BY MAREA HIMELGRIN
ST. PAUL, Minnesota - In a victory for human dignity, the KQRS morning radio show has been forced to publicly apologize for racist on-the-air comments concerning Hmong people. "It took four months, but I think KQRS finally realized it had to do the right thing," Community Action Against Racism (CAAR) organizer Va-Megn Thoj said at a news conference October 29 in the offices of the Hmong-American Partnership in St. Paul.
CAAR has organized two protest marches and a boycott campaign aimed at the popular "KQ Morning Show" after local shock-jock Tom Bernard did a June 9, 1998, segment ridiculing a Hmong teenager who allegedly suffocated her newborn baby. Bernard wound up his commentary by advising the Hmong, "Assimilate or hit the goddamn road!"
The protest campaign by CAAR has led TV news broadcasts and been front-page news in the Twin Cities for several months. Many prominent advertisers, including the Mall of America, Norwest Bank, and Perkins Restaurants, have pulled their ads from the morning show.
The radio station initially claimed that it found CAAR's four demands "confusing." The group demanded a public apology; elimination of the pidgen-speaking Asian character Tak from the morning show; a public statement of KQRS's nondiscrimination policy; and airtime for CAAR to promote an antiracist message.
Bernard told listeners to his top-rated show on October 20, "I don't feel bad about any of this.... Everybody gets the same amount of love on the show. Everybody gets the same amount of hate on the show.'' Bernard urged listeners to boycott the companies boycotting his show. He also referred to CAAR as the "thought police."
In competition with the Howard Stern show, which airs on a rival station at the same time, the KQ Morning Show, features vulgar commentary on current events and issues. A columnist for the Star Tribune described the station's apology as comparable to "a bar apologizing for tequila and lime in its margaritas."
The KQ Morning show strongly backed Reform Party candidate Jesse Ventura for Governor, ridiculing the Democratic and Republican candidates.
Ventura's victory speech is featured on the station's web page. One link on the site is to the "Rage" section. The link's graphics include a border of dripping blood. Listeners are urged to vent their rage over politics and other topics.
Fans of the KQ morning show have been using the site to voice resentment against Hmong immigrants who stand up for their rights, among others. Ratings for the morning show appear to have increased since antiracist protests aimed at the station have drawn attention to it.
The Disney Company owns KQRS. Mark Steinmetz, president of the ABC Radio Station Group, began personally intervening in negotiations with CAAR beginning in September. A public apology printed in many local newspapers and read over KQRS on November 5 is signed by Steinmetz. The apology agrees to all four of CAAR's demands.
Steinmetz attended a packed public meeting at the Hmong American Partnership on October 16. The discussion was heated. Mel Reeves, a member of the International Association of Machinists at Northwest Airlines as well as CAAR and the NAACP, told the station's representatives, "I want to make it clear we are not here to be bought off. We're not talking about insensitivity. We're talking about damage to this city, community, and people in this room. What is going on in the morning show is definitely racist. We're not just talking about the June 9 show."
In a transparent attempt to divide the Hmong community, Steinmetz organized a public meeting October 17 with the Elders of the Eighteen Hmong Clan Council. CAAR's membership and leadership is composed primarily of teenagers and Hmong youth in their early 20s.
The attempt to divide the community failed. Xang Vang made forceful comments on behalf of the Elders and proposed that the parties agree to hold further meetings as soon as possible to "clear this matter up once and for all."
CAAR representative, Va-Megn Thoj, told reporters after the meeting, "KQ thought that they could gloss over the issues with the elders. This shows that we are united. This community wants action against media racism and discrimination."
Marea Himelgrin is a member of the United Steelworkers of America.
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