As if Hurricane Katrina victims didn't have enough going against them, now they're the latest targets of hate radio. Just listen to WFTL-AM (850), the 50,000-watt home of the Florida Marlins. It's also the home of some of the most radical right-wing voices in America.
One regular syndicated host, Atlanta-based Neil Boortz, contended after the disaster struck that a "huge percentage" of the evacuees from New Orleans were "parasites, like ticks on a dog." Then he warned, "They are coming to a community near you."
When a caller remarked that most of the evacuees were fat, Boortz readily agreed. "They didn't drown because you couldn't push them underwater if you had to," he chortled.
Then there's Kelley Mitchell, who spent a week broadcasting at the Houston Astrodome among flood victims. Mitchell, a big-boned blond who spent years on South Florida television news stations, didn't seem too concerned about the harrowing stories from the people in the stadium. Instead she was virtually obsessed with the reports of looting and railed for days against the alleged behavior of poor New Orleans blacks during the disaster. She took to calling the state "Lose-iana" and announced she was boycotting any monetary donations to the victims.
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"If I heard, 'I'm looking for my mom, my dad, and my baby daddy again,' I would cringe," she said, referring to the victims who had lost relatives. "Everybody knows it's important to speak English but these knuckleheads."
Who cares if the knuckleheads in questions lost relatives in a flood -- the news here is they don't talk right and may have had children out of wedlock. Another Mitchell gem: "When I see bad behavior ... that's when it became about race. Whoever got over deep-seated prejudices is now wondering if it was right to do so."
Yeah, Kelley, maybe that whole civil rights thing was a bad idea. Why did we think blacks could ever behave in the first place? In her wisdom, though, Mitchell decided that black people have a purpose in America, though she couldn't help but wonder why they have to "spend every dime on an Escalade."
"We need to let black America know we do want you, but we want you on the terms of the United States of America," she explained in a voice that sometimes sounds eerily similar to that of similarly built actress Kathy Bates. "And we want you to be full and complete human beings."
That's just a taste of the hate WFTL has been serving in Katrina's aftermath. Maybe once the corpses have been gathered, the hosts will stop tiptoeing around and say what they really mean.
To find out who is supporting this toxic drivel, simply open the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel, which has had an exclusive cross-promotion and news-sharing agreement with the station since October 2003. When I asked Sentinel spokesman Kevin Courtney why my Sun-Sentinel news station had become a refuge of the right wing, he declined to comment.
Last month the station canceled its last three homegrown shows, one starring local yokels Russ Morley and Mickey Miller, another featuring dueling lawyers Norm Kent and Al Milian, and the other with the budding sociologist herself, Kelley Mitchell.
What's left is an all right-wing, all nationally syndicated lineup (except for Kelley, that is). From 9:00 a.m. to noon there's Dr. Laura. Yes that ol' gay-bashing chestnut. The next three hours you have Boortz, a pro-War on Iraq libertarian who wants to throw the disenfranchised to the wolves. Then there's a special hour of reruns of Michael Savage, who is now WFTL's signature voice. You may remember the bilious Savage from his short stint on MSNBC in 2003. He was fired after he blasted a caller for being a "sodomite" who "should die of AIDS." Nice.
After that hour, Fox's Bill O'Reilly takes over until seven (and he seems like one of those nutball liberals next to Savage). Next it's three more hours of prime-time Savage and then, to top off the day, there's Republican propagandist Laura Ingraham and a dose of Fox News.
WFTL station manager Steve Lapa defended his station but admitted things have changed. "You invest in local programming, and local programming isn't getting the ratings we would like," he said. "What do you do? The audience told us it didn't work. The audience told us they want a national conversation."
Kent, one of the station's outcasts, doesn't agree. A gay liberal attorney, he says WFTL's failure stems more from a lack of vision and poor management decisions than ratings. "The station is hemorrhaging money at every level," says Kent, who is starting a new weekend show on 1470 AM. "So they are slotting in syndicated hosts for nominal amounts of money. It's the cheaper, easier way out."
Lapa counters that the station still has the best local news show in the morning and pointed at none other than Mitchell as a star in that regard: "She's being pushed -- well, not pushed -- she'll have a position in the morning. And when these huge news events happen, she will spearhead the operation."
Mitchell recently filled in for vacationing Boortz and O'Reilly -- and outdid her syndicated brethren when it came to monumental insensitivity to the suffering Katrina victims. As for interaction, some callers vehemently disagreed with her negative characterization of the black race, while others really liked what they heard.
"My father told me that when the blacks move in, everything is going to be really bad," one caller said, adding, "He was right!"
"I don't think there's anything wrong with what you're saying," Mitchell responded. "That's because there are cases in Liberty City of that happening.... You've got these places that are trash. The only explanation was that blacks were brought to America [against their will] ... their entrance into America was different than anyone else's."
The Oklahoma-bred broadcaster told listeners her mother was once mugged by two African-American women and said if she were a poor black mother, she'd be "angry and embarrassed" at her race for its behavior. On the other hand, she pointed out that wealthier folks fared really well in the storm's aftermath. "I read a beautiful story about people in an upscale neighborhood" who went into a grocery store and "took only what they needed," she said.
And, while defending George W. Bush's performance at every turn, she went off on New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin. "The mayor is racist," she said of Nagin, a black man. "The mayor must be racist, because he put his people in this position and he doesn't care about them."
It was as if, in Kelleyland, there had been no hurricane or flood -- only criminal black people who were finally exposed as the bad citizens they so obviously are.
But don't get her wrong.
"I don't know what I'd do without my black friends," she said during one show. "We have dinner parties."
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