ASIAN-AMERICANS PROTEST RADIO SATIRE.
Asian and Latino groups demanded an apology from talk radio KFI-AM (640) Wednesday for what they said were racist comments uttered by morning show host Bill Handel two weeks ago.
Handel said he was playing the role of a bigot to illustrate the absurdity of racism during his March 26 broadcast when he remarked about Asian-American ice skating stars Kristi Yamaguchi and Michelle Kwan.
He invited the complaining community groups to join him on his program Friday, when he will respond to the issue.
``Regardless of his intent, the statements he made were clearly racist and damaging,'' said Bonnie Tang, staff attorney at the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, one of several groups that met with Handel and station officials.
``When you describe a particular race with certain physical characteristics as un-American, it's offensive,'' she said. ``It's not humorous or sarcastic. The damage is done. We feel that because even his regular listeners called the show to voice their outrage, an apology is necessary.''
Representatives of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, the Japanese American Citizens League, the Chinese Civil Liberties Organization and the National Hispanic Media Coalition met for more than an hour Wednesday with KFI officials.
``They have a legitimate viewpoint in many ways,'' Handel said afterward. ``They said I had created some damage in their community. I made the point the show was entirely satire.''
Tang called the meeting ``mixed'' and said Handel still doesn't comprehend the ``depth of harm'' that can be caused by racial insults.
``He agreed to make an oral apology on the air Friday or Monday,'' she said. ``But we also feel the station itself must be held accountable and offer a written apology to us. If they do not, we may encourage a boycott of their sponsors.''
Handel has hosted the KFI morning show for three years and often makes outrageous comments about current events and personalities in the news to provoke his audience.
According to a transcript of the broadcast, Handel said figure skating was an American sport, not a Chinese or Japanese sport.
``I'm tired of the Kristi Yamaguchis and the Michelle Kwans,'' he said on the air. ``And when I look at a box of Wheaties, all right? I don't want to see eyes that are like all slanted and Oriental and almond shaped. I want American eyes looking at me.''
Handel said his remarks were made in a satirical vein.
``I took the role of this redneck, racist, white trash sleazeball to make a point,'' Handel said. ``It was sarcasm. I thought it was so obvious that everybody would get the point. I guess not. Unfortunately, in this age of political correctness, even playing the role of a racist is considered incorrect. I'm perplexed and surprised by this reaction.''
Supervisor Mike Antonovich said Tuesday that Handel should be fired for his remarks. But KFI program director David Hall said nobody would be let go.
``I don't think Mr. Antonovich knows what he's talking about,'' Hall said. ``He has no idea how this station operates.''
Handel said he had received 25 to 30 phone calls and a number of letters criticizing him for his remarks.
``I am perplexed at how many people missed the point,'' he said.
But Guy Aoki, president of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans, said Handel was the one missing the point.
``He's blaming everyone but himself,'' Aoki said. ``We are so serious about him redressing the situation we will take any action we need to take, including a sponsor boycott. We want an apology that demonstrates he understands this won't happen again. I don't think you should use racial slurs in comedy. Unfortunately, a lot of people are very much like the character he was portraying.''
Photo: Bill Handel
``Perplexed and surprised''