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For political junkies in the New York / New Jersey metropolitan area it's de ja vu all over again this election cycle. WABC has wheeled the Grand Kleagle of hate radio Bob Grant out of a rest home for vitriolic, retrograde talk show hosts. After retiring last year from a rival station, Grant joins the network in a line-up that also includes wingnut stalwarts Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity. Given Grant's previous outspoken support for GOP hopeful Rudy Giuliani's mayoral ambitions in the 90s, might Team Rudy have acquired an influential, albeit controversial, mouthpiece?
Grant's firing from WABC ten years ago stemmed from intemperate comments he made about the late Secretary of Commerce and former Democratic Party Chair Ron Brown. The latter was in a plane crash on a trip to Bosnia. When reports surfaced their might be survivors Grant commented to the effect he hoped Ron Brown was not among them. Executives at The Disney Company, which owned WABC at the time, decided to fire Grant who had been a thorn in their side for years. Grant's return this year was only possible because Disney recently sold its radio network to Citadel Broadcasting. With the upcoming presidential campaign its a perfect opportunity to increase ratings in the 8 to 10 PM time slot by resurrecting the ghost of Thomas Dixon, and sit Grant behind a microphone to spew his venomous hatred against blacks, immigrants and, most of all, liberals.
Bob Grant has a long and very active involvement in political affairs, including presidential campaigns. I began listening to him in 1992 when he was campaigning aggressively for President Bush. At the time he made it seem there could be nothing worse for the country than to elect Slick Willie (as he always referred to Bill Clinton). The only person he held in greater contempt than Slick Willie was Hillary, whom he referred to as Slick Willie's boss. Just a few days before the election, when it seemed Bush had a chance to carry New Jersey, Grant introduced the latter at a huge rally.
After the 1992 election Grant continued his verbal assaults against "Slick Willie and his boss". Things began to turn around in 1993 during the elections for the Governor of New Jersey and Mayor of New York. Republicans Christie Whitman and Rudy Giuliani won their respective races, in which Grant took an active role both on the radio and in personal appearances. He campaigned very hard for Giuliani while the latter made almost daily appearances on Grant's show near the end of the campaign. On election night when Giuliani declared victory, Grant was featured prominently on stage with the winner.
Bob Grant was now at the top of his game both politically and professionally. His show was the highest rated talk show in its time period, and candidates were anxious to receive his endorsement. The top two politicians on Grant's hit list for the 1994 election were New York Governor Mario Cuomo, who he referred to as "sfachime" (Italian for low life), and New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg, referred to as "Lousenberg". Lautenberg, projected to be in a close race, was determined not to turn the other cheek to Grant's verbal attacks and launched his own preemptive strike. He aired television ads attacking his opponent for appearing on Grant's show, who he described as racist. At the same time a group of black ministers in New Jersey started their own protest movement against Grant which resulted in Governor Christie Whitman announcing that she would no longer appear on the program. Despite the controversy and protests, which ironically may have boosted Grant's ratings, his show still seemed secure. However some politicians, notably moderate Republicans like Rudy Giuliani and Christie Whitman, continued to avoid appearing on the program.
Grant stayed on the air at WABC until he was fired for the Ron Brown comments in 1996. During that time a group called Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) continued to monitor his broadcasts and provide relevant information to interested parties. Shortly after he was fired Grant popped up on a competing station, WOR, in the same time slot. He continued to snipe at the Clintons and promote right wing causes and candidates even though many moderate Republicans avoided his show. Ironically, one of the few Democrats to appear on his program was Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman, the poster boy for neoconservative imperialists. As the years progressed Grant began to lose his audience as right wing favorite Sean Hannity took over the competing slot on WABC, and he retired last year as it became apparent, based on the show's advertising, that there was nothing left of his audience except tired, dysfunctional, and impotent elderly white males with bald heads and bad teeth.
The major difference between Grant and Hannity is that the latter, like his blowhard mentor Rush Limbaugh, could always be expected to take marching orders from the RNC and parrot the official GOP line on issues as they are presented in the party's platform. Grant, on the other hand, often embraces the Democrat side on social issues like abortion and gun control. In that regard he is more like Rudy Giuliani than George Bush. The problem with Grant, however, is his obsession with racial issues in general and immigration in particular. This is what has gotten him in trouble in the past.
I'm not surprised Grant is back on the air as the presidential campaign heats up. For any front runner, including Giuliani, climbing in bed with Grant could prove politically suicidal. The stink of his thinly veiled xenophobia and racism is just to strong. Perhaps these views will lead him to throw his weight behind Tom Tancredo or Duncan Hunter, both of whom are leaders in the movement to send immigrants back to where they come from, and stop any more from coming in. It will be interesting to see if any in the GOP second tier call in or show up at the studio, as doing so would give them a receptive audience. This may be especially crucial as the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut primaries occur on February 5.
Regardless, the presidential campaign season in the tri state region promises a lot more fireworks and entertaining discourse with Bob Grant on the air tossing his verbal incendiary bombs at liberal Democrats, and especially his old nemesis Hillary.
The above piece was produced through OffTheBus, a citizen journalism project hosted at the Huffington Post and launched in partnership with NewAssignment.Net. For more information, read Arianna Huffington's project introduction. If you'd like to join our blogging team, sign up here. If you're interested in other opportunities, you can see the list here.