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KFI-AM Apologizes to Cosbys

Radio: Station expresses regret for on-air remarks by nighttime host Tammy Bruce, who says she's considering legal action.

August 21, 1998|JUDITH MICHAELSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a highly unusual statement aired eight times over a two-hour period Wednesday night and Thursday morning--in which the word "apology" was used 10 times--top management at talk station KFI-AM (640) expressed deep regret, made corrections and offered retractions for comments made by nighttime host Tammy Bruce involving Camille and Bill Cosby and the murder of their son, Ennis.

KFI's nearly five-minute apology was pre-recorded by program director David G. Hall, who spoke for 4 1/2 minutes, and Howard Neal, vice president and general manager.

Noting that Bruce's opinions began to "overtake the facts," Hall called various comments by the KFI host "unfounded, mean-spirited and simply inappropriate."

The 36-year-old host, a former president of the Los Angeles chapter of the National Organization for Women, has been on suspension since July 10, a day after commenting about the Cosbys on her show, which airs weeknights between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m.

Bruce said in a statement Thursday that she was "shocked and disappointed" by the management statement. "This kind of reaction to an attack on opinion and protected and defensible speech not only personally saddened me but has a chilling effect on the nature of talk radio itself and the importance of the 1st Amendment."

She added that she and her attorney will determine Monday "our own course of action" and that they will release a more detailed public statement the week of Aug. 31.

Bruce, who has been with KFI since 1994, got into trouble with controversial comments she made following an essay by Camille Cosby that was published in USA Today on July 8. Printed the day after Mikail Markhasev was found guilty of the 27-year old doctoral student's murder on Jan. 16, 1997, Mrs. Cosby began: "I believe America taught our son's killer to hate African Americans," and cited a racist remark made by Markhasev.

Hall said in his taped remarks that "while it was entirely appropriate to voice disagreement with Mrs. Cosby's views," Bruce's comments were "excessive, and for that we apologize."

"Specifically," Hall said, "Mrs. Cosby was characterized as 'incredibly unstable, crazy, paranoid, delusional, just nuts' and the like. It was suggested that Mrs. Cosby seek therapy. We had no information about Mrs. Cosby's mental health. . . . We wish to apologize.

"Similarly, in challenging Mrs. Cosby's assertion that her son's killing was racially motivated, we suggested that Mrs. Cosby caused her son's death by giving him access to an expensive car. Those comments were remarkably insensitive. . . . Ours were cruel statements to make to parents whose son had recently been murdered."

As for Bill Cosby, Hall said statements by Bruce about him were "false, offensive and unnecessarily hurtful. And they too need to be retracted." Hall cited "our statements" that Cosby had "multiple illegitimate children as a result of multiple extramarital affairs with white women," and another that he "secretly funded the criminal defense of O.J. Simpson."

Neal said: "I want to add my apology for the false and insensitive statements. . . . We deeply regret having caused them pain, and sincerely apologize" to the Cosbys and listeners.

Bruce Says Comments Taken Out of Context

In a brief interview Thursday, Bruce alleged that KFI "put my comments completely out of context." As an example, she pointed to the "incredibly unstable" characterization of Mrs. Cosby, saying that what she had said on the air was that "there's a problem. Or she's incredibly unstable. And I don't think she's incredibly unstable."

Without offering detail, she said other KFI hosts have had complaints registered against them on other occasions without any suspension but that her situation is "unprecedented" and "inherently unfair."

She added, obliquely: "There is another element that is beyond the Cosby issue that I can't go into details about, which will be part of our larger statement."

Then, with obvious reference to the Cosbys, Bruce noted that "KFI trained me and other hosts to speak our minds" but she now concludes that the "rich and powerful" are not supposed to be spoken about. "It's only the little guy who can be discussed, when in fact it's the rich and powerful that are worth discussing," she said.

In his on-air statement, program director Hall said, "We are no stranger to controversy, and we approach boundaries of taste and outrageous opinion all the time. But when we cross the line, we want to do the right thing."

Both Neal and Cosby publicist David Brokaw declined to say whether the Cosbys had threatened to sue KFI.

"I have nothing to say" about KFI's apology, Brokaw said. "Of course, I know about it. We're choosing to let the statement speak for itself."

Asked whether he was satisfied with KFI's response, Brokaw repeated: "I want to confine myself to the fact that the statement speaks for itself."

On whether there had been the threat of a suit, Neal said, "I can't comment. And I'm not doing it to be arrogant. There are some reasons why I can't."

As for Bruce's employment status, he noted: "I can't comment on that point either." But he indicated he would have some information "probably within a week."

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