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Wasn't Severin just doing his job?

Byline: Dianne Williamson

COLUMN: DIANNE WILLIAMSON

I won't shed too many tears for Jay Severin, the obnoxious radio talkmeister who was given the boot by his bosses yesterday, days after bragging about his alleged sexual conquests with young female employees.

After all, the guy was making $1 million a year to cork off on WTKK-FM, and he'll likely land on his well-heeled feet.

But firing a talk radio host for boorish language is like kicking a cat because it scratched the furniture. Both creatures have claws; it's in their nature to use them. Clearly, Severin wasn't one of the highest paid shock jocks in Boston due to his daily recitation of Robert's Rules of order. Maybe we should blame our lowbrow tastes, rather than those who indulge them.

In a statement yesterday, Greater Media Inc. must have had its tongue lodged firmly in cheek when it explained that Severin was let go because he failed to maintain "an appropriate level of civility and adhere to a standard that respects our listeners and the public at large." Are they kidding? Severin was a shock jock. Based on those criteria, any shock jock could be fired any day of the week. Maintaining "an appropriate level of civility" isn't in their vocabulary, and it isn't why listeners tune in.

Severin was suspended last week after discussing a lawsuit involving a CEO who is being sued for sexual harassment by former female employees. Severin called the women "whores and liars" and said they belong in jail. He also said he didn't understand what all the fuss was about, telling his listeners that as a former company owner, he had hired "mostly attractive young women" and had sex with nearly all of them over two decades.

"I slept with virtually every young college girl I hired to be an intern or an employee for my firm," Severin crowed. "That's not the purpose for which they were hired, but it certainly was an ancillary dimension of the job."

Jay, how proud your mother must be. His prompt suspension came two years after he was taken off the air for a month for calling Mexican immigrants "primitives," "leeches" and exporters of "women with mustaches and VD."

His bosses were well aware of his provocative and inflammatory rhetoric, because the staples of talk radio in 2011 are ad hominem attacks, mean-spiritedness and misogyny. Not every talkmeister sinks to such depths and confuses debate with name-calling, but these self-satisfied idiots are everywhere, even right in our backyard.

And just as Don Imus was booted for making racist remarks about a women's basketball team, Severin's firing has again raised issues about standards, freedoms and rights. First, let's stipulate that Severin has no inherent right to be on the radio and he can be disciplined as his bosses see fit, depending on his contract. This isn't an issue of censorship, either, as Severin can climb on the nearest soapbox and spout any nonsense he chooses.

Still, is it hypocritical for a company to fire a highly-paid shock jock for offensiveness, around the same time that his ratings are lagging? Or should we welcome such purported devotion to civility, for whatever reason?

It says much about the complex nature of the controversy that outspoken women's rights attorney Wendy Murphy, who has strong opinions on just about everything, expressed mixed feelings over Severin's firing. Murphy is a substitute host for WTKK and has filled in for Severin.

"I've known Jay for a long time, and he's always been intentionally provocative," Murphy said. "His skills at putting hateful ideas into compelling sentences have created an audience."

She said she found his comments offensive, but he broke no law by sleeping with female employees unless the sex was unwanted, a quid pro quo or harassment. Still, she said she's heartened when women are being offered an "equal seat at the discrimination table" often reserved for, say, black people and Muslims. And while she defends Severin's right to say obnoxious stuff, he's not entitled to his job.

"I'm torn about it," she acknowledged. "He's not my cup of tea. But when I don't like what he says, I just turn the channel."

That's the solution, isn't it? Rather than wait for corporate bosses to swoop in and feign outrage only when it suits their pocketbooks, wouldn't it be better if the listeners sent these loud-mouthed louts the only message they understand?

Turn the channel and tune in our better instincts. Prove that we've become less willing to wallow in the gutter and support those who insult and demean. In the case of Severin and others like him, silence really would be golden.

Contact Dianne Williamson via e-mail at dwilliamson@telegram.com
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Title Annotation:LOCAL NEWS
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Apr 7, 2011
Words:785
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