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CNN Headline News host Glenn Beck appeared on the May 14 edition of CNN's American Morning to discuss the dismissal of radio host Don Imus and New York shock jocks JV and Elvis and claimed that there is a "leftist witch hunt" against shock jocks. But in discussing the issue with Beck, host Kiran Chetry introduced Beck simply as a "syndicated talk show host," and not as the host of a nightly program on CNN Headline News. Chetry also ignored Beck's own history of inflammatory remarks -- including a remark he made on the May 10 broadcast of his nationally syndicated radio show: "I wouldn't vote for Joe Lieberman at this time because of the complications it would add in this country or on the planet right now because of the way the Middle East would use it. That's not saying the same thing as I wouldn't vote for a Jew for president." On American Morning, Beck attributed the "leftist witch hunt" to the failure to "get the Fairness Doctrine out," saying, "so what they're trying to do is to shut people down."
During the segment, Beck argued that anger over a controversial phone call aired by XM Satellite Radio hosts Opie and Anthony -- in which a homeless man discussed raping first lady Laura Bush, Queen Elizabeth II and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- largely stemmed from "special interest groups," as "the left ... is trying to shut people down":
BECK: This is where we have been so for so long, and this is really -- this is really not about much other than a lot of special interest groups. There is -- there is a real feeling, I think, on the left -- they couldn't get the Fairness Doctrine out, and so what they're trying to do is to shut people down. If you look at the people that are on the shock radio list, you will see that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity -- and I am on that list. Gee, I don't know the last time that I was doing sex calls. This smacks of a leftist witch hunt in many ways.
But later in the segment, Beck also suggested that "it seems to be OK" for "people [to] market in graphic, graphic sex," but not to make ethnic jokes:
BECK: [W]hy are we discussing ethnic groups as if it's the only thing? Shock jock -- hang on --
CHETRY: Because this is what got two people fired, this is what -- that's why, Glenn, because --
BECK: I don't mean to be crass, but we are talking about people who market in graphic, graphic sex, and that seems to be OK.
In fact, Beck himself has a history of controversial comments:
- On the March 15 broadcast of his radio show, The Glenn Beck Program, Beck said: "Hillary Clinton cannot be elected president because ... there's something about her vocal range." He went on to say, "There's something about her voice that just drives me -- it's not what she says, it's how she says it," adding, "She is like the stereotypical -- excuse the expression, but this is the way to -- she's the stereotypical bitch, you know what I mean?" Beck subsequently qualified his statement: "I never said that Hillary Clinton was a bitch. I said she sounded like one."
- On the March 21 broadcast of his radio show, Beck called Rosie O'Donnell, co-host of ABC's The View, a "fat witch," claimed that O'Donnell has "blubber ... just pouring out of her eyes," and asked, "Do you know how many oil lamps we could keep burning just on Rosie O'Donnell fat?" On the March 23 edition of his radio show, Beck said, "I'm a little ashamed" for calling O'Donnell "a fat witch" -- then added, "But she's so fat."
- On the February 28 edition of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck, while discussing racy photos of American Idol contestant Antonella Barba, Beck asked his female guest: "I've got some time and a camera. Why don't you stop by?"
- On the November 14, 2006, edition of his CNN Headline News program, Beck said to Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim ever elected to Congress: "OK. No offense, and I know Muslims. I like Muslims. ... With that being said, you are a Democrat. You are saying, 'Let's cut and run.' And I have to tell you, I have been nervous about this interview with you, because what I feel like saying is, 'Sir, prove to me that you are not working with our enemies.' "
- On the August 9, 2006, edition of his CNN Headline News program, Beck aired a segment mocking the names of several missing Egyptian students in which the announcer said that one "may or may not be accompanied by his camel." The segment showed pictures of crowds and pointed to random, unidentifiable people as the missing Egyptians. It ended with a reading of the students' names in quick succession followed by the announcer pretending to gag as he struggled to pronounce them.
- On the January 10, 2006, broadcast of his radio show, Beck called anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan "a pretty big prostitute," later amending, at the behest of his executive producer, Steve "Stu" Burguiere, that "tragedy pimp" would be "the most accurate description."
To discuss the issue, CNN paired Beck with comedian Paul Rodriguez, who said he didn't think there was "a left or right conspiracy" concerning racism and sexism on radio.
From the May 14 edition of CNN's American Morning:
CHETRY: Well, CBS Radio firing a pair of suspended radio shock jocks for a prank phone call they made making fun of workers at a Chinese restaurant. The New York duo made their comments just a day after Don Imus' meltdown a month ago. The initial airing of the call in "The Doghouse with JV and Elvis" went unnoticed, then a re-airing of the segment after Imus' firing prompted an outcry from Asian-American groups. So, with these latest firings and the Imus fallout, could this actually be the beginning of the end of the shock jocks? Joining us now from here in New York, syndicated talk show host Glenn Beck. Good to see you, Glenn.
