A local radio talk show host touched off complaints from an Islamic civil rights organization yesterday after repeatedly describing Islam on the air as "a terrorist organization" that is "at war with America."
The organization, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), asked the station to take disciplinary action against Michael Graham, who hosts WMAL-AM's late-morning call-in program.
A station executive, Randall Bloomquist, said yesterday that Graham's comments were "amped up" but justified within the context of the program. He said the station, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co., had no plans to reprimand Graham.
The show host touched off the flap during a discussion of the Muslim community's response to recent acts of terrorism. Graham suggested the fault lies with Muslims generally because religious leaders and followers haven't done enough to condemn and root out extreme elements. "The problem is not extremism," Graham said, according to both CAIR and the station. "The problem is Islam." He also said, "We are at war with a terrorist organization named Islam."
CAIR denounced the comments yesterday as "hate-filled" and "Islamophobic" and asked its members to contact the station's advertisers to express their dismay.
"It's amazing," said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR's communications director. "I talked with Mr. Bloomquist and asked him if he would reprimand someone who used the n-word on the air. He said yes. I asked him if he would reprimand someone who read [approvingly] from the [anti-Semitic] 'Protocols of the Elders of Zion.' He said yes. So I asked him if he would do the same if someone had called Islam a terroristic organization. Well, he said, it's all about context, but he never quite explained it to me."
Added Hooper, "The First Amendment allows people to be idiots and bigots. All you can do is embarrass people and have them defend their reputation. If WMAL doesn't feel embarrassed and doesn't want to defend its reputation in the face of anti-Muslim bigotry, then there's not much we can do about it."
Graham, who broadcasts locally, is one of several conservative hosts heard on WMAL (630). The station's daily lineup includes the syndicated Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity programs.
After rising slightly during the months preceding the presidential election last year, WMAL's audience ratings have fallen precipitously. Exact ratings for Graham's 9-11:45 a.m. time slot are unavailable, but WMAL's morning programming, which includes part of Graham's program, are off 25 percent since last year. The station overall has lost 41 percent of its core 25-to-54-year-old audience in the past 12 months, dropping from 158,200 individual listeners per week to 116,600.
Graham declined to comment when contacted yesterday, saying, "I'm saving all my comments for my show. You'll just have to listen." But in his weekly column, which will appear on WMAL's Web site today, he repeats the statement that "Islam is a terror organization" and makes the following analogy:
"If the Boy Scouts of America had 1,000 Scout troops, and 10 of them practiced suicide bombings, then the BSA would be considered a terrorist organization. If the BSA refused to kick out those 10 troops, that would make the case even stronger. If people defending terror repeatedly turned to the Boy Scout handbook and found language that justified and defended murder -- and the scoutmasters responded by saying 'Could be' -- the Boy Scouts would have been driven out of America long ago.
"Today, Islam has whole sects and huge mosques that preach terror. Its theology is openly used to give the murderers their motives. Millions of its members give these killers comfort. The question isn't how dare I call Islam a terrorist organization, but rather why more people do not."
Bloomquist said his station had received more than 100 e-mails protesting Graham's comments, many of them, he said, apparently generated by CAIR's e-mails to its members. He went on to defend Graham, saying, "Remember that this is talk radio. We don't do the dainty minuet of the newspaper editorial page. It's not 'Washington Week in Review.' It depends on pungent statements to drive it. Michael is rattling the cage. It's designed to start and further a conversation, and it has certainly done that."
Graham made waves earlier this year when he scuffled with Montgomery County police after he tried to attend an event for illegal immigrants while wearing a T-shirt that read "INS (I Need Border Security)." He also recently led a rally in front of The Washington Post's building in the District seeking the dismissal of Newsweek reporter Michael Isikoff, who wrote a story that inaccurately reported on alleged abuses of the Koran in the military detention facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba (Newsweek is owned by The Washington Post Co.).
Graham has also clashed with CAIR in the past. The group last year cited him in a campaign called "Hate Hurts America" for what CAIR described as implicitly advocating violence against Muslims.