The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

04 November 2006

John DePetro Termination, Boston Talk Radio


In Boston, 'Fat Lesbian' Firing Controversy Rages

One day after talk host John DePetro's termination from a Boston radio station, controversy is raging over the circumstances behind the move.

Did he step over the line in calling Green - Rainbow Party gubernatorial candidate Grace Ross a "fat lesbian"? And was it fair for his board operator to also get the sack?

One thing's for sure: DePetro hadn't done himself any favors by getting into so many of these flaps. And revelations that the latest incident was planned in advance makes the whole situation seem especially bizarre.

The fact that DePetro has hired a lawyer also shows that this dispute isn't likely to go away anytime soon.

Adding yet another strange element to this mess is the fact that the ultra- leftist Boston Globe ran perhaps the most critical piece on the moves. The Globe even tried to make a comparison between the recent Rush Limbaugh / Michael J Fox controversy and this one:

WRKO firing sets off debate on speech issue

By Andrea Estes and Suzanne Ryan, Globe Staff | November 4, 2006

WRKO fired radio talk show host John DePetro and his engineer yesterday after DePetro called Green-Rainbow Party gubernatorial candidate Grace Ross a "fat lesbian" on the air.

The firing set off a debate among radio talk show hosts, listeners, and academics about the ever-changing boundaries of appropriate speech on air.

Two weeks ago, nationally syndicated host Rush Limbaugh, whose show is also on WRKO, sparked outrage, but kept his job, when he accused actor Michael J. Fox of exaggerating his symptoms of Parkinson's disease in a public appearance.

DePetro, who said in an interview that he was "stunned" by his firing, apologized on air shortly after making the remark on his show Thursday morning, and then called Ross that night to apologize. But in an interview yesterday, DePetro defended himself and slammed management for firing his engineer, an act he compared to "clubbing a baby seal."

"He had nothing to do with it," said DePetro, referring to his engineer, James Kiesling. "He should not have been terminated. I take full responsibility. If you want to fire me, OK. I know what I signed up for. But taking it out on him?"

Kiesling could not be reached for comment.

According to a tape of his Thursday show, DePetro was venting about the previous night's gubernatorial debate. "I could go now a lifetime without Grace Ross," he said. "She has nerve. This whole business of 'well since we're being ignored,' " he said, mocking Ross's effort to get equal time in the debate.

"No, you're irrelevant. Get off the stage!" he continued, directing his remarks to Ross. "I couldn't stand her at the end. At one point I was about to yell: "Will somebody tell that fat lesbian to shut up. . . .

"Shut up. Go home," DePetro said. "Burger King is looking for another third-shift person to work the grill. Enough."

"I was traumatized by you being on the stage," he said of Ross.

One question many are asking is whether DePetro intentionally set out to get himself canned. Was he already close to it anyway? Was this a way to go out with a bang?

In her piece today, excerpted here, the Boston Herald's Jessica Heslam makes the case that his position was already somewhat shaky well ahead of this incident:

Despite his dismal ratings and a major advertiser’s concerns over past anti-gay chatter, WRKO radio insists it was morning yakker John DePetro’s “fat lesbian” remark aimed at candidate Grace Ross on Thursday that did him in.

The mouthy host responded by hiring an attorney.

“This wasn’t said in the heat of the moment. This wasn’t an accident. He told people in advance that he was going to do this - that’s the key,” said George Regan of Regan Communications, which represents the station.

Sources said DePetro’s board operator, Jimmy Kiesling, was also fired because DePetro told him beforehand he was going to demean Ross, which DePetro denied.

Sources said DePetro, hired by the station in the summer of 2004 and suspended once already, had been warned repeatedly of the “rules of the road.”

“I was stunned and very disappointed,” DePetro said. “It seems to be selective punishment. There wasn’t obscene language used. It was a throwaway two-second comment that I apologized for.”

DePetro’s low ratings could not have helped him. In the key category of 25-to-54-year-olds, DePetro’s share dropped 50 percent, from a 2.2 in the spring to a 1.1 in the summer, according to numbers provided to the Herald. DePetro was one of WRKO’s lowest-rated hosts.

In July, DePetro was suspended for two days and ordered to apologize after he called former Massachusetts Turnpike chief Matt Amorello “Fag Matt” on his show.

One of WRKO’s biggest advertisers, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, contacted the radio station in March because of an anti-gay conversation on DePetro’s show.

Harvard Pilgrim asked WRKO not to run their commercials during DePetro’s program and management was “very responsive,” Sharon Torgerson, a Harvard spokeswoman, said yesterday.

At Boise- based News By Us, David R Usher thinks the termination was unfair:

The firing of WRKO-AM announcer John DePetro, for calling Massachusetts gubernatorial contender Grace Ross a “fat lesbian”, is a grossly inappropriate response by the station.

However, I do agree that DePetro’s point could have been more intelligently stated, and his apology to Mr. Ross should have been sufficient.

DePetro’s comment was not inaccurate (although what critical mass has to do with one’s politics is certainly up for discussion).

The personal has been the political for years (if one happens to be a man). Male candidates are called every name in the book by the media. Everything they ever breathed is called out for microscopic inspection or ridicule.

Feminist Carol Hanisch invented the idea that the “personal is the political” in 1970. It was quickly adopted by feminists and perfected into today’s accusatory terrorism of male politicians – most often founded on imagery more than reality. It is only fair that feminists now be held to a similar standard of review – so long as it is accurate.

If we fired every writer and radio announcer who ever made a Coulteresque remark about a politician, the airwaves would have nothing left to play except commercials. (This might well be better than suffering through groveling cootchie-snorter interviews the WRKO management expects).

