So what happened at KFI?
My mailbox has been full over the past few days. I first became aware of the controversy involving evening host Tim Conway Jr. and executive producer Sheron Bellio via a May 14 article in AsAmNews, a publication that offers both original stories and aggregates news about the Asian American community (read it here). Louis Chan, their national correspondent, wrote about a skit done during Conway’s May 3 program. Among the highlights from the story:
· When (listener) Keith Kawamoto heard a bit by Tim Conway Jr on KFI-AM 640 imitating a Japanese American woman, Kawamoto “couldn’t believe” they were doing that. The sketch on May 3 involved the long time Los Angeles radio host supposedly interviewing the wife of (KLAC-AM 570 LA Sports) sportscaster Vic “the Brick” Jacobs, Yuko Sakamoto.
· “The imitation was so stereotypical with the character saying “Moshi-moshi” & “Ah-so” type comments in a sing-song voice interspersed with karate screams with gongs gonging in the background,” Kawamoto said to AsAmNews.
· “It wasn’t an attack on Asian Americans. It was an impersonation of Vic the Brick Jacobs who is known for his Zen sayings, Haikus and his wife’s name happens to be Yuko – it would’ve been the same impersonation if her name was Jane Wells,” Conway, the son of the late comedian Tim Conway, wrote (to Kawamoto).
(KFI) Assistant Program Director Neil Saavedra explained that Jacobs is an over- the-top personality who wears “funny hats” and regularly recites haikus and uses gongs as part of his normal routine. “The voice you’re hearing is not an Asian tonality. It’s them doing an impersonation of Vic,” he said. “Under the microscope of the horrendous stories (anti-Asian hate) going on in our community, we can hear why that would have landed differently.”
On Friday night, May 21, Bellio offered this on-air apology :
On May 3rd during our show, I did an impression in which I perpetuated stereotypes of Asian Americans, only adding to an already difficult time for many. I want to sincerely apologize for my actions that have offended and hurt listeners and anyone in the Asian American / Pacific Islander community. I am deeply sorry that my failed attempt at humor was insensitive and I feel horrible about that. My words tonight will never convey the shame that I’m feeling because of my actions and I just…I really want to apologize.
Conway offered his own mea culpa:
Both Sheron and I will be off next week. Yep, suspended. We whole-heartedly agreed with that decision and, again, we are both incredibly sorry. We will look forward to returning to the show on Tuesday, June 1st, with a fresh perspective.
We believe it’s important to take this time to recognize the issue of hate crimes against Asians that have significantly increased over the last few months. In fact, these crimes have doubled in the last month. And over the last year and a half, Asian Americans across this country including in our very own Southland communities, have endured despicable and sickening acts of hate and violence, fearing for their safety and the safety of their families.
KFI program director Robin Bertolucci earlier told AsAmNews, “The last thing we wanted to do was hurt anybody…The whole thing was that people start acting as their spouses.” On Tuesday, Bertolucci offered her own apology to Deadspin.com:
We of course take matters of this nature very seriously. Their failed attempt to what they thought would be a humorous shtick was thoughtless and unacceptable, and we apologize to anyone who was offended. They both have since apologized on air and I can assure you the situation is being handled appropriately internally. That said, we wanted to make things right with a plan that was not only deeply apologetic, but also educational, and focused on the community – taking further action to help combat racism against the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.
You can read the entire Deadspin.com article here. We reached out to Bertolucci for an additional comment and will offer an update as warranted.
Bertolucci also announced the station will be airing a two-hour program on anti-Asian American hate which will feature Guy Aoki, founding president of the Media Action Network for Asian Americans (MANAA) produced by the KFI news department. The program is scheduled to air Sunday, May 30, from 4 to 6 p.m. For now, Aoki, whose organization first called attention to the aforementioned skit to station management, is dissatisfied with the apologies offered, he nonetheless told Deadspin.com that he and MANAA “now looks forward to working with KFI on projects that will help create a better understanding of, and support for, the Asian American community.”
“I told them I’ve been doing this for 29 years and as far as L.A. radio goes, that’s one of the worst things I’ve ever heard,” said Aoki.
This is not the first time KFI has run afoul of MANAA. In 1996, along with the Asian Pacific Legal and Defense Fund, they accused morning host Bill Handel of anti-Asian racism when he made the on-air comment: “I’m tired of seeing slanted-eyed figure skaters winning all the time,” referring to Olympians Michelle Kwan and Kristi Yamaguchi. “When I look at a box of Wheaties, I don’t wanna see eyes that’re like all slanted and Oriental and almond-shaped. I want American eyes looking at me!” Handel later offered a formal apology.
As I mentioned, I received a lot of comments in my inbox as well as having several conversations over the last couple of days. Here’s a sample:
· “I’m surprised that Sharon Bellio is involved. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve met. I’m also surprised that they portrayed Yuko Sakamoto with a heavy, stereotypical accent. She’s not even from Japan, she was born here!”
· “There is an enormous amount of pressure (unfairly) being placed on Robin. I hope she doesn’t become the ‘fall-guy’ (or ‘fall-gal’ in this case).”
· “In a public company such as iHeart, decisions such as this are made way above local station management. I wouldn’t be surprised if attorneys, market managers, and even higher levels of management are involved. Robin is merely carrying out what she is being told to do by the hierarchy.”
· “Tim Conway Jr. is one of the good guys in the business. I’m hoping this one incident doesn’t define his career.”
· “First it was the Blacks and now the Asians. She has no control over her on-air crew. Robin Bertolucci should be fired.”
· “Talk radio nowadays is about pushing the limits. Tim didn’t go to Robin and ask for her approval (before the bit). Robin probably got a text from someone and proceeded to do everything she could.”
· “I’m tired of Asian Americans being portrayed as the ‘model minority,’ expected not to speak out. Now is our time. We need to be heard. I’m scared for my (Asian American) children, I’m scared for my parents.”
· “Bad judgment generally. Few people would have gotten the point, and it’s demeaning anyway.”
· “I’m generally a bit forgiving where humor is concerned, but in this instance it was just cruel and pointless.”
· "Are Tim and Sheron really contrite, or are they contrite because they got called out? And what would have happened if they parodied someone who was Black? Latino? Someone would be fired!"
· “Between this and everything else going on (with Asian Americans), I’m personally feeling unsettled. I’ve never felt this way before.”
· “This makes my blood boil, stunning, ignorant, unacceptable.”
· “I would not go to the extreme of firing Robin (or anyone else). It’s not the fifth time something like this has happened.”
· “The most offensive part of this story is the skit wasn’t funny!”
Not wanting to sound too much like Jerry Springer, I nonetheless offer these "final thoughts."
I’m of Japanese heritage, born here in the U.S. of two parents from Japan. Dad worked as a gardener, 12 hours on the weekday, 10 hours on Saturdays. Mom did every job she could find, from ironing clothes to working as a school cook. This allowed my brother and me to complete our education largely debt-free.
to school when my peers and I were stereotypically known as the “model minority.”
It took me years before I realized that stereotype was being used to belittle
other people of color. As faculty at different institutions, I have
learned from my students – many from Asian and Pacific Islander backgrounds as
well as other ethnic “minority” communities – whose parents did the sort of
work that my parents did but also had to go home every weekend to help with the
family business and / or spend hours online and on the phone translating and
explaining documents and completing forms.
Fortunately my Dad and Mom, now 93 and 85 respectively, are still quite healthy for which I’m grateful. They go on walks together every day. I used to simply be worried my Dad would get lost without my Mom – it’s not Alzheimer’s, he’s never been good with directions. I inherited that gift, but I digress. But for the first time, I now worry about their personal safety after seeing anti-Asian violence on TV. I had these worries before the KFI controversy, but this controversy doesn’t make things any easier.
Tim Conway Jr. and KFI are trying to make amends. I’m willing to give them a second chance. What I worry about is some idiot decides it’s amusing – or even justified – to attack my Dad, resulting in a sidewalk face plant just because he’s Asian. You see, my Dad’s not going to have a second chance.
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