A leading progressive activist in Milwaukee is accusing the city’s conservative talk radio hosts of racism when discussing societal problems.
That’s one reason why officials from Citizen Action of Wisconsin said they're planning to monitor five right-wing talk shows as part of its Radio-Active campaign. According to a post on the groups’s website, they believe the show hosts are responsible for "splitting cities and suburbs, shifting public opinion to the far-right, and (are) largely setting the extreme agenda at the state Capitol."
The other phase of Radio-Active's efforts is to explore launching a community-owned progressive talk station. Milwaukee currently has one such station, WNOV Radio.
"Our plan is to make the breaking of the right-wing media monopoly a permanent part of our organizing cooperative," the post continues.
Citizen Action of Wisconsin executive director Robert Kraig said on Tuesday that conservative talk radio hosts, namely WISN Radio’s Jay Weber, Mark Belling and Vicki McKenna and WTMJ Radio’s Charlie Sykes and Jeff Wagner, prey on intense racial disparities of southeastern Wisconsin in terms of the economy and the criminal justice system.
"The main stock of these right-wing shows is to accentuate these divisions and blame every problem on people in the city of Milwaukee, which is code for African-Americans, Latinos, other minorities," Kraig said.
Instead of overt racism, Kraig said that conservatives have perfected "coded" racism to the point where their listeners don’t even detect it -- a strategy that he added wouldn’t work if the audience felt the content was actually racist.
"If you talk about poor people who are dependent on government, conservative white voters understand that to mean African-American people, just for example," Kraig said.
Volunteers for the Radio-Active plan are prepared to listen to the programs and document such instances. Kraig said the point is to demand accountability on the station’s parent companies and their advertisers.
But those volunteers aren’t going to find any examples of "racial spewing," according to Media Trackers communications director Brian Sikma. If they do, Sikma said conservative talk radio stations will do a good job of policing themselves. He described an instance in which a Milwaukee host -- who he didn’t name but described as "prominent" -- made a comment that he later apologized for and was briefly removed from the air.
"These station owners and station management who have the most to win or lose when a host messes up are more than willing to take the disciplinary steps necessary to make sure that a hateful word or vulgar word is not uttered on their station," Sikma said.
To Sikma, the more blatant occurrences of racism happens, in fact, on liberal talk radio. He pointed to a 2004 instance when Sly Sylvester, then of WTDY Radio in Madison and now hosts shows from Janesville and Monroe, referred to then-U.S. Secretary of State nominee Condoleezza Rice as an "Aunt Jemima" and then-outgoing Secretary of State Colin Powell as an "Uncle Tom." Sylvester stood by his comments the following day, telling the Wisconsin State Journal they reflected the notion that black people were allowing themselves to be used by the George W. Bush administration, which he labeled as being hostile to minorities. Sikma also called out Sylvester for making vulgar remarks about women and other people that he politically disagrees with.
"It’s unfortunate that there’s an immediate resort to just assuming that if someone disagrees with you, they are racist. That’s an absurd assertion," Sikma said. "Whenever liberal talk show hosts have made these comments, Robert Kraig hasn’t said anything."