Rob and Arnie [and Dawn] Take III

snrbestof08-rad(Arnie, Dawn, and Rob hold up editions Sacramento News and Review 2008, unattributed)

This morning, after several businesses had pulled their advertising and issued statements against oppression, GLAAD had put the callous way their initial attempts to discuss the issue were treated by management on their website, and a coalition of folks who are RAD listeners called and emailed in saying that were appalled, the hosts of Rob, Arnie, and Dawn in the Morning took to the airwaves to finally apologize for comments made on May 28th, 2009 about trans youth. That apology, spliced with a few comments from me, appears in the first quoted section below. Rob’s apology was made to their listeners b/c of “tone and delivery” not to trans youth. Arnie’s, which appears immediately following Rob’s and my commentary about it, apologize first to transgender people and then to the audience.

They also revamped their website to remove personal blogs, show merchandise, and other items that if looked over might continue to encourage ire for their racial, sexual, and gender overtones. In the place of their normal content, up as late as last week, are letters addressing the May 28th broadcast in which they made anti-trans comments. The first one, posted Monday, contained a statement that they had “screwed up” and would be apologizing. It was written in all caps. The second, written in normal, non-yelling font, replaced it on today (Thursday June 11) and is a reiteration of their commitment to their fans as well as links to trans advocates who they had on today’s show. Both letters appear at the bottom of this post.

One of the important outcomes of their apology was that Rob admitted:

we turned it [a discussion about a trans youth age 8 going to school] into name-calling and transgender bashing

And that Arnie acknowledged his ignorance on the issues and his heartfelt apology to the trans community:

My ignorance prevented me from understanding how hard a transgenders life is, day to day.  I, I, never understood that. And I am very sorry for that.

This admission stands in stark contrast to the content of their previous show where they insisted they had only called people “weirdos” and were guilty of nothing but “jokes.”

The Apology Show and It’s Meaning

The show itself opened first with an admonishment to “fringe listeners,” ie people who wanted them off the air b/c an apology meant nothing and people who demanded they not apologize b/c an apology meant they were “catering” to “freaks.”  I’ve thought a lot about what an apology at this point would mean. Does it have meaning? And if it does not, then what is the appropriate solution?

For me, and solely for me, had they apologized in a serious and concerned way on their first “apology” show, I would have been cynical about their sincerity but I would have given them the benefit of the doubt. I think most people involved in raising awareness about this issue would feel the same, ie that the comments should never have been made, but taking responsibility for them immediately was the next best thing.  Unfortunately, not only did they refuse to apologize, they continued to insult and deride the very idea of an apology and anyone who called in with criticism, constructive or otherwise. Their willful disregard for what people were saying about trans rights and how their words had serious consequences for those rights makes it hard to stomach anything they might say afterward.  Worse, their apology comes, not from reflection as they claim, but seemingly from the loss of advertising and the constant local, national, and international condemnation for their actions, as it was not until big spending advertisers publicly denounced the show that they posted the decision to apologize and suspended the show. Earlier, Arnie said he would quit if forced to apologize. So how does one apologize without it being tainted fruit?

Ultimately, for me, the only way to make good now is for them to actually show that they have learned and changed. By which I mean, the apology is the first step, but not the final one. They need to make a commitment not to be transphobic in the future. And the station and the hosts need to commit to real and serious consequences should they fail to do so. There should never have to be this kind of hurt and subsequent outrage again.

Others feel the only answer is for them to be fired or quit. It is not my place to critique nor circumvent what trans people are saying they need from the show. In my opinion, as an educator, who believes we can all learn & spends a considerable amount of time teaching people who think just like Arnie and Rob appeared to on May 28th, and a person who watched Don Imus run off to his NM ranch and pout for a few months before returning to the radio, I really don’t know that firing would have done anything to address the real issue: transphobia in the media and its relationship to transphobia and transbashing in society. I am, however, convinced that had Rob and Arnie been fired, the initial message to the country that transphobia is unacceptable would have been eclipsed when the DJs return to the airwaves under a different sponsor or different format. In the same way that Don Imus’ return was celebrated as a triumph over “whining blacks,” “PC police,” and “special interest groups,” if Rob or Arnie returned to the airwaves after being fired over transphobia, they would have been celebrated as a triumph against “whining trans people,” “PC police,” and “special interest groups.” Such a move would have been a serious blow to trans rights in the long run. (And yes, I am assuming they would have been employed elsewhere, but I think we’ve seen enough shock jocks move from station to station after controversy to know that their re-employment was likely.)

