The campaign to penalize conservative talk show host Bill Handel, who earlier this month called U.S. Rep. Frederica S. Wilson a whore, has gone national.
The group Color of Change, which was instrumental in the downfall of former Fox News personality Bill O'Reilly following news of millions of dollars' worth of network payouts to women who claimed he had sexually harassed them, is aiming its influence squarely at KFI AM 640's Handel.
The group, which has 1.2 million members, has started a petition asking the station's ownership, iHeartMedia Inc., to fire the host. An email blast about the petition cites L.A. Weekly's coverage of Handel's remarks. A formal announcement of the campaign was expected today.
"After exposing Trump’s appalling and disrespectful remarks to a Gold Star widow, Myeshia Johnson, whose husband, Sgt. La David Johnson, was killed in Niger earlier this month, Rep. Wilson was repeatedly targeted by Trump and his administration," the petition states. "Emboldened by Trump, right-wing radio hosts like Bill Handel made misogynistic and degrading attacks."
The original comments — Handel, who is white, called Wilson a "cheap, sleazy Democrat whore" — were recorded and distributed by political commentator Jasmyne Cannick, who also posted follow-up on-air remarks in which Handel says he should have used the term "media whore" instead of just "whore." The original "whore" remark was scrubbed from the podcast version of Handel's show.
"I’m glad that Color of Change is taking the lead on this," Cannick says. "As much as I enjoy KFI and The Bill Handel Show, Handel calling Rep. Frederica Wilson a whore — and then doubling down on it — was wrong. That’s not why I listen to KFI, and as a listener, a woman and a black woman, I found his comments extremely offensive and troubling — especially for this city. This is 2017 and in 2017 you can’t say that on the radio. You just can’t. KFI’s management knew that because they purposely removed that part of his show from the podcast posted online, probably hoping that no one had recorded his comments."
KFI program director Robin Bertolucci and iHeartMedia have not responded to our requests for comment. Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez weighed in last week via Twitter, saying that these kinds of remarks aimed at Wilson have "got to stop."
The conservative radio station has a history of airing denigrating words about women, minorities and immigrants. In 2012, following the drug death of Whitney Houston, hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou were suspended after they called the singer a "crack ho."
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Wilson has been engaged in a war of words with the Trump administration since earlier this month, when she said she heard the receiving end of a phone call from the president to the widow of Sgt. Johnson, Myeshia Johnson, because they were in a vehicle together when Trump's call was put on speakerphone. The congresswoman quoted Trump as saying, "He [Sgt. Johnson] knew what he signed up for."
The president responded by accusing Wilson of lying, but her account was verified by Myeshia Johnson. Trump's chief of staff, Gen. John Kelly, tried to deflect attention from Trump's remarks by alleging that he was present when Wilson took credit for the opening of a Federal Bureau of Investigation field office in Miami in 2015. Video of that grand opening contradicted the general's claim.
Last week Wilson, who is African-American, says the issue has become about race. Sgt. Johnson is also black. "The White House itself is full of white supremacists," she told The New York Times.
"The bottom line is that if Handel and KFI can't understand that calling a woman a whore on the radio is unacceptable, perhaps KFI, iHeartMedia and their advertisers, hearing from thousands of people from all over the country, will help remedy that," Cannick says.