Meanwhile, at the New York Radio Message Board, there is anger over the board operator's firing. Why was he punished for DePetro's stunt? Isn't he a technical person, rather than a content editor?

Another question is whether DePetro's massive dose of national publicity will help or hurt his career. Especially in light of his ratings troubles, will other stations want to deal with this handful?

In your Radio Equalizer's opinion, the Rhode Island- based host will probably return to his previous employer in Providence, the long- suffering WHJJ-AM, which has yet to recover from its ill- fated decision to run Air America Radio programming.

What do you think about the controversy? Feel free to leave comments below.

IMAGES: Boston Herald library, Boston Globe

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  • So a TR host gets fired for referring to a fat lesbian as a fat lesbian...


    By Blogger Richard, at 04 November, 2006 12:39  

  • Fat Mexican
    Fat Jew
    Fat Mormon

    Are Any of these appropriate as well on the radio? The cross-burning crowd doesn't get it.

    By Blogger Elmonica, at 04 November, 2006 13:14  

  • Well, you'll certainly never hear a neocon talk show host utter the second phrase! (On air, that is...)

    Seriously, isn't the punishment disproportionate to the crime here? As slurs go, this one isn't earth-shaking. It's more important that free speech be preserved in this instance, and how can you pay someone to be, essentially, a loudmouth, and then fire him for doing so? What Rush said was a hundred times worse, and he's not fired, just because he's a cash cow (pun intended) and this guy is too small-time to matter?

    He should probably be reinstated, and suspended for a few days so the station can show that they disapprove.

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 04 November, 2006 23:39  

  • The radio station pays the bills and if it hurts them they should have the right to fire him. The company should not be forced to keep someone on the air that hurts their business. Free market.

    By Blogger PF1, at 05 November, 2006 00:29  

  • Big Fat Idiot.

    The Gulag crowd doesn't get it.

    Personal insults are personal insults.

    By Blogger Svolich, at 05 November, 2006 02:18  

  • Gulag crowd would say no to freedom of speech Throw him off the air and then lock him up.

    By Blogger PF1, at 05 November, 2006 03:39  

  • Elmonica said:
    "Fat Mexican
    Fat Jew
    Fat Mormon

    Are Any of these appropriate as well on the radio? The cross-burning crowd doesn't get it."

    If someone is fat, what's wrong with referring to them as fat? If an individual was a drunk or a pedorass, would you not refer to them as such? Would you care if they took offence to those words? Are we as a society so completely overtaken with political correctness that we can no longer call a spade a spade?

    If DePetro knowingly violated one of his station's policies, he deserved the termination because he knew the rules when he signed on. If he was terminated because the PC police took offence, well, that's just wrong.

    By Blogger Richard, at 05 November, 2006 11:50  

  • I'm having a hard time figuring out the reasoning behind firing this guy for calling that woman a "fat lesbian" if she is, in fact, an overweight sapphic member of the distaff side of the gender divide.

    The board guy, though, is plain overkill. Is the station's management saying he was canned because he should have hit the dump button because the host said those two words?

    By Blogger TC, at 05 November, 2006 14:13  

  • It's my understanding that, in most talk radio setups, the host has control of the dump button since the main worry is about someone busting out with one of the "seven words" (check your Carlin for what they are). The board operator is generally concerned with other matters (clock management, ad lineup, possibly even screening).

    Now, then: So much silliness, so little time...

    Svolich - 'The Gulag crowd'? And you are criticizing people for personal insults?

    Elmonica: the 'cross-burning' crowd, as you refer to it, was composed of almost entirely Democrats (cough-coughRobertByrdcough-cough).

    When looking for a snide way to refer to conservatives, a more proper term would be 'evil anti-Semitic Zionist neoKKKon rethugliKKKan Halliburton-investing Rushbots with bad breath.'

    Or, of course, you could just refer to 'conservatives' as 'conservatives' and leave off the snide aside.

    Perhaps you could get together with Svolich on that one.

    By Blogger JD, at 05 November, 2006 22:14  

  • Uh, if the jackboot fits....

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 05 November, 2006 22:49  

  • Damn. Shoulda conferenced Hash on that one as well...

    By Blogger JD, at 06 November, 2006 00:45  

  • "Uh, if the jackboot fits...."
    Dude, if that boot did indeed exist, you would have already found it firmly implanted in your ass.

    But you sem to still scream without any such misery.

    By Blogger TC, at 06 November, 2006 01:48  

  • >>cross-burning

    David Duke: Democrat

    Robert Byrd, once in the KKK: Democrat

    a controversial ad by a black Republican group claims that the
    KKK was started by a Democrat and that MLKing was a Republican. The Democrats were the dominant party affiliation in the South from 1860 to 1960 it's said and the ad from what I heard claims that Democrats
    fought civil rights attempts by blacks. Where's evidence of Republicans/ conservatives in KKK?

    By Blogger raccoonradio, at 06 November, 2006 10:35  

  • Coon, Duke has been a Rethug since 1988.

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 06 November, 2006 13:17  

  • TC, please go back to doing for Vito Fossella what Monica did for Bill.

    By Blogger hashfanatic, at 06 November, 2006 13:19  

  • She is fat, she is a lesbian. So what happened? I think they wanted to dump him since he had low ratings. Thats all. Too bad since he is very entertaining as long as you remember being a jerk is what he does. Don't take it personally!

    By Blogger Lois, at 06 November, 2006 15:54  

  • I'll miss you John! My friends and I throughly enjoyed your show. How do so many talk show hosts in NY get away with what they say and you get fired for less??? Something doesn't add up... I really have enjoyed listening to both AM and PM talk radio WRKO, but this really makes me mad what they did to you.

    By Blogger jaye1, at 07 November, 2006 09:46  

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