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'John and Ken' complaints prompt Latino groups to picket Clear Channel

A protester's sign outside the Clear Channel offices in Burbank, Calif., Oct. 13, 2011
A protester's sign outside the Clear Channel offices in Burbank, Calif., Oct. 13, 2011
Photo by Leslie Berestein Rojas/KPCC

Several Latino organizations took their complaint against KFI-640 AM's "John and Ken" talk show to the street today, picketing outside the offices of Clear Channel Communications in Burbank to call for the firing of hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou.

The conservative talk radio duo came under fire recently after giving out the phone number of an immigrant advocacy group's spokesman on air, resulting in the man being subjected to hundreds of hate calls.  Today, representatives from the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), the League of Latino American Citizens, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and other groups staged a rally outside the media company's offices at 3400 W. Olive Ave., attended by few dozen protesters.

"We call on KFI to fire them immediately," said Alex Nogales, president and CEO of the National Hispanic Media Coalition, a Pasadena-based media and civil rights advocacy group.

On the receiving end of the hate calls was Jorge-Mario Cabrera of CHIRLA, whose number was given out as the radio hosts railed against the recently-signed California Dream Act. Cabrera received a string of expletive-laced rants along the lines of up "go back to wherever it is you came from" and worse, some of them threatening.

During the press conference today, Nogales read from transcripts of a few of the calls made to Cabrera, including this one: "Listen you pile of garbage, I hope you get f***ing cancer tomorrow and start to die. You need to pack your sh*t up and go back to wherever it is that you came from. Nobody wants you here. You are invading the legal people that are in this country and ruining this country. I hope you choke in your own vomit."

Clear Channel released a statement this afternoon. An excerpt:

We’ve had some very productive and meaningful meetings with a broad coalition of influential leaders in our community including the Latin Business Association, the Latino Institute for Corporate Inclusion and the Latino Coalition. We believe we are starting an important dialogue and building relationships.

These organizations have decided to engage constructively with KFI so that we can address their concerns and understand one another better. We are grateful for their willingness to engage in thoughtful discussion with the goal of building bridges and better serving Southern California.

Unfortunately, some groups continue to have a non-negotiable demand as a pre-condition of working together.

The Clear Channel statement went on to say that efforts had been made to reach out to Cabrera, and that "the language used by some callers to Mr. Cabrera was reprehensible and unacceptable, and we have disavowed it. As targets of threats themselves, John and Ken are extremely sensitive to language that could be viewed as inciting threats or violence."

Last week, a Clear Channel representative canceled a meeting with the groups calling for "John and Ken" to be pulled off air. Market manager Greg Ashlock told the Los Angeles Times that he canceled because their request "had become an ultimatum." From the story:

“I’m more than happy to sit down with anybody who has a concern and talk it out but we’re not going to be held hostage to demands that are outlandish,” Ashlock said.

The complaints today went beyond the "John and Ken" hosts giving out Cabrera's number. The show regularly advocates for immigration restrictions, but the hosts often take it too far, said Inez Gonzalez, the National Hispanic Media Coalition's vice president. "John and Ken have been doing this for years, for years since the nineties, demonizing the Latino community," Gonzalez said.

Maria Rodriguez, a program coordinator with CHIRLA, reiterated that the group wants to see the program off the air, saying that what Kobylt and Chiampou did was irresponsible.

"Within minutes of the DJ announcing the number, there were three hundred calls," said Rodriguez, who was with Cabrera when the calls began pouring in. She said Cabrera has taken some time off work after the incident.

Nogales said that in addition to pushing to get the show off the air, the groups are also going after the show's advertisers, hoping to persuade them to pull their dollars. Three advertisers have so far agreed to do so, according to the media advocacy group. No legal action has been taken, Nogales said, but "we are looking at the privacy laws of the state of California" to see if there is a basis for a lawsuit. "They crossed the line," he said.