How far will conservative talk radio shock jocks go to incite hate, division, and resentment against immigrants while debasing anything and anyone supportive of immigrant rights? Will these so-called populists, experts at spreading fear and loathing stoop so low as to invade a private citizen's privacy, publicly disclose private facts, and risk placing him in the crosshairs of angry and tormented souls like them?
Meet disc jockeys John Chester Kobylt and Kenneth Robertson Chaimpou, better known as John and Ken, hosts of a four-hour weekday radio show, The John and Ken Show, on KFI AM640. Last week I got a real taste of how far these low-brow instigators will go and how low they will stoop to "stimulate" political discourse. For these trash-talking agitators any type of immigrant integration legislation is "treasonous", any immigrant supporter a "traitor", and tax-payers (code word for non-immigrant, white males) should be mad-as-hell about it all.
Late last week John and Ken decided that pushing the envelope with rabid anti-immigrant rubbish was not enough. After much on-air ranting and raving about what they labeled "the illegal alien California DREAM Act"(AB131-Cedillo) scheduled for a vote in the California Assembly the following day, they proceeded to verbally attack the "Mexican Democratic mafia" in the California State Assembly and the "traitorous" bill author Assemblyman Gill Cedillo.
"Nothing makes them happier than stealing money from an American kid and giving it to an illegal kid. They get aroused, they get excited," asserted one of the shock jocks referring to supporters of the California DREAM Act. "We got to cause trouble. They are the traitors, they have committed treason," the second shock jock chimed in. (AB131 was approved on Friday by the California State Assembly and will now go to the Governor Brown's desk). As unsavory but wildly-popular as their venting can be, public officials face this type of verbal attack constantly from the right and the left and everything in between. But when these toxic assaults violate a citizen's privacy, it is a whole different matter.
As a spokesman for CHIRLA, a non-profit immigrant rights organization, I have had my share of uncomfortable moments on and off the air with people who do not agree with my organization's stands. Differences of opinion are part of the democratic process and I cherish every opportunity to engage with those who do not think like me. In my short eight years in the immigrant rights movement I have been called quite a plethora of names but my privacy and personal safety has never been compromised.
This all changed last Thursday when John and Ken decided that during the show's popular 5 pm hour, my name, my office's direct line, and my personal cell phone number were fair game as they taunted their audience to rise up against California's attempt to pass AB131, part two of the California DREAM Act. Call Jorge, the DJs pressed the audience, to "congratulate him for stealing your taxpayer money". They went ahead and read out loud both of my phone numbers as listed in a press advisory I had sent KFI's news director. Although my phone contacts were clearly labeled, radio listeners were not informed that one of the numbers was a mobile number and likely a private number meant to be used by media outlets only.
Anyone familiar with media relations knows personal contact information is usually treated by all parties with utmost confidentiality. It's the unspoken and unwritten rule of mutual respect between a media outlet representative such as reporter, media personality, editor, or photographer, and a source, especially a private citizen working for a non-profit community advocacy organization without party affiliation.
What ensued after John and Ken urged listeners to call me was a barrage of angry, very angry, and at times threatening calls. For the next fifteen minutes, my cell phone registered 72 incoming calls and 45 voicemail messages. CHIRLA's voicemail phone system, unable to deal with the onslaught of calls, crashed. The nasty calls kept coming my way Thursday evening all the way through midnight, Friday at 2 am, and all day Friday. In all, I registered 291 calls just on my cell.
This is a sampling of some of the calls I received.
"You goddamn traitor to our nation. What the f*** are you doing? Go back to Mexico and fix your s*** over there. If I ever see your ass I'm gonna kick it. How dare you come to this country? This is a f****hostile takeover. I hope somebody shoots your ass." Cypress caller.
"Jorge, you are stealing from American citizen kids. F*** you." Los Angeles caller.
"Congratulations on the vote tomorrow that's going to steal money from college students that were born in this country. In celebration of this victory, after having lived a lifetime in California, having three separate sets of Hispanic workers that work for me at home and various jobs, I'm gonna fire all of them tomorrow and never hire another. Thanks. Enjoy." Orange County Area caller.
"How dare you, how dare you take American taxpayer's money for illegal aliens. This is gonna come to blows, I can guarantee it. Why don't you go back to wherever you came from and take those people with you and do something great in your country. And stop messing with mine."
"Am I calling the traitorous illegal alien advocate? You gotta be ashamed of yourself. Someday I think you will be." Buena Park caller.
"The Illegals are never gonna be welcomed in this country. You guys are breaking the law and you're stealing the taxpayer's money. I can't believe what you guys are doing to us." Pomona caller.
"I am so upset at you guys. You have destroyed this country and continue to destroy it. You are rewarding criminals. You guys are the worst scum of the earth I have ever seen. I can't stand you guys." Pomona caller.
"I want to thank you for stealing my hard-earned tax money to support all your Third-World illegal immigrants from Mexico. You guys might wanna save your celebration because it's gonna be short-lived. It's gonna get shut down one way or another. You guys better pack your bags. You don't belong here. Do the right thing for once, please. Go home." Beverly Hills caller.
"Is this Jorge's number? You are a f***** loser. That's all I can say right now. Speak in the f*** English, a**hole." Montebello caller.
"Jorge, you need to stop encouraging people to steal our money for illegal aliens. Shame on you. Go back to Mexico, you make us sick." Northern Los Angeles Area caller.
"Get your people out of the United States. You are not American, you are a disgrace." Anaheim caller.
In spite of the many angry calls, I am thankful only a few entered the real of threatening physical harm. I did fear for my personal safety in more than one ocassion. This is why I am taking the unusual step of changing my phone number to an unlisted one immediately and we have spruced up our security system at CHIRLA. So much misinformation can easily turn into uncontrollable rage and violence.
I wonder what the FCC will say about this intrusion of privacy and disclosure of private facts?
I understand John and Ken are upset about the California DREAM Act advancing in the state legislature. I also understand they are incensed at the fact that their objections and loud mouths have done little to diminish the support this legislation has garnished in Sacramento and across the United States. Through incendiary language that borders on hate and deceit, disclosure of private facts, and misrepresentation of my work as a representative of an organization, John and Ken rule the ultra-conservative airwaves seemingly oblivious to the ardors their "amusing theatre" may ignite.
These so-called entertainers, with an audience of almost one million nationwide, have got it all wrong. The kind of hate-speech they are inciting should raise big red flags for anyone intent on building decent, respectable, and tolerant dialogue in our society. It is clear we differ on how our beautiful nation benefits from its immigrant community but such differences should not descend into the abyss of destructive, racist, divisive demagoguery that passes for free speech. It is even more insulting and dangerous when John and Ken get their kicks baiting their audience to go against private citizens like me. If anyone should be ashamed of their infantile and impudent behavior it's John and Ken.
Follow Jorge-Mario Cabrera on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jmcabrerapr