BECK: Hi, how are you?
CHETRY: Also Las Vegas comedian, Paul -- in Las Vegas, you're not just a Las Vegas comedian, of course -- Paul Rodriguez. Thanks for being with us.
RODRIGUEZ: Good morning.
CHETRY: So Glenn, let me ask you about this because you've talked about political correctness as the classic great idea gone wrong. But where do we draw the line?
BECK: Well, I think the individual needs to draw the line. This is a capitalist society. Everybody talks about corporate responsibility and CBS, what they are they doing to stop this? What is the average person doing? These companies would not put this kind material on the air if it wasn't selling. This is a -- this is a choice that the American people that are making every single day. It's not just in New York City or Los Angeles, this happens all across the country. You need to take personal responsibility, and if you don't like it, turn it off.
CHETRY: All right, well, here's -- but the question is, in the days of YouTube and in the days of 24-hour cable, all this stuff get talked about again, recycled. For example, The Opie and Anthony Show, this past week -- they apologized for this, but they had a segment where they laughed as a homeless man fantasized of raping our secretary of state and first lady. Is that where we should be when it comes to radio?
BECK: No, but this is where we have gone. This is where we have been so for so long, and this is really -- this is really not about -- much other than a lot of special interest groups. There is -- there is a real feeling, I think, on the left -- they couldn't get the Fairness Doctrine out, and so what they're trying to do is to shut people down. If you look at the people that are on the shock radio list, you will see that Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity -- and I am on that list. Gee, I don't know the last time that I was doing sex calls. This smacks of a leftist witch hunt in many ways.
RODRIGUEZ: You can't have a shock jock without shock. I mean, this is their trade. I mean, it started with people who aspired to the heights of Imus and of [Howard] Stern. You have to shock -- in a sense, you and I and CNN, we're doing these relatively obscure jocks a favor because we're discussing, we're talking. I think it was all premeditated. I don't know -- more so I don't agree so much. I don't know if there is a left or a right conspiracy. I think that the marketplace -- though I do agree with Beck. The marketplace itself, it has its own repercussions.
CHETRY: So, Paul, are you watching things that you're saying now? Do you change what you're going to be doing in your bits because of the intense scrutiny that seems to be happening lately?
RODRIGUEZ: Not really; it isn't my trade. I mean, I talk about the condition of being Mexican-American. If somebody else talks about that and he could make a -- I believe that the only offensive joke is a joke that's not funny. If you can find a way to say these things --
BECK: Are you telling me that you've never told a joke that wasn't funny? I mean, that's the problem. When you start saying it's not -- if it's funny, it's not offensive --
RODRIGUEZ: In the privacy of our own homes, Mr. Beck. In the privacy of our own homes -- obviously, these ideas and these thoughts don't come out of thin air. They came from somewhere. We can't get like -- you and I, you can't get on the air and be all pious about it and point our fingers and say this. People -- look, America is a society --
BECK: I'm not being pious about this at all --
RODRIGUEZ: Well, you're blaming the left, you're blaming the right.
CHETRY: No, I think you guys are agreeing more than you think. I think Paul is making a joke: The only offensive one is one that is not funny, but Glenn, do you watch what you say?
RODRIGUEZ: And that one wasn't funny.
BECK: I will tell you, do I watch it? No. The line keeps moving. What is politically acceptable today is not tomorrow and, again, this is all about -- this is all about special interest groups.
RODRIGUEZ: The unique thing about this is that America is -- has this problem. You know, other societies that have other groups -- I was reading in an article where Norway had taken in some people from the Sudan, and now they're starting to -- their comedians are starting do jokes like that. No country in the world has the amount of ethnic groups that America does. Now this --
RODRIGUEZ: -- this could be something that's uplifting to us, but there's always going to be -- see, comedy, the very essence of a punch line, has to have a victim.
BECK: Why -- why are we -- why are we discussing ethnic groups as if it's the only thing? Shock jock -- hang on --
CHETRY: Because this is what got two people fired, this is what -- That's why, Glenn, because --
BECK: I don't mean to be crass, but we are talking about people who market in graphic, graphic sex, and that seems to be OK. But if you say --
RODRIGUEZ: Also, you know -- a lot of [unintelligible] jokes, I mean, that's not racist.
CHETRY: All right, well, we're out of time, both of you. This is a really interesting discussion, and I'm glad you both joined us today.
RODRIGUEZ: America still needs to have this discussion as a town meeting. This thing is --
CHETRY: We will, but our show ends in eight minutes, so we gotta go.
RODRIGUEZ: I know, I'm sorry.
CHETRY: But thanks to both of you for being with me today.
RODRIGUEZ: I appreciate it.