By Joshua Benton
Blade Staff Writer
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s Toledo chapter has called for the firing of two local radio “shock jocks” and a boycott of advertisers on their controversial programs.
“We do not need and will not tolerate the behavior of a few to destroy what we all have built in Toledo, Ohio,” said WilliAnn Moore, president of the NAACP’s local chapter.
Comments by WSPD’s Scott Sloan and WVKS’s Denny Schaffer have put the two stations and their corporate parent, Clear Channel Communications, in the spotlight. Both men have made on-air statements some people consider racially inflammatory.
Ms. Moore said that statements made by both men have spawned dozens of harassing phone calls to NAACP headquarters and made her fear for her life.
“I’ve got a remote starter for my car in case of a bomb. I only go out at night with other people, for protection. It’s scary,” she said.
Ms. Moore’s comments were made hours after Mayor Carty Finkbeiner sent a letter to Clear Channel’s chairman and chief executive officer, demanding that Andy Stuart, the firm’s Toledo market manager, keep a tighter rein on Mr. Sloan’s show, so that “there will be no further transgressions similar to those of the recent past.”
“[Mr. Sloan’s] incendiary comments are a natural result of Mr. Stewart’s [sic] failure to rein in Mr. Sloan,” the mayor writes. “Mr. Stewart’s inaction and lack of responsible oversight, served to encourage Mr. Sloan to become more outrageous and hurtful.”
The mayor’s letter was signed by representatives of seven ethnic and religious organizations who have found the shows offensive, including Jewish, Catholic, Baptist, Arab-American, and Hispanic groups.
ABC News correspondent Cokie Roberts joined the chorus of opposition to Mr. Sloan, saying that his comments were “racist, horrible talk.
“If I were in charge of the station, I would take the guy off [the air],” Ms. Roberts, co-anchor of ABC’s This Week with Sam Donaldson & Cokie Roberts, said. “He has a right to say whatever he wants to say. His boss has a right to take him off the air.”
At a news conference before her speech last night at the Junior League of Toledo’s Town Hall Lecture Series, she said that Mr. Sloan’s remarks, as described to her, go “beyond the locker room talk” used by shock jocks. “It is inciting people.”
Calls to Clear Channel’s corporate headquarters in San Antonio, Tex., were directed to Terri Hunter, vice president for investor relations. Ms. Hunter did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.
Calls to Clear Channel’s Toledo offices seeking comment were not returned.
The “shock jock” controversy began with comments Mr. Sloan made on Nov. 17. On his afternoon talk show that day, he spoke out against the Rev. Jesse Jackson and his role in the Decatur, Ill., controversy over six boys expelled from a high school in that city 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. Among the groups responding were the Toledo Diocese Catholic Charities, Metro Toledo Churches United, the Greater Toledo Association of Arab Americans, the Baptist Ministers’ Conference, and the Jewish Federation – all groups who signed on to Mr. Finkbeiner’s letter.
As a result of his comments, Clear Channel officials suspended Mr. Sloan earlier this week for one week without pay.
At a news conference last night, Ms. Moore said that the suspension is insufficient punishment for Mr. Sloan’s comments and that, “at a minimum,” he should be fired.
“I have had, and the people of this community have had, enough of these two,” she said, referring to Mr. Sloan and Mr. Schaffer.
Thus far, Mr. Sloan has not apologized publicly for his comments, and Ms. Moore said making Mr. Sloan apologize would be insufficient.
“That would be a slap on the wrist, business as usual,” she said. “He can no longer persist in insulting the people of this city.”
Mr. Sloan could not be reached for comment last night.
For several months, Ms. Moore has been a regular topic of conversation on Mr. Sloan’s talk show. Ms. Moore said that Mr. Sloan had called her “very hurtful things” on the show, and that as a result, some of his listeners have been calling the organization’s office and leaving threatening messages.
“They say the same things Scott Sloan says on the air,” she said. “They say that the NAACP is a hate group, that I’m a hatemonger. It’s sickening. I’ve been a constant dish for the Scott Sloan show.”
Ms. Moore said she is considering asking a law enforcement agency to tap the organization’s phones to find out who is making the phone calls.
The NAACP chapter also is calling for the dismissal of Mr. Schaffer, who Ms. Moore said has personally harassed her on multiple occasions, calling her early in the morning after she has made it clear that she did not want to appear on his program.
On his show Tuesday, Mr. Schaffer played a tape of two phone calls he made to Ms. Moore in July, including a lengthy message he left on her home answering machine. On the recording, Mr. Schaffer accused Ms. Moore of hating him because he is white and invited her to eat ribs with him. He also invited her to eat lunch with him at Denny’s Restaurant “and see if we all get served.”
In 1994, Denny’s Restaurant agreed to a $54 million settlement of two class-action lawsuits that claimed it systematically discriminated against minorities in service, sometimes refusing to seat black people.
“How dare he call into my home and insult me, humiliate me,” she said. “And he has played it for the entire city to hear. These people have to be stopped.”
Mr. Schaffer could not be reached for comment last night.
Mr. Sloan was involved in controversy during the 1996 Summer Olympics, when he said he was afraid that Muhammad Ali, who suffers from Parkinson’s disease, would drop the Olympic torch on a “greasy Middle Easterner” and start a fire.
Neither Mr. Sloan nor the station’s management ever apologized for the comments, despite considerable pressure from several community groups to do so.
Mr. Schaffer’s latest incident was not the first time his show has featured comments some found offensive. In August, during a discussion of Blade co-publisher and editor-in-chief John Robinson Block, WTOL-TV anchor Jerry Anderson questioned whether”short, small-handed Jewish men” like Mr. Block could be well-endowed.
Mr. Block was baptized and confirmed at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Maumee.
Jim Keelor, president of South Carolina-based Cosmos Broadcasting Co., which owns WTOL, said he had no comment and referred questions to WTOL general manager Mel Stebbins.
Mr. Stebbins said that he has been aware of Mr. Anderson’s comments for several months. “We have had discussions with Jerry Anderson concerning the nature of his comments on the radio,” Mr. Stebbins said.
“Beyond that, it is a confidential matter between employer and employee.”
Mr. Anderson could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Mr. Finkbeiner’s strongly worded letter focuses solely on Mr. Sloan and attacked his comments as divisive.
“Scott Sloan’s statements can only be interpreted as racist, promoting hate, encouraging violence and are clearly outside the scope of public decency,” he writes in the letter to L. Lowery Mays, Clear Channel’s chairman and chief executive officer.
Mr. Finkbeiner’s letter states that “Mr. Stewart needs to impress upon his staff the need to make permanent changes in Mr. Sloan’s culture of attacking ethnic and racial minorities.”
Clear Channel’s receptionist said Mr. Stuart is on vacation, and he could not be reached for comment.
Along with the groups who had spoken out against Mr. Sloan, the letter was signed by representatives of the Hispanic Affairs Commission, and the Board of Community Relations.
The Rev. Tom Quinn, spokesman for the diocese, said that Bishop James Hoffman was out of town, which is why the letter was signed by a representative of the charities group instead.
The mayor’s letter suggests that Mr. Sloan’s comments are not protected by the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of speech.
“We have heard Mr. Sloan’s tirades, clothed in the concept of Freedom of Speech,” the mayor writes, “which are clearly outside the bounds of ‘entertainment’ and clearly fall within the bounds of ‘a clear and present danger of serious substantive evil that rises above the public inconvenience, annoyance or unrest.'” That language is taken from a Supreme Court case concerning the limits of protected speech.
Ms. Moore said the activities of Mr. Sloan and Mr. Schaffer fall outside the constitutional protections of free speech. “The First Amendment doesn’t extend to someone calling your home and leaving harassing messages.”
The Supreme Court, in several cases, has carved out exceptions to the First Amendment, including obscenity and language designed to incite a riot.
But even racist and violent speech usually has been found to be protected under freedom of speech.
Ms. Moore said that she and her group are considering all their legal alternatives, which she said could include filing suit for harassment against Mr. Schaffer.
She said that NAACP representatives have spoken with Mr. Stuart on several occasions to air their complaints and “there has been no satisfaction.”
She said the radio controversy had helped to bind the city’s diverse ethnic and religious groups closer together. “It’s become a united front against this kind of hate,” she said.
The various groups are planning to meet together to discuss ways to combat media comments like Mr. Sloan’s and Mr. Schaffer’s.
“We’re going to be watchdogs,” she said.
The Rev. Glen Stadler, chairman of Metro Toledo Churches United, said that a meeting of the various groups could help reverse some of the divisions he said the radio personalities had helped create.
“As reasonable people sit down together, things can be worked out,” he said.
He added that he hopes Mr. Sloan, Mr. Schaffer, or some other Clear Channel representative could be included in the group’s discussions.
Blade staff writers Jack Baessler and Jane Schmucker contributed to this report.