Rob’s Apology:

Many people feel that opinion is under attack. Those of you who are Rob Arnie and Dawn fans know that if I thought for a minute that I was being told that I cannot present unpopular opinions moving forward, I wouldn’t even be here. This is not about opinion. It is about a tone and the way opinions are delivered.

This was an important comment to make with regards to countering the very argument they made alongside certain segments of their fan base about their right to express unpopular opinions. This is something they championed on their last broadcast on the issue and reference again in their follow up letter listed at the bottom of the post. Thus, I’m confused about where the distinction between their comments and the listeners they are now admonishing, but am supportive of their effort to finally admit that “unpopular opinions” and statements that mirror or erase actual systemic abuse of trans youth are not the same thing.

Rob went on to explain the topic of the May 28th show, and then what their intentions were, by saying:

what we wanted to do was discuss how that situation would challenge everybody involved. The parents, the other kids at the school, the himself [emphasis mine to highlight the child identifies as a “herself”] . . . umm . . . and we never got there. It was, it was, just in relationship to a Rob, Arnie, and Dawn discussion not very good. And one of the reasons we never got there was b/c Arnie and I were completely tone def to the situation. And we turned it into name-calling and transgender bashing. [emphasis mine] Oh and we had such a laugh. Umm, as you can imagine, transgender people and their allies were offende and so we addressed their concerns a week later. And the way we did so was we told them to get over it. And we said it’s a joke. And most importantly what we said was our audience, the Rob, Arnie, and Dawn audience, knows us, knows that it was a joke and knows that we weren’t serious.

Admitting that they engaged in name-calling and trans bashing was an important reversal of their earlier stance. This cannot be stressed enough. At the same time, Rob continues his cis normativity by refusing to acknowledge the gender of the child in question. In last week’s show he unabashedly used his “transgender friend” to prove that he knew about transgender identity, while also discussing why he refuses to refer to his completely transitioned friend by the proper pronoun. Clearly, his learning curve is steeper than this show would like it to appear. That these two moments exist in what was essentially the same paragraph of the apology is one of the jarring things about the reality of oppression, that a person can be making some steps while refusing to make, or failing to recognize the need to make, others. And while it agin makes me reflect on the meaning of an apology this late in the game, it also makes me think of Anzaldua’s path of conocimiento which argues that anti-oppression is like little earthquakes that literally rock someone’s world completely out of alignment but do not preclude movement backwards and sideways as well as forward.

. . .

Once we defended our position, once we said ‘it’s just a joke,’ we were told in no uncertain terms, not be the advocacy groups, not by advertisers, altho they have a stage in all of this, clearly that we are going to discuss . . .We were told by our fans that we had screwed up. That we had gone too far. That we had been insensitive and tone def and that our comments had made it sound like we were endorsing things that we needed to correct.

In other words, our fans had expected us that week when we addressed the concerns to say ‘you know what you’re right, we went too far. Obviously we didn’t mean that and we’re sorry.’

At this point he stopped to admonish RAD fans who say they should not have to apologize and are being bullied by advertisers and “special interest groups.” Many of these fans have stopped by this blog and even included a link to my blog on a supremacist website immediately following an anti-semitic piece. As a result, we have received threats from one of the largest supremacist hotspots in the world, in Russia, as well as here in the U.S. RAD supporters on the blog have made threats, demeaned trans rights, and posited their own preferences as some how more important than the safety of trans youth. Many of these comments fall under the hate speech ban here and were not published. But what I took away from both the comments I did approve and those I did not, is that Rob and Arnie and RAD fans have no ground to stand on when they claim what they said about trans youth would not encourage listeners to act out against transgender people and people they perceived to be trans. The acting out has gone global. And I defy anyone to claim that 8 year old child was made safer by being singled out and set in the center of a growing conflict by Rob, Arnie, and Dawn in the Morning. I doubt that their consistent shift to those fans in the midst of an apology about their own accountablity is going to rectify the tensions their show helped to crystalize and focus on to all of us (trans and allies) nor that their anti-child abuse stance stands up against the abuse that may now await that child by misguided listeners who see her, and not the comments about her, as the catalyst for their favorite show being “in jeopardy.”

