- The Washington Times - Friday, July 29, 2005

Talk-show host Michael Graham, suspended by radio station WMAL-AM (630) this week for calling Islam a “terrorist organization,” will not appear this weekend on “Eye on Washington,” the syndicated television show where he has been a regular panelist.

Darryll J. Green, president and general manager of WUSA-TV (Channel 9), the CBS affiliate that produces and distributes “Eye on Washington,” did not return telephone calls yesterday, and it was not clear if Mr. Graham’s absence was linked to his statements on Islam.

On Monday, Mr. Graham — who hosts a midmorning show weekdays on WMAL — told listeners that “Islam is at war with America.” He also said that “Islam is a terrorist organization,” “We are at war with a terrorist organization called Islam,” and “The problem is not extremism. The problem is Islam.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations called on WMAL to discipline Mr. Graham and urged its members to contact WMAL advertisers. At least one, Moore Cadillac Hummer, wrote to the group to denounce Mr. Graham’s statements but did not say it would pull its ads.

The station initially refused to discipline Mr. Graham, but it relented Thursday by pulling him off the air without pay while it investigates.

WMAL’s top managers declined comment yesterday. Chris Berry, the station’s president and general manager, referred a reporter to a written statement in which he said, “We do not condone [Mr. Graham’s] position and believe his statements were irresponsible.”

Mr. Graham could not be reached yesterday.

Veteran broadcasting executive Jim Farley, vice president of news and programming for rival WTOP (1500 AM and 107.7 FM), said the suspension could be a stunt designed to keep WMAL’s name in the news.

Program directors generally relish publicity, Mr. Farley said.

On the other hand, WMAL may have legitimately felt pressured to pull Mr. Graham off the air because of the D.C. area’s ties to the “diplomatic community,” he said.

“Maybe it’s a little more sensitive when it happens here,” Mr. Farley said.

The Walt Disney Co. owns WMAL’s corporate parent.

From a business perspective, a radio or TV station has a right to free speech, but its employees do not necessary have the same right, said Arthur Spitzer, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union for the National Capital Area.

“The radio station has the right to broadcast what it wants to broadcast. The Washington Post has the right to drop an op-ed columnist it doesn’t like. [Mr. Graham] is an employee of a private corporation. The First Amendment protects you from the government, not from a private employer,” Mr. Spitzer said.

Whether a radio station suspends or fires a talk-show hosts depends on the host’s value, said Michael Harrison, publisher of the Talkers industry trade magazine.

For example, Michael Savage, a syndicated commentator based in San Francisco, also has made inflammatory comments about Islam but has not been penalized by his employer because of his popularity, Mr. Harrison said.

“This is the way the industry operates. Perhaps Michael Graham misjudged his valuation to his station,” Mr. Harrison said.

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