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MEDIA OBSERVER Just Talk BY MICHAEL KING 0 ctober was a tough month for right-wing radio talk-show hosts. Their glum candidate-by-default, BobDole, was sinking dismally across the nation, and like BobDole’s stump speeches, the broadcasters were getting increasingly desperate and strident. The 800-pound Gorilla of Gab, Rush Limbaugh, was reciting GOP campaign screeds verbatim and denouncing the voters excepting, of course, his own independentminded “dittoheads”as ignorant. Closer to home, in Austin, a single week in late October brought the spontaneous combustion of not one but two of the capital city’s radio rightists. Paul Pryor, wayward son of Cactus, and mercenary propagandist for whatever the will bear, resigned from KVET-AM, to return voluntarily to jail \(and substanceprobation for two 1992 theft convictions. And Pryor’s afternoon competition, the 2 to 6 p.m. “Rollye James Show” on KLBJAM, was also canceled last monthafter James made and broadcast a casual assassination threat against President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore. James and the station later claimed that the threat was only a “joke,” supposedly unaware that federal law forbids all threats on the president’s or vice-president’s lifeeven in jest. Officially, James and KLBJ station management described the cancellation as the result of “creative differences.” Differences there certainly werebut they were “creative” only in the sense that Limbaugh’s willfully distorted version of reality is “creative.” And on a given day, James can make Limbaughwho preceded her on the station’s mid-day lineupsound like a rational, bleeding-heart moderate. Although James projects the air of a light-hearted conversationalist, mixing right-wing conspiracy theories with pop-music trivia, she is quick to denounce anyone she disapproves ofDemocrats, environmentalists, union-members, government employees, and virtually anybody to the left of Pat Buchananas “socialist” or “communist.” As you might guess, among her foremost political heroes is, the red-baiting Senator, Joe McCarthy. Like McCarthy’s, James’ hyperbolic rants were canceled after she finally went just a step too farsubjecting the station to a criminal investigation by the Secret Service and the U.S. Attorney. After reviewing a tape of the show, the Secret Service and the U.S. Attorney’s office described the broadcast as “irresponsible,” but decided not to prosecute. Readers might be interested to know what the vitriolic James considers political commentary, and what KLBJ management siders responsible programming. On October 15, I happened to be listening to KLBJ when a caller praised a bumper-sticker that read, “Where is Lee Harvey Oswald now that we need him?” James enthusiastically agreed, but added that if Clinton were killed, Vice President Al Gore would have JAMES ENTHUSIASTICALLY AGREED, BUT ADDED THAT IF CLINTON WERE KILLED, VICE PRESIDENT AL GORE WOULD HAVE TO BE SHOT AS WELL, “PERHAPS WITH THE SAME BULLET.” tp be shot as well, “perhaps with the same bullet.” Gore is “more dangerous” than Clinton, said James, because Gore “really believes in all these socialistic programs.” According to KLBJ General Manager Mike Crusham, who confirmed my summary of the broadcast remarks, James later explained to him that her comments were a “joke gone bad.” Readers may judge whether James’ remarks approach even the lower reaches of humor. But they were also apparently in violation of federal law, whichas in the case of airport bomb threatsexplicitly forbids assassination threats, even in jest. The specific federal statute reads: Whoever knowingly or willfully… [makes]… any threat to take the life of or to inflict bodily harm upon the President of the United States [or the Vice President or] makes any such threat against the Presi dent…shall be fined not more than $1,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both. [18 USC Section 871] When the call longing for the return of Lee Harvey Oswald came in, James did not hesitate in endorsing the caller’s message and making it explicit. It was James who suggested that the only problem with killing Clinton was that Gore would succeed him, so that a double assassination would be necessary. The caller agreed, and suggested that “if the bullet hit Clinton first, it would be poisoned, and so would certainly kill Gore.” Although the tone of James’ remarks was not, apparently, deadly earnest, neither was she obviously joking. When I phoned Mike Crusham about James’ remarks, he said he had heard only the beginning of the conversation, but would listen to the and call me back. The next day’ he did so. Crusham said he had listened to the tape, that it essentially confirmed my version of the conversation, but that he believed the threat was a “joke gone bad,” and that believe anybody took me seriously.” He said the station had received numerous complaints and a visit from the Secret Service \(whose agents are , required to James was surprised when told of the Secret Service inquiries, but when I asked Crusham if he had told her she had apparently broken the law, he answered, “I didn’t know it was against the law until you just told me.” The station was doing some “soul-searching,” Crusham said, but there was not much more he could do”except to tell her not to do it again.” A few days later, Crusham called me with a correction: he had not personally listened to the tape, but had it summarized by James and KLBJ Program Director Mark Caesar. Crusham again told James “not to say it, and not to joke about it,” and that if it happens again, “she will be fired.” No longer defending the “joke,” Crusham said NOVEMBER 8, 1996 12 THE TEXAS OBSERVER