Rob continued his statement with an actual apology this time (as opposed to Arnie’s apology to people with bad lives last week):

Our audience made it clear that we had actually made it seem, as tho, we endorse, or allow, or, in the worst case scenario from some of the comments I’ve heard from our fans, encourage the harming and abuse of children, the bullying and villifying of those who are different, and the singling out of transgenders for harm and or __mocking?__ [I can’t get this word, I listened several times but cannot make it out]. And for that, for the education that our audience has supplied to me, I want you to very clearly understand that I proudly and fully apologize [he chokes on this word here then repeats it] apologize for those comments completely. I am sorry that this show, in any way, made it sound like we would ever tolerate any of those things that I described.

It has been made perfectly clear to us, that our tone and our delivery and our ensuing defense of our tone and delivery made it seem that we tolerate abuse towards children. And our audience is the one that told us that.

Rob then went on to repeat his important statement from last show that anyone who abuses children is wrong and that they do not support the abuse of children.

My Thoughts

This apology is an important step, but I think we all need to pay attention to whom he is apologizing. He is not apologizing to trans youth or to transgender people whose abuse was erased, mocked, or potentially encouraged. He is apologizing to his audience for “tone and delivery.” To me these distinctions show how far they still have to go in understanding why their comments were offensive. At the same time, it also shows that they are thinking about the issue in a way that at least acknowledges abuse and how their words play into that abuse.

For people who didn’t think anti-trans name-calling or expressions of abuse against imaginary children and erasure of abuse against real ones was a big deal two weeks ago, this apology represents learning and a willingness to listen. It is not an ideal apology but it is one that shows some progress.

Arnie’s Apology

In much more succinct and less prepared sounding words, Arnie also apologized while speaking directly to their two guests for the day:

I’d like to say somethin’ before we go on any further. I’d like to first say thanks to our guests for being here today, I really do appreciate you guys here [guest in background “you’re so welcome”] well, I appreciate the education and the fact that you made management buy us breakfast, so that was really nice. [laughter from the room] . . . I had some time to think and reflect on what was said during that show a week, what was it two weeks ago? And due to the ignorance of my own, I didn’t understand transgenders and their lifestyles and things that they had to go through.  I didn’t realize that my words could really effect and hurt as bad and as negatively as they did, not only to the transgender community but also to our audience, our listeners, our backbone if you will. [Arnie sniffs empathetically before continuing]

My ignorance prevented me from understanding how hard a transgenders life is, day to day.  I, I, never understood that. And I am very sorry for that.

I ignorantly thought that name-calling was just that, name-calling. And due to my ignorance I was wrong about that.

But I’d also like to address the fact that in no way have I, will I, ever endorse abuse to any child, no matter what. No matter what the situation is, I will never endorse child abuse to any child. And furthermore, if I ever have a child, if I’m ever lucky enough to have a child, and my child comes to me with an issue, whatever it may be, he can look to me or she, can look to me, and ask for my help and I will exhaust every resource that I have to not only get my child help, the help that they deserve but also give me and my wife and my family the help that we need to understand and help our child through that.

I strongly encourage all of you to listen to this apology as spoken by Arnie. Given his unabashed anger at people standing up for trans youth in previous broadcasts and his defiant refusal to apologize to the point of claiming he would quit first, I think it is important to hear the tone with which he delivered this apology. To me, Arnie sounded genuinely choked up about the situation and what he had implied during the show on May 28th. That by personalizing the comments and talking with advocates, he was able to see his way around why so many people were hurt and angered by his comments.

While I continue to question the timing of this apology, and the learning curve of the show, I do believe Arnie is truly sorry and that this has been a profound teachable moment for him.

While each of these DJs has varying work left to do on their educations and their commitment to the entire community of listeners and people whom they may or did demean, in terms of the show, I think we all just need to be vigilant about holding them to the task of continuing to respect trans rights and speak about transgender issues without insult, erasure, or reference to violence. And I believe that Arnie will think more deeply about his comments in the future, tho I feel less certain about that from Rob’s comments.

Links and Letters

The rest of the show includes interview, discussion, and call in with Kim Pearson and Autumn Sandeen. This portion of the show included some ignorant comments (ignorant defined as clueless) and carefulness of the issues and care with youth issues in particular from the hosts. The comments from some of the listeners continued certain veins of transphobia but I don’t think the DJs can be held accountable for that.

You can listen to all three segments with the following links:

After you listen, I would like to hear what others think.

