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Best of Boston 2009

Boston's Severin problem

Is WTKK up to measuring degrees of intolerance?
By EDITORIAL  |  May 6, 2009


Boston is in the thrall of two important media stories. The first concerns efforts by the financially challenged New York Times Company to keep the financially battered Boston Globe afloat.

The second story, by contrast, appears to be smaller potatoes: right-wing loud mouth Jay Severin, in a broadcast more obnoxious than usual, said things on air that forced his traditionally indulgent corporate enablers at WTKK to suspend him — though, as the Phoenix went to press, the question of for how long remained unanswered.

The fate of the Globe is of historic importance. But the questions raised by the Severin incident have a philosophical and moral resonance that has been touched upon only in passing.

Severin got himself in hot water for speaking derisively about Mexicans, who he said were "the world's lowest of primitives." Even by Severin's odious standards, this was especially ripe.

In the course of his jeremiad against Mexicans, Severin raged widely. As far as the Phoenix is concerned, the most reprehensible of Severin's many loathsome remarks was this: "So now, in addition to venereal disease and the other leading exports of Mexico — women with mustaches and VD — now we have swine flu."

He also said this: "We [the US] are the magnet for primitives around the world — and it's not the primitives' fault, by the way, I'm not blaming them for being primitives. I'm merely observing they're primitive."

And this: "Millions of leeches from a primitive country come here to leech off you and, with it, they are ruining the schools, the hospitals, and a lot of life in America."

And this: "We should be, if anything, surprised that Mexico has not visited upon us poxes of