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Chicago Urban League CEO Shari Runner: “There Is Zero Tolerance” For Segments On iHeartRadio That Ridicule The African-American Community
Civil rights and gun violence prevention organizations are continuing to call on iHeartRadio to break its silence on conservative radio host Michael Berry, who hosted a weekly segment called the “Butcher Bill” and “The Chicago Weekend Crime Report” that was dedicated to mocking victims of Chicago gun violence.
Berry hosted the racially charged segment for several years on his iHeartRadio syndicated show The Michael Berry Show, and in March Talkers magazine reported that he would be honored with a “Talk Personality of the Year” award at the 2017 iHeartMusic Awards. After mounting pressure from several local Chicago news outlets, Berry issued a disingenuous apology for his “Butcher Bill” segment and pledged to end it.
But iHeartRadio refused to publicly comment on the controversy or say whether Berry had actually received the award during the March 5 ceremony.
Despite a letter from 21 civil rights and gun violence prevention groups calling on the company to confirm whether it gave Berry the award, and a letter from the Chicago Urban League and other Chicago groups calling for Berry to be fired, iHeartRadio has refused to publicly address the situation.
During the April 10 edition of WVON’s The Talk Of Chicago, Chicago Urban League president and CEO Shari Runner said that there can be “zero tolerance” for characterizing African-Americans “as people who are lawless, unprofessional, [and] uncaring,” as Berry’s segment did. Runner highlighted iHeartRadio’s large African-American audience and suggested that advertisers should consider whether they want to be associated with iHeartRadio’s brand:
From the April 10 edition of WVON’s The Talk Of Chicago:
RUFUS WILLIAMS (GUEST HOST): Have you been able to get caught up with what’s going on from your staff, and just give us some opening thoughts on what you think about this situation? Then we got a couple calls I’d like to take too.
SHARI RUNNER (CHICAGO URBAN LEAGUE): Yeah, I think it’s very important that we talk about how we as African-Americans manage our narrative. This is not the kind of thing that we want to let happen and lay silent about. It doesn’t -- it hasn’t gotten the kind of press that Bill O’Reilly has. But it is equally if not more important that we understand how people hijack and think about what it is that we are doing as African-Americans to say this is who we are and this is where we should be.
WILLIAMS: That’s a good point because it really does ask the question: What is our tolerable level of insult? And we’ve got to know that this beyond the pale. This is certainly beyond it, and we can stop and see all of the media that comes when Bill O’Reilly has a sex abuse, sex whatever, issue. And everybody pays attention and advertisers fall from that. There needs to be the same kind of outcry. There needs to be the same kind of reduction that happens when our -- when we are mocked as a people in the way in which this has happened.
RUNNER: Yeah. No question about it. There is no tolerance. There is zero tolerance as we’ve heard in a number of different ways, that we can allow African-American people to be characterized as people who are lawless, unprofessional, uncaring. This is a big deal and we need to start with this one thing, if not many things, to make sure that our community is characterized in the right light.
WILLIAMS: So Shari, where we stopped in leading up to our chronology for -- to today, and where we have been with this response is, we stopped at the point of having had the conversation last week with Greg [Ashlock] of iHeartMedia who runs the region that includes this guy’s show down in Texas. So he was supposed to get back to Paula [Thornton Greear, senior vice president of Chicago Urban League,] by Friday, which he did not do. So where we are now is talking about what our next steps will be. And I know we haven’t collectively sat down and talked about that, but, what I would like to do is to talk about that. Get some thoughts from you, get some thoughts from here, get some thoughts from our audience. What is it that we think our next step should be? Because we did talk about the lack of diversity in the C-suite, we talked about the lack of diversity on their board, we talked about the fact that we need to understand where their dollars gets spent, the huge influence that iHeart has on our community given the number of African-American, the number of black listeners who listen to iHeart stations. So let’s talk about what we think our next steps should be from this point, having not heard from them through today.
RUNNER: Well it's very, very important. And I know that we have entertainment value around the people that are represented on iHeartRadio. Ninety seven percent of African-American listeners listen to a station, an urban radio station, that is owned by iHeart. And they do that. And iHeart makes money around creating dollars for advertisers who want to engage those listeners. So, how important is that to us? How important, as we’ve heard Nielson say over and over again, we have spending votes. It is not just the votes we do at the ballot box, it is a matter of how do we use those spending votes to make sure that we are available to create a movement that happens for us. And --
WILLIAMS: So basically, you are saying, who are their advertisers? Who are the people who support iHeart? Who are the stations that we have been listening to and where we should pull back in effecting those things?
RUNNER: Yes, absolutely. We do it and we think about it -- I hope everybody thinks about it as it relates to the Koch brothers, and who they are and what they do as it relates to our community. But really, how do we use our power as an African-American community in this country to make sure that we are doing the right things to get the things that benefit our community.
