPD, WVKS, and three other Toledo stations.
Mr. Crowl’s statement is part of an attempt by Clear Channel to convince Toledoans that recent on-air incidents involving Mr. Sloan and Mr. Schaffer will not be repeated.
The station’s moves fall short of the demands of the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Last week, the NAACP called for, “at a minimum,” both men to be fired.
Mr. Sloan has received national attention for comments he made that seemed to advocate the assassination of the Rev. Jesse Jackson. Mr. Schaffer’s show has featured a variety of remarks found offensive by local Jewish and African-American leaders, including inviting WilliAnn Moore, president of the local NAACP chapter, to eat ribs with him at Denny’s Restaurant and “see if we all get served.”
Clear Channel executives met yesterday with representatives from several community groups to announce how they plan to prevent the two men from making similar comments again:
* The company will have a “zero tolerance policy on racially biased themes or stereotypes as a means to harm, degrade, or injure individuals or groups. Racially biased material will not be tolerated as a springboard for humor. Every Clear Channel Radio employee in Toledo will understand and adhere to the policy. Violation of the policy will carry substantial penalties, up to and including immediate termination.”
* Mr. Sloan’s suspension, originally one week, will be made indefinite, pending the completion of sensitivity training. He will apologize to listeners, advertisers, employees, and Mr. Jackson.
* Mr. Schaffer will make a formal apology to Ms. Moore. Station management said he will make an on-air apology today, during his morning talk show.
* Management will conduct “regular reviews” of Mr. Schaffer’s and Mr. Sloan’s programs to ensure programming meets “acceptable standards.”
Mr. Sloan’s voice returned to the airwaves yesterday afternoon, but only for one minute. He read a prepared apology that was replayed several times throughout the time his show is normally on.
“With the power of radio comes a huge responsibility,” Mr. Sloan said. “Three weeks ago, I abused that power and failed in my responsibility to you, the citizens of one of America’s greatest cities and my hometown.
“I apologize for the hurtful comments I made toward the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the controversy I’ve generated, and the negative publicity I’ve brought to our city.
“While controversy is a lively component of talk radio, I now recognize that there are community-imposed limits of acceptable content for the public airwaves. I crossed those limits, and I accept the penalty. Again, you have my sincerest apologies.”
Mr. Sloan’s usual afternoon slot was filled by Doug Dingler, who filled in for Mr. Sloan last week. Mr. Dingler said that Mr. Sloan’s sensitivity training will keep him off the air “at least through the end of the week.”
Response from many of those at the meeting was hesitant but positive.
Diane Mitchum, executive director of the Board of Community Relations, said she believes Clear Channel officials are sincere in wanting change.
“I believe that WSPD was genuine in its representations,” she said. “They came forward to speak out against the divisiveness that the comments caused. But the jury’s still out. I prefer to just wait and see.”
Larry Sykes, the only African-American member of the Toledo Public Schools board of education, said he is convinced that the Clear Channel executives want to change the way business is done at the stations.
“They were very disappointed and saddened and assured us that it wouldn’t happen again,” Mr. Sykes, who was at the meeting, said. “They said that personal attacks like what Sloan and Schaffer were doing, things of a nature that would incite harm and violence, would not be accepted. That means insulting a race, a religion, or individuals.”
Near the end of the meeting, Mr. Sloan went in and apologized to the community group representatives for his conduct.
“Mr. Sloan said he’d had time off with his children and family and to reflect on how he wanted to be perceived, and he realized this was not what he wanted,” Mr. Sykes said. “I think everyone in that room thought Mr. Sloan was very sincere and honest in his opinion.
“I personally think he had a significant emotional event with this experience,” Ms. Mitchum agreed. “I would be very, very surprised if we saw the same Scott Sloan again.”
Mr. Sykes said someone asked Mr. Sloan how he would “deal with your audience when they say that you’re a wimp, that you sold out, that you caved in. And he said he was ready to deal with that.”
But Mr. Sykes emphasized that conciliatory statements from Clear Channel mean little if they are not followed through.
