Let’s call out what WEEI is really doing: Co-hosts are paid to shock, because controversy is good for ratings.
Sports talk radio is notoriously offensive, but even for WEEI a line has been crossed with an ever-growing list of on-air talent tagged with suspensions: Kirk Minihane, Alex Reimer, and now Christian Fauria.
As a Chinese-American, I am seething over what Fauria did on Friday, when he mocked sports agent Don Yee by speaking in a stereotypical Asian accent. Yee, who was born in the United States, speaks perfect English. Fauria knew that, because they played audio of the real Yee later on.
It was a joke gone awry that became a gratuitous put-down of a respected sports agent whose clients include Patriots star Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo of the San Francisco 49ers.
The accent was completely unnecessary when the butt of his joke was supposed to be Boston Herald sports columnist Ron Borges, who was duped by a prankster pretending to be Yee.
WEEI suspended Fauria for five days. Fauria — a former Patriots tight end and co-host of the midday “Ordway, Merloni & Fauria” show — apologized to Yee and his audience on Twitter.
And now we’re supposed to move on — until something like this happens again. And it will.
Apologies are hollow. Everyone knows how to say “I’m sorry,” even #metoo poster boys Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose, and Mario Batali.
But does anyone mean it?
Now some of you are already asking: Why does it matter to me? I can just turn off the radio. I don’t even listen toWEEI, but their vile comments — whether it’s about women or people of color — give license to listeners to offend.
It no longer becomes a bunch of guys mouthing off in front of a microphone but building a culture of hate and acceptance of the unacceptable. It explains how locker room talk can elect a president.
I’m not espousing theories here. Look what happened when I tweeted out the Globe’s story about Fauria’s suspension. I thought the station didn’t go far enough and should have suspended co-hosts Glenn Ordway and Lou Merloni, as accessories to an offense. Listen to the tape: Their laughing egged Fauria on.
Many people told me I need to lighten up — and they were polite about it. Others decided to respond like a WEEI host:
Chris Johnson @CMJ171717
shirley u r a pathetic human, laugh a little you guys cant drive either
Shut up Ching chang
Sum ting wong Shirley?
Then there were tweets attacking me for a being a woman who speaks her mind. I will spare you those.
On Saturday, the New England chapter of the Asian American Journalists Association issued a statement condemning Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria for perpetuating “harmful, inaccurate and insensitive stereotypes about Asian Americans.”
The group went on to commend WEEI for taking disciplinary action but urged management to “take steps to ensure that racial stereotyping will never be broadcast on its airwaves and that the station’s on-air personalities have a true understanding of why the segment was so offensive.”
This is what should happen. Ordway, Merloni, and Fauria should come to an event in Chinatown. They should replay the 3½-minute audio of Fauria’s impersonation while the other hosts laughed. Then I want all them to look into the eyes of Asian Americans gathered in the room and hear firsthand why that joke is so offensive.
Here’s what they’ll hear: That many of us are born in America, yet because we’re not blond and blue-eyed we’ll always be treated as foreigners. Our parents were immigrants, and they reinforced this notion that we would never be truly accepted. That’s why we needed to work hard and get a college education — and maybe, just maybe, we could succeed.
That accent reinforces a stereotype that we will never belong, even though we have the same rights as a white baby born here.
I had hoped I could raise my two sons in a world different than the one I grew up in, but it seems America by the day is going backward, not only for immigrants but for people who look like immigrants.
What more can management do? A lot. WEEI hosts are obnoxious for a reason. Their bosses know it’s good for ratings and the bottom line.
WEEI is owned by Entercom Communications, one of the largest radio broadcasters in the country. Real change will come only when management and ownership do more than pay lip service to offensive remarks made on the air.
I reached out to Mark Hannon, the Entercom executive who oversees WEEI and other local stations. Crickets.
If management can’t set the right tone, that means advertisers need to step up and take their money elsewhere until the culture changes. That means the Patriots and Red Sox — the teams that have relationships with the station — need to say something, to do something.
Brady did so when WEEI host Alex Reimer disparaged the Patriots quarterback’s 5-year-old daughter, which led to his suspension. I suspect Brady was behind Fauria’s suspension, too.
WEEI hosts are entitled to free speech, and so are their listeners, but the station routinely crosses a line that makes Boston a hostile place to live.
Tune them out? No, we need to stop the vitriol.
Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.