————————————

Below are the two letters they also posted on their site.

letter one:

TO OUR LOYAL ROB, ARNIE AND DAWN FOLLOWERS,

WE HAVE FAILED YOU. AS A SHOW, AS PEOPLE, AS BROADCASTERS, WE HAVE SIMPLY FAILED ON ALMOST EVERY LEVEL.

WE PRESENTED OUR OPINIONS ON A VERY SENSITIVE SUBJECT IN A HATEFUL, CHILDISH AND CRUDE FASHION; AND THEN, GIVEN THE OPPORTUNITY TO RETRACT THOSE REMARKS, WE DEFENDED THEM.

SINCE THEN, YOU, OUR LOYAL LISTENERS, HAVE MADE IT CLEAR TO US THAT WE WENT TOO FAR. THE RESPONSE HAS BEEN OVERWHELMING. NONE OF YOU SAID THAT WE COULDN’T HAVE OPINIONS, YET SO MANY OF YOU SAID THAT THE WAY WE GAVE THEM CROSSED THE LINE. FURTHER, YOU SAID THAT OUR ATTEMPT TO MASK OUR COMMENTS AS “JOKES THAT WOULD BE UNDERSTOOD BY OUR AUDIENCE,” WAS UNACCEPTABLE. I WOULD SAY NOW THAT IT WAS WORSE THAN THAT, IT WAS COWARDLY. YOU HAVE MADE THAT CLEAR.

WE HAVE REACHED OUT TO VARIOUS GROUPS AND ASKED FOR A CHANCE TO MAKE THIS RIGHT; TO RESPOND, WITH THEIR PARTICIPATION, TO THE EDUCATION THAT OUR AUDIENCE HAS PROVIDED US. THAT OPPORTUNITY HAS BEEN GRACIOUSLY GRANTED THIS THURSDAY MORNING, JUNE 11TH. AT 7:30 A.M.

THE WORD APOLOGY APPEARS NO WHERE IN THIS LETTER FOR A REASON. WE ALREADY HID FROM DOING THE RIGHT THING ONCE AND WE’RE NOT GOING TO MAKE THAT MISTAKE AGAIN. APOLOGIZING IN A WRITTEN, POSTED STATEMENT IS A FORM OF COWARDICE. WE WILL SAY WHAT NEEDS TO BE SAID THIS THURSDAY.

ON A FINAL, PERSONAL NOTE, AS THE LEADER AND OWNER OF THE SHOW, I HAVE MADE THE DECISION THAT WE NEED TO REFRAIN FROM BROADCASTING NEW EPISODES UNTIL WE CAN ADDRESS THIS ON THURSDAY . WE WILL RETURN TO THE AIR AT 7:30 A.M. JUNE 11TH.

ROB WILLIAMS

ROB, ARNIE AND DAWN

The second letter:

UPDATED JUNE 11TH, 2009, 12:02 PM

A follow up statement from Rob Williams:

To the overwhelming majority of our audience, I want to say a heartfelt “thank you.” Thank you for having the courage to stand by us and to keep the show in check. It was through the loyal listeners of the Rob, Arnie and Dawn show that Arnie and I were dragged, kicking and screaming, to the reality that we had gone too far and crossed a line in the eyes of OUR audience. It is still a point of sadness and frustration that it took us so long to acknowledge our mistake, believe our audience, and begin making things right. The show of Thursday, June 11 serves to set things in forward motion.

To the minority, I question whether or not you really ever understood what it is that we do on the RAD show. To those of you insisting on continuing to cry “You Caved,” I ask you: Who did we cave to? When presented with the fact that your fellow listeners are the ones who said in no uncertain terms that we needed to step back and apologize, who exactly is it that you are suggesting we caved to?
If you feel the need to be angry at society for having its’ limitations on what they define as decent discourse, so be it. We live in a world where our free speech is granted, but the right to be heard is not. Our audience keeps us in check; not advocacy groups, not management figures and not advertisers, our listeners. Without our enormous audience, we are worthless to any advertiser, any radio station and any organization that would ask us to further their cause.

The RAD show is, has been, and will remain a show about society. We will continue to offer stark opinions and occasionally outrageous comedy, understanding that we will occasionally offend, but hopefully never hurt.
The heart of the RAD show has never truly been called into question; we are, each in our own individual way, decent, compassionate people striving to make a difference. Arnie just wants to make people laugh, Dawn just wants to make people bored, and I just want to make people think.

As the owner and leader of the show, I hope you will remain a member of our powerful family.

Rob Williams

Rob, Arnie and Dawn

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