By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 19, 2008
Never at a loss to find things to fume about, some of the nation's radio talk-show hosts are now fuming about the treatment of one of their own -- a controversial talk personality whose lifetime achievement award was suddenly revoked this week by an industry trade magazine.
Several hosts, most prominently Sean Hannity and Rush Limbaugh, have been howling in recent days about Radio & Records magazine's second thoughts about bestowing the award on Bob Grant, a legendary New York broadcaster who helped pioneer the outrageous, combative style that has dominated talk radio for decades.
Grant, 78, was set to receive the accolade in March at a conference sponsored by the magazine in Washington. That is, he was until Radio & Records heard from a longtime Grant nemesis named Scott Pellegrino.
Upon learning of the magazine's plans earlier this week, Pellegrino sent e-mails to about 70 of its employees and various executives of its parent company, the Nielsen Co. The e-mails highlighted some of Grant's more unsavory comments over the years, including a series of racially insensitive statements that culminated in his firing by a New York station more than a decade ago.
The e-mails appear to have sparked a backlash against Grant within the company -- a reaction that parallels the revolt within NBC and CBS Radio last year that led to Don Imus's firing for comments about the Rutgers women's basketball team (Imus was recently hired by WABC, the same station that fired Grant in 1996 and rehired him in August of last year.)
On Wednesday, the magazine issued a statement saying it did not want its original decision to "imply our endorsement" of comments "that contradict our values and the respect we have for all members of our community."
Several of the magazine's employees, including Editor Cyndee Maxwell, declined to comment further.
Grant, whose radio career spans 60 years, has stoked outrage and generated spasms of publicity by making derogatory comments about Latinos, gays and African Americans. He has called blacks "screaming savages" and "sub-humanoids," and denigrated then-New York Mayor David Dinkins, an African American, by saying he looked like "the men's room attendant at the 21 Club."
Grant was fired by WABC in 1996 for saying that he had a hunch that then-Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, also an African American, had survived a plane crash, adding "because at heart, I'm a pessimist." Brown was later found dead.
Said Pellegrino yesterday, "There's no question in my mind that Bob Grant is a racist. . . . He's famous for one thing: hating blacks. It should be on his gravestone."
Grant fired back in an interview yesterday, describing Pellegrino as "a kook [and] a psychopath" who has harassed him for years. He also dismissed complaints about his controversial comments as "a couple of statements [taken] out of context."
"There have been some things I've said on the air over the years that when I got home later I may have said, 'I wish I hadn't said that,' " said Grant. But, he added: "I have nothing to regret. I'm an equal-opportunity harpooner. I enjoy it. I'll admit it, I enjoy it. If people want something bland, Lord knows, there's plenty of that around."
Hannity, whose syndicated radio program originates at WABC, defended Grant yesterday, saying he was deserving of a lifetime honor. "There's no doubt in my mind that Bob Grant is a great, great pioneer of free-speech radio," Hannity said. "You don't have to endorse everything he has ever said on the air to see that. If you don't like what someone says, no one is forcing you to listen. You can flip the dial."
Hannity spoke up for Grant on his radio program (heard locally on WMAL, 630-AM) and interviewed him Thursday on his daily Fox News Channel program, "Hannity & Colmes."
Limbaugh weighed in yesterday on his program: ''I think it's extremely cowardly that this Radio & Records bunch can rescind an award they had bestowed simply because of one letter from a malcontent. We're losing to political correctness. Grant deserves a lifetime achievement award from a whole lot of people, not just a trade magazine."
Grant and Hannity said other radio hosts, including such libertarian and conservative personalities as Neal Boortz and Mark Levin, have discussed organizing a boycott of the magazine's conference in March.
Grant will receive an award from his own station in June at an industry conference sponsored by Talkers magazine, a rival of Radio & Records.