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Women's Outlets Explain How These Stories Are Significantly And Routinely Undercovered
A social media post about missing black and brown girls in the Washington, D.C., area went viral, but the numbers it cited were incorrect. Women’s outlets -- primarily those geared toward young, black and brown audiences -- took the lead in explaining the underlying reality about media coverage of missing children that made the post so believable.
A coalition of 21 civil rights and gun violence prevention groups signed a letter expressing concern that iHeartRadio has not confirmed whether it gave a “talk personality of the year” award to a conservative radio host who regularly featured a racially charged segment dedicated to mocking victims of Chicago gun violence.
For several years, conservative syndicated radio host Michael Berry hosted a “Butcher Bill” segment in which he ridiculed Chicago’s gun violence victims and smeared the Black Lives Matter movement. Berry also played “bingo” with the victims’ injuries and mockingly suggested that if “you don’t want to hear shots and feel pain” in Chicago -- referring to the common police blotter description of what happened to victims -- you should wear “earmuffs.” In a February 27 press release, Talkers magazine announced that Berry would receive an award for “best news/talk” personality of the year at the March 5 iHeartRadio Music Awards in Los Angeles.
After receiving criticism for his segment, Berry announced that The Michael Berry Show would stop airing the weekly “Butcher Bill” segment, saying he has “to make better decisions.” But it is not clear whether he actually received the award, and iHeartRadio has not answered questions about the matter.
Media Matters and 20 other civil rights and gun violence prevention groups are asking iHeartRadio to break its silence and publicly state whether it honored Berry. From the March 24 letter:
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Nationally syndicated conservative radio host Michael Berry announced that he will discontinue his weekly segment mocking victims of Chicago gun violence, and he apologized for the feature, saying he has “to make better decisions” about the words he uses.
Until now, The Michael Berry Show, which is syndicated by iHeartRadio, has featured a “racially charged” “Butcher Bill” weekly segment that ridiculed the city’s gun violence victims and criticized the Black Lives Matter movement. Berry repeatedly claimed that “black people don’t believe black lives matter.”
Berry’s decision to discontinue the segment follows controversy over iHeartRadio’s recent announcement that it would give Berry a “talk personality of the year” award. After the announcement of the award, Media Matters published a piece on March 1 highlighting some of the worst examples from Berry’s “Butcher Bill.”
Amid the ensuing controversy, iHeartRadio refused to comment to Media Matters and news outlets covering the story to explain why he was being honored. The award was to be given during the March 5 iHeartRadio Music awards, but no indication has been made that Berry was actually honored at the ceremony, and iHeartRadio did not return multiple requests for comment asking whether Berry received the award. iHeartRadio has also not responded to requests for comment on Berry’s apology and discontinuation of the segment.
During the March 10 evening edition of his show, Berry announced he would “discontinue” the segment. He initially defended the segment, with a self-serving explanation that claimed the purpose was to “highlight” the “precious lives” being lost in Chicago with a feature “that was tinged in humor.” Calling himself a “comedian wanna-be,” Berry said that “comedians make people laugh as a way to make people think.”
While this explanation purported to show sympathy for victims of gun violence in Chicago, the actual segments he ran were full of heartless mockery. For example, in September 2015, Berry ridiculed 14-year-old Tyjuan Poindexter just days after he was murdered as the innocent bystander of a drive-by shooting. Mocking the youth’s name, Berry said, “Tyjuan Poindexter. Ha ha. Tyjuan Poindexter was standing outside with some friends when some people drove by and opened fire. Young Mister Poindexter was shot in the head and died at the scene. He won't have to live with that name anymore.”
In 2017, Berry often played “bingo” with Chicago residents’ gun violence injuries and encouraged listeners to play along by guessing where victims were shot on their bodies. He also sarcastically suggested that the way to avoid “hear[ing] shots and fe[eling] pain” in Chicago is to wear “earmuffs.”
Despite attempting to sanitize the content of his segment, Berry conceded on March 10 that he had received “valid criticism” and that those who had complained about the segment “deserve an apology”:
MICHAEL BERRY (HOST): Well, it came to our attention, most of you listening right now would never know what I’m talking about. We do a -- on our morning show, on Monday mornings, we do a segment called the Chicago Weekend Crime Update. And the genesis of that, several years ago, was to say, “Every week there are people, a dozen or more people being murdered and usually multiple dozens being wounded on the streets of Chicago and we’re arguing over guns when precious lives are being lost. Children, walking to school, being gunned down or in their own home. A mom walking her baby in a pram, and gets shot and killed in front of their own home.” So, in an effort to highlight that, we started a segment that was tinged in humor -- and that might seem weird. But comedians, and I’m a comedian wannabe, comedians make people laugh as a way to make people think. It’s why they’re very effective at stoking discussions. And through the course of that, some people said to me, and I read some comments that people had posted, that I was mocking crime victims. And my immediate reaction is, you’re stupid, you’re dumb, you’re criticizing me, I’m not going to listen to you. But I sat down with my wife, and we read through them, and I realized I could see where somebody would say that. I would come off -- you’re right. That is a valid criticism, and I have thought over that a lot in the last week. And that bothered me. It bothered me a lot. And we decided that we would discontinue that segment, as much as we think it's important to highlight the problems of crime. And I also wanted to apologize, because some people took the time to post to me that that bothered them and why. In very thoughtful comments, and they deserve an apology. And I have to make better decisions with the words I use.