“Everyone left there understanding this is not the end,” Mr. Sykes said. “These two individuals, along with Mr. Stuart, allowed this situation to fester until it became a cancer engulfing our whole community. It was like sticking a knife in this community’s back. By saying what they did today, they pulled the knife halfway out. But they’ve got to pull it all the way out, by showing the community they mean what they said. It’ll take time.”
Stuart Goldberg, chairman of the community relations committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo, said that he wants to wait to see if the station’s plans are realized.
“I think the station is taking action now, and it remains to be seen if the action works,” he said.
Tim Harrington, director of public relations and development for the Ability Center of Greater Toledo, attended the meeting but said afterward he did not feel it was proper to comment on what went on.
“We were there to listen and that’s what we did,” he said. “We are not reacting.”
In a statement released last night, Ahmad Zaki, president of the Greater Toledo Association of Arab-Americans, said that he hopes the methods put in place will work.
“We hope that in the future, Mr. Sloan and other public figures like him will utilize their position and redirect the focus of their energies in order to enhance the multicultural fabric of this great city,” he said.
During the 1996 Summer Olympics, Mr. Sloan had made a joke about Muhammad Ali “shaking so bad” from Parkinson’s disease that he might drop the Olympic torch on a “greasy Middle Easterner.”
Station management said that Mr. Schaffer and Mr. Sloan will not be speaking to reporters about management decisions.
Cary Pall, Clear Channel’s operations manager for all its Toledo stations, declined comment. Mr. Pall was hired one month ago, but yesterday was his first day on the job, which involves overseeing all programming content on all stations.
Mr. Pall referred all questions to Andy Stuart, the Clear Channel market manager who has been the acting operations manager for the last several months. Mr. Stuart did not return several phone calls seeking comment.
Mr. Pall, who will answer to Mr. Stuart, refused comment on what sort of programming standards he will take to the stations as operations manager.
The debate over Mr. Sloan began on Nov. 17. On his afternoon talk show that day, he spoke out against Mr. Jackson and his role in the controversy surrounding six boys expelled from a Decatur, Ill., high school for fighting.
Mr. Sloan said that Mr. Jackson wanted to become a martyr like the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and said he wanted to help Mr. Jackson in his cause. He called a hotel with a similar name to the motel where Dr. King was killed, asked about its balconies, and said that once hotel arrangements were made, “all we need now is a shooter.”
Community groups responded angrily, saying that the remarks were hateful and racist. As a result of the comments, Clear Channel officials suspended Mr. Sloan last week for one week without pay.
But the suspension did not stop the community outrage. First, Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner sent a letter to Clear Channel’s chairman demanding that Mr. Sloan’s on-air activities be better controlled. The letter was signed by representatives of seven religious and ethnic groups.
A few hours later, the Toledo chapter of the NAACP called for Mr. Sloan, along with Mr. Schaffer, to be fired. The NAACP asked local companies to pull their advertising from the two men’s shows and for Toledoans to boycott companies that do not.
Along with the controversy involving Ms. Moore, Mr. Schaffer’s show has been criticized by Jewish leaders for featuring jokes about Hanukkah and for featuring a comment from WTOL-TV anchor Jerry Anderson in which he implied that Jewish men cannot be well-endowed. Mr. Schaffer’s program has featured regular attacks against Blade co-publisher and editor-in-chief John Robinson Block.
WSPD and its morning host, Mark Standriff, are the target of a lawsuit filed on Sept. 28 by The Blade. The suit accuses WSPD and Mr. Standriff of stealing The Blade’s news content and reading it on the air without attribution. WSPD and Mr. Standriff have denied the charges.
Throughout the afternoon, WSPD’s news readers listed Mr. Sloan’s apology as the day’s “top story.” But when a caller to Mr. Dingler’s show began to talk about Mr. Sloan, the fill-in host was quick to stop the discussion, saying that his bosses had asked him to. “I hope you understand,” Mr. Dingler told the caller.
In suspending Mr. Sloan and not Mr. Schaffer, Clear Channel officials saved the greater impact for the station that takes in less money. WSPD, where the suspended Mr. Sloan works, is nowhere near the size of Mr. Schaffer’s WVKS.
According to estimates by Duncan’s Radio Market Guide, an industry publication, WVKS generated about $4.1 million in ad revenues last year. WSPD took in only $1.6 million.