Radio talk-show host Michael Graham was suspended by station WMAL-AM yesterday for repeatedly describing Islam as a "terrorist organization" on his program.
Graham said he has been ordered off the Washington station, without pay, for an indefinite period while the station investigates the comments that drew complaints from a Muslim group, the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
Officials at WMAL, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co., had initially declined to take disciplinary action against Graham. However, WMAL President and General Manager Chris Berry said last night that Graham would be suspended for making statements that "crossed the line."
"We do not condone his position and believe his statements were irresponsible," Berry said in a statement.
Graham, 42, said on his mid-morning program on Monday that the fault for recent acts of terrorism lies not with Islamic radicals alone but also with Muslims generally because religious leaders and followers have tacitly supported extreme elements. "The problem is not extremism," Graham told listeners. "The problem is Islam." He also said, "We are at war with a terrorist organization named Islam."
CAIR denounced the comments as "hate-filled" and asked its members to contact the station's advertisers to express their dismay. Several hundred people across the country sent e-mails to the station and some of its advertisers, said Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR's communications director.
"I think this action is long overdue and appropriate," Hooper said of Graham's suspension. "I think it's a testament to the determination of individual Muslims who contacted the station and its advertisers to say Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry are unacceptable." One advertiser, Moore Cadillac Hummer, wrote a letter to CAIR denouncing Graham's statements but did not say it would pull its ads, he said.
Graham, whose program is part of WMAL's lineup of conservative talk shows, remained unapologetic and defiant. "I honestly don't know what Disney is investigating me for, unless it's for doing a compelling talk show that gets people's attention," he said. "I thought that was my job."
He also said, "If fighting for free speech and for the truth in the war on terrorism means getting fired by some corporate suits at ABC Disney who can't stand up for free speech -- so be it. But I will not recant."
However, station sources say Graham is unlikely to be fired and will be back on the air after the current controversy cools down.
Graham's comments about Muslims weren't the first to get him into trouble with his employers. According to news accounts, he has been fired twice from radio hosting jobs for on-air statements. His most recent termination was in 1999 when he was working as a radio talk-show host on WBT in Charlotte. Just hours after the shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado, Graham told listeners that the killing of athletes at the school was "one minor benefit of this otherwise horrible story."
He later apologized, calling the comment "a stupid, insensitive and indefensible remark."