Berry has previously apologized for making disparaging comments about American Indians and for his suggestion that someone blow up a mosque, but these apologies did not temper his proclivity for using dehumanizing rhetoric.
Right-wing media outlets mischaracterized and scandalized former Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s video on civil rights as a call for violence by twisting her words to say she advocated for “blood and death on the streets.”
NRATV Is Offering Increasingly Unhinged Attacks On The Press In Defense Of Trump
In an attempt to defend President Donald Trump’s address to a joint session of Congress, NRATV contributor Bill Whittle called CNN’s Don Lemon a “malignant” and “miserable racist” after Lemon noted that the president sounds different when he is using a teleprompter, as compared to speaking without one.
During the March 2 edition of NRATV’s Stinchfield, host Grant Stinchfield played a clip of Lemon saying Trump's speech sounded like it was written by a college student "trying to use big words" to impress the audience. Stinchfield called Lemon’s comments “nonsense” and “offensive,” while Whittle claimed Lemon was trying to prove how much smarter he is than “Donald Trump and the idiots who voted for him.”
Whittle claimed that Lemon said you can tell when Trump is using a teleprompter, but couldn’t when former president Barack Obama gave speeches. Whittle called this a “flagrant lie” and went on to mock Obama’s manner of speaking. He claimed the only reason Lemon made that observation is that he’s a “miserable racist” who thinks “white people aren’t smart enough to understand big words that black guys like” he and Obama can:
DON LEMON (CLIP): It sounded to me -- I thought it was -- he sounded very presidential. This was a speech written by a college student for someone else trying to use big words to impress that the person who is reciting it did not know the meaning of the words.
GRANT STINCHFIELD (HOST): What kind of nonsense is that? You know, and in fact it's offensive to hear him say something like that. Because he even started his comment with, "It was a good speech and it sounded presidential." Yet he figured, oh no I can’t say that, I’ve gotta slam Donald Trump. So that’s what he did.
BILL WHITTLE: Yeah, well this is Don Lemon, and CNN, and all the other people like him, making it very clear to the other people on the panel how much smarter that they all are -- not just how much smarter Don Lemon is, but how much smarter all of them are compared to Donald Trump and the idiots that voted for him. By the way, Don, if you’re going to be criticizing people for writing speeches as if they were done by high school kids, you might want to look at your sentence, because your sentence doesn’t make any sense grammatically. It's very badly flawed, you might want to have a -- maybe a junior high school kid edit your work next time because the sentence you actually delivered on the air is not a grammatical sentence. But put that aside for a second, Don. You know, what he basically said was, yes he sounded great, but he could only have sounded great because it was a speechwriter. Really? No kidding. A president used a speechwriter? Imagine my shock.
And what Don Lemon eventually went on to do, shortly after this, Grant, was he said we can tell that Donald Trump was just reading a teleprompter because Donald Trump impromptu doesn’t sound like that. But Barack Obama, when Barack Obama speaks off the teleprompter, he sounds exactly like Barack Obama does on the teleprompter. Which is either a flagrant lie or the most ignorant man in the world. You ever heard Barack Obama get off the teleprompter? It's like [stuttering]. I’m not exaggerating, that’s exactly what he sounds like. So, I have only one explanation for why Don Lemon would say something like this, Grant, and the only explanation I can come up with is, is he’s a malignant racist. He’s a racist. He must think that white people are not smart enough to be able to use big words without a teleprompter, while black people like him and Barack Obama can. So, if you want to dish this out to us for the last 10 or 15 years, here it comes back at you, Don. I’m calling you publicly, I’m calling you a miserable racist who thinks that white people are not smart enough to understand the big words that black guys like you and Barack Obama understand. So how do you like that, pal? Tell me how that feels.
NRATV has a history of making unhinged attacks against the press in defense of Trump, previously calling criticism of Trump an “assault against freedom and the Constitution” and claiming that by reporting on the happenings of the Trump administration, “the media that is trying to destroy our republic.”
Nationally syndicated conservative radio host Michael Berry ridicules Chicago gun violence victims in a weekly “Butcher Bill” segment, including playing “bingo” with victims’ gunshot injuries. This Sunday, iHeartRadio will name him “talk personality of the year.”
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