It seems to be a go-to ratings stunt for Los Angeles' right-leaning KFI AM 640 talk radio station: Call a beloved African-American woman a prostitute. Following the drug death of Whitney Houston in 2012, station hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou called the singer a “crack ho.” They apologized and were suspended.
On Friday, KFI host Bill Handel called U.S. Rep. Frederica S. Wilson, who's been in a war of words with the Trump administration, a “cheap, sleazy Democrat whore.” On Monday, Handel said on air that he should have called Wilson a “media whore.”
We reached out to KFI program director Robin Bertolucci but did not receive an immediate response.
Los Angeles political commentator Jasmyne Cannick says the station scrubbed “cheap, sleazy Democrat whore” from its podcast version of Handel's Friday show, but she preserved the remarks in a recording posted to Soundcloud. “He didn't apologize,” she says. “He stood by his comments.”
Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez responded yesterday afternoon via Twitter, saying that the low-blow war against Wilson “has got to stop.”
Wilson generated national headlines last week when she reiterated what she said she heard when President Trump called to express condolences to the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson, who was killed in action earlier this month during an ambush of U.S. troops on patrol in Niger. Wilson said she was in a vehicle with widow Myeshia Johnson when Trump's call was put on speakerphone. She quoted Trump as saying, “He [Sgt. Johnson] knew what he signed up for.”
The remarks got the president in hot water and, in typical Trump fashion, he accused Wilson of lying. But her account was later backed up by the widow Johnson. Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law, later said she had read a transcript of the call that was similar to Wilson's account. The White House later said there's no transcript of the call.
In defending Trump, Chief of Staff and Gen. John Kelly alleged that Wilson took credit for the development of a Federal Bureau of Investigation field office in Miami in 2015. Video of the dedication in question, however, surfaced and contradicted the general's claim.
“This is personal for me, not political,” Wilson said in a statement. “Sgt. Johnson was a member of my community and of the 5000 Role Models of Excellence Project that I founded to help boys of color build successful futures. He was killed while on a mission to provide training and security assistance to West African armed forces battling vicious insurgents like Boko Haram, the group whose defeat I’ve been fighting for since it abducted nearly 300 Nigerian schoolgirls more than three years ago.”
Still, Wilson became a target for the right wing. She noted that the controversy — Sgt. Johnson is also African-American — has become about race. ““The White House itself is full of white supremacists,” she told The New York Times.
Cannick calls the situation with Handel in Los Angeles “unacceptable.” “In today’s politically correct America, how is what Handel said OK?” she says. “There are a million other words he could have used to show his displeasure.”
Earl Ofari Hutchinson, founder of the Los Angeles Urban Policy Roundtable, says Handel should, at the least, face the same fate as ESPN TV host Jemele Hill, who was suspended for two weeks after calling Trump a “white supremacist” and after suggesting a boycott of Dallas Cowboys advertisers if owner Jerry Jones fulfilled his threat to bench players who kneel during the pregame national anthem. Both remarks were made on her personal Twitter account. “Handel should be suspended, and it should be made very public,” Hutchinson says.
He says there's a pattern with KFI: A host crosses the line, generates headlines, apologizes, and the station enjoys renewed attention.
“KFI has used inflammatory, divisive, insulting language almost always toward black people, women, Hispanics and the LGBT community,” Hutchinson says. “They know as soon as they do that, there's going to be a backlash, a protest, but in their mind it's good for the ratings.”