Russell Moore: DePetro: Stay or Go, It’s About the Dough

Monday, January 06, 2014


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According to Russell Moore, the question of whether to bring back the shock jock has everything to with whether Cumulus Media, WPRO’s parent company, can still make money with DePetro.

Remarkably absent from the controversy and furor over talk show radio host John DePetro calling Raimondo protesters “whores” is the fact that WPRO’s General Manager/CEO is a woman.

Barbara Haynes is a female radio station manager in a field that, to put it mildly, is dominated by males. Despite that fact, Haynes has been quieter than a church mouse about the whole fiasco.

For those who haven’t been following the situation, DePetro, back in September of last year, was upset by the fact that protesters, the majority of them teachers and state workers, stood outside a Gina Raimondo fundraising event and protested her efforts on pension reform. DePetro, who had been a huge Raimondo supporter, called the protesters parasites, hags, and spelled out the word whores.

A call to WPRO on Thursday seeking comment from Haynes was met with radio silence. A receptionist who answered the phone did say, however, that as of then, DePetro was scheduled to return to the air today (Monday). This column’s submission deadline was prior to then.

Dollars and Cents

But regardless of what the WPRO brass decides, the decision will have nothing to do with morality or if DePetro hates women. In the same respect, this issue has nothing to do with free speech as DePetro and his friends have tried to argue. There's nothing in the first amendment that says people are entitled to have talk shows on stations they don't own.

The question of whether to bring back the shock jock has everything to with whether Cumulus Media, WPRO’s parent company, can still make money with DePetro.

It's always about the money. Nothing else matters; and this situation is no different. The real motivation of the people who are calling for DePetro's ouster is their frustration that he's long supported policies that they believe will cost them money (ie, pension reform). DePetro wants to return to the air because he wants to continue making money as a talk show host. Think about it long enough, and you'll realize this whole ordeal is rather banal.

A business, not a charity

Of course DePetro's comments were offensive and in poor taste. Does DePetro’s brand of talk show equate to “hate” radio? To quote Al Pacino's character in the movie Donnie Brasco, “that ain’t the question.”

The question is whether the John DePetro brand is strong enough to continue to attract listeners. If it is, the advertisers will follow. And when that’s the case, Cumulus will be profit from it. Cumulus is a business, not a charity.

That’s why “For Our Daughters”, a union created group, crafted a strategy around trying to get advertisers to pull their money away from the station. The group pressured Alex and Ani to pull their ads, but the jewelry designer refused.

Politicians boycotting…so what?

And then the politicians began doing what politicians do. They grabbed the headlines. Just about every politician and would-be politician has come out and said they’ll refuse to appear on the DePetro show. This gave the For Our Daughters campaign some momentum.

But this aspect of the drama has been nothing but a distracting, albeit somewhat entertaining sideshow.

To begin with, many of the politicians who have said they’ll refuse to appear on WPRO, like US Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse, never appeared on the station anyways—so what’s the big deal.

Governor Lincoln Chafee, who for years has been called “Governor Gump” by DePetro on the air was among the first to call for DePetro to be fired, and refuses to appear on WPRO because of DePetro’s comments—as if he needed a reason to take cover from right of center talk radio.

But my personal favorite was Raimondo. Despite the fact that DePetro had been carrying her water for the better part of three years—defending her at every turn, conducting embarrassing softball interviews with her, and basically doing everything short of worshiping her—Raimondo turned her back on him faster than she can say "pension reform".

Addition by subtraction

Here’s the thing about the politicians refusing to appear on WPRO, it's a red herring. If DePetro returns, and the politicians keep their word, it won't hurt DePetro's ratings at all.

Let's face it, far too often it seems like talk show hosts feel compelled to scale back their criticism of politicians during interviews out of fear that they won’t appear on their show again in the future. I'm sorry, but way more often than not, those interviews are as boring as a Bill Belichick press conference.

If the talk show personalities are not busy doing interviews that receive canned responses, we’ll hear more entertaining analysis and humor from the callers and the hosts. Believe it or not, talk shows, especially on WPRO, have some entertaining, humorous, and well-informed callers with insights superior to the hosts.

Nothing new under the sun

It’s often said that money is the mother’s milk of politics. In talk radio, it often seems like controversy is the lifeblood.

Just last week, talk radio pioneer Bob Grant passed away. As much as DePetro's spelling out the word whore to describe female protesters was offensive, it doesn't hold a candle to the racism that Grant espoused on the airwaves. Grant's comments about race were so offensive that I'm not comfortable even quoting them.

Yet despite the boycotts, protests, and general outrage, Grant always seemed to find a place on the air. The reason was as sad as it was simple: people wanted to hear him. And stations were amoral in their decisions to employ him.

Radio breeds outrage

Grant's protégé, Rush Limbaugh, has had several situations that rose to the level of controversy throughout the years. The most recent was when he called birth control advocate Sandra Fluke a “whore” in 2012. Last I heard, Rush is still offering conservative bromides on the air.

And who can forget when radio personality Don Imus disgustingly referred to Rutgers’ female basketball players in a way that was equally sexist and racist? It seemed like Imus was back on the airwaves almost as quickly as he had been ousted from them.

When all is said and done, the folks behind “For Our Daughters” may very well learn the lesson of P. T. Barnum that, “there’s no such thing as bad press.” And DePetro has gotten plenty of it lately.


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A native Rhode Islander, Russell J. Moore is a graduate of Providence College and St. Raphael Academy. He worked as a news reporter for 7 years (2004-2010), 5 of which with The Warwick Beacon, focusing on government. He continues to keep a close eye on the inner workings of Rhode Islands state and local governments.


Related Slideshow: Infamous Talk Radio Controversies

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Arbitron Ratings Scandal

In 2008, radio host John DePetro found himself in the midst of a ratings controversy.  The Boston Herald reported,

The briefly stellar ratings of controversy-dogged-talkmeister John DePetro’s Providence radio show tanked yesterday after a whiff of scandal forced Arbitron to reissue its spring survey of listener-dial habits.

In the 6 to 10 a.m. weekday slot occupied by the self-proclaimed “Independent Man” on WPRO-AM (630), “the reissue ranked WPRO at number nine” among valued 25- to 54-year-old listeners, “down from the number four rank in the original release,” program manager Paul Giammarco and station market manager Barbara Haynes announced in a joint statement.

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Candidate Name-Calling

DePetro was fired from Boston radio station WRKO in 2006 for calling then-gubernatorial Rainbow Party candidate Grace Ross a "fat lesbian." 

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Office Scuffle

The Providence Journal's Mike Stanton reported on an altercation in 2009 between DePetro and radio host Ron St. Pierre.

DePetro said he was hit -- and scratched -- in the eye with a balled up paper with a staple thrown at him by St. Pierre.  

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Buddy's Return - to Radio


After five years in prison for racketeering conspiracy from 2002 to 2007, former Mayor of Providence Buddy Cianci returned to the public eye with a radio show on WPRO.  

While controversial, Cianci's continued popularity has people wondering if Buddy might just make another run for Mayor in 2014.  

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Chafee's Talk Radio Ban

Upon taking office in 2011, Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee announced that he would not appear on talk radio shows and barred state employees in agencies and departments that report to him from doing the same during work hours.  

Governor Chafee is among the elected officials who have signed the "For Our Daughters" pledge.  

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Dennis and Callahan

WEEI sports radio hosts John Dennis and Gerry Callahan were suspended in 2003 when they referred to an escaped gorilla as a "Metco gorilla" waiting for a bus to Lexington -- with Metco being bus program that buses inner-city students to suburban schools.

Boston's" target="_blank">WCVB reported that advertisers Dunkin' Donuts and Blue Cross pulled back station support in light of the incident.  

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Severin Suspended

WTKK's Jay Severin was fired for making comments about sleeping with female employees over the years.  

Radio Ink reported on Greater Media's reaction to the incident.  

"Greater Media today ended its relationship with Jay Severin. Our company has always encouraged a free and open dialogue on a variety of issues and topics, and we will continue to be guided by that principle. But we also demand that our on-air talent maintain an appropriate level of civility, and adhere to a standard that respects our listeners and the public at large.

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Imus' Racial Remarks

in 2007, nationally syndicated talk show host Don Imus called Rutgers women's basketball players "nappy-headed hos."  Imus was suspended -- then fired -- by CBS Radio.  

Five years later, Imus was back on the national radio circuit, as reported by New

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Rush Limbaugh

Conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh is no stranger to controversy; his latest remarks prompted the Democratic National Committee to call on Republican leaders to boycott the Daily Caller, which defended Limbaugh's remarks in an article entitled, "Liberals want to stop men from checking out women." 


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