Writing the Wrongs

Promoting genocide in Palestine gets a slap on the wrist

by Sydney White

John Michaels has a popular radio talk-back show on CKTB, St. Catherines. He's been on the air so long that he refers to his audience as "family". Weekdays from 9 a.m. until noon, he shares his opinions on just about everything. In March, Michaels, who says he is "on the Israeli side", was busy fielding complaints after he said that the Israelis should kill (Palestinians) indiscriminately.

Six months later, last Sept. 10, Michaels got his slap on the wrist from Ron Cohen, chairman of the Canadian Broadcast Council. Cohen had been invited by Michaels to share the last hour of the show. The first two hours consisted of a long monologue by Michaels who was trying to make the case that the media was not censored or biased. Michaels received several calls from people who disagreed with him, presenting evidence that the media censors itself. After the callers were off the air and could not respond, he pronounced them all "fanatics". He then went on to divulge his theory that fanatics were people who talked calmly and plainly, but that was an act. However, in my spotty listening to Michaels, he has called people in disagreement with him "morons", "fools" or any other epithet that appeals to his sense of humour -- always after he has pushed the button. His yuks are usually echoed by his sound man.

The tete a tete with Ron Cohen was just as jolly. After a half hour of chat, where he and Ron shared laughter and anecdotes about their jobs, Michaels copped the plea that his genocidal advice to Israel occurred as he was "going from talk show host to entertainer". Ron soothingly reminded him that "on three occasions in three hours" there seemed to be recommendations that the Israelis should engage in "indiscriminate killing". Cohen then went on to say, "You were solidly in the right place, but we were concerned about the comments."

Liz, one of John's listener "family", called to say, "You're the most responsible broadcaster on the air. Why should we have to worry about political correctness?" Michaels, possibly embarrassed by her view that recommending wholesale murder is merely faulty semantics, responded, "But I promoted genocide on the air."

Ron Cohen suggested that an apology might be in order because it would "benefit the industry". Michaels then played a few bars of the old Patsy Kline song, "I'm Sorry," and said, "I accept the slap on the wrist. I read the ruling and I didn't take it lightly."

More staunch fans called in to point out that the broadcasting councils were much more lenient with Howard Stern. Cohen explained that Howard was not really working in the same area. At noon he left the show with these words to Michaels: "It was a pleasure for me to be on your show. You're a gentleman and a scholar and I agree with Liz." As they say, "All's well that ends well."

Just a couple of questions that weren't answered on the show: Who exactly are on the board of the Broadcast Council? What are Ron Cohen's qualifications? And how would the Council have responded if John Michaels' genocidal advice had been to the Palestinians? Just hypothetical. No one in the media would even posit that last question. They'd rather undergo boil implants.

If you have any doubt that "ignorance is bliss" (even well paid), tune in to John Michaels. There's one happy guy!

Sydney White is a member of the Committee on Monetary and Economic Reform. She teaches Studies in Propaganda at the Free University of Toronto.