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Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Over the Racist Line

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I sometimes surprise people by telling them right-wing radio talk show host Charlie Sykes is a friend of mine, because he is.

We’ve known each other for a long time, having worked together on the Milwaukee Journal back when Charlie was a journalist.

Even after Charlie embraced a career in right-wing radio and the liberal Journal reinvented itself as the conservative-friendly Journal Sentinel where I was no longer welcome, we did a weekly left-right hour of debate on Charlie’s show for a while.

I’ve never required friends to share all my political beliefs. But I also was not required to take Charlie’s political hucksterism seriously. It was right-wing entertainment for the not terribly enlightened.

But it was seriously wrong recently when Charlie crossed a line by playing part of a rap featured in a vicious, racist video spread on white supremacist and neo-Nazi websites. 

I would tell any friend it was simply reprehensible. It also was a new low for what, for many years, was Milwaukee’s No. 1 radio station.

Arbitron ratings now have WTMJ wallowing in eighth place among key demographics during the hours Sykes is on the air, which may explain why any previous standards of decency are now gone.

The rap is called “It’s Free, Swipe Yo EBT.” It refers to the electronic benefits cards that replaced food stamps for the poor. The openly racist video is stomach-turning.

It features a young, black woman calling herself Chapter Jackson, who acts out every racist stereotype of poor, black, single mothers that bigoted audiences find hilarious.

Ms. Jackson is knee-deep in black babies in a house full of women slutted up like prostitutes while she writhes and raps that her life is a constant party paid for by taxpayers.

She repeats the obscene refrain: “All you have to do is f--- and nine months later you get in the big bucks.”

Charlie spared his chortling audience the bad word, of course, but it’s the whole idea behind the video that is truly obscene. That poverty is a really fun party. That ever-shrinking food assistance for the desperately poor buys liquor (it can’t) and sleazy clothes (not unless they’re edible).

In fact, nothing the video implies about food assistance is true. Nearly two-thirds of those receiving food assistance are white, not people of color. About 40% are working at jobs that don’t pay enough to feed their families. They don’t have the time or money to par-teee!

And those big taxpayer bucks? Food assistance for hungry children and adults works out to about $2 a meal for each family member. Try eating on that. 

 

Sorry, Charlie: Hate Material Isn’t Satire

Sykes ridiculed a complaint from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin and bragged on a right-wing pay site marketed by his company that he’d used the hate material plenty of times before. He defended it as “satire.”

There’s nothing satirical about promoting racial hatred. I’ve written a lot of satire. You create satire by pretending to adopt a point of view you disagree with and promoting it with such exaggerated, ridiculous arguments that the whole idea is exposed as absurd.

Sykes and his mean-spirited audience do not think the idea of poor inner city blacks living it up while ripping off taxpayers is absurd. That’s actually one of the basic premises of his show.

Charlie’s pathetic justifications for the repellent content were that it wasn’t racist because it featured a black woman and that it was already very popular, receiving 1.27 million hits on the Web.

The video Sykes used actually was the creation of a white producer previously notorious for a racist Web commentary on the futility of trying to educate black children.

And Internet hits hardly confer legitimacy. The only online subject more popular than racism is pornography. This one was a two-fer.

Public outrage over WTMJ spreading racial hatred appeared on Facebook and the Internet after Journal Communications executives refused to act on complaints about company media suppressing the story. 

Although the material was removed from the station’s website, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel ran only five paragraphs in an online blog and nothing in the newspaper.

Compare that to the extensive coverage of protests against Sykes’ chief talk show competitor, WISN’s Mark Belling, for using the racist term “wetback” on the air. Belling had to serve a suspension and apologize publicly.

Or all those recent stories attacking a Democratic Party spokesman for some joke tweets comparing Gov. Scott Walker to serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. (Obviously, there’s no real comparison. Dahmer went to prison for his crimes.)

Right-wing talk shows regularly use borderline rhetoric. But they usually have enough decency not to spread brazenly racist material from white supremacist and neo-Nazi websites.

Otherwise, how are we ever going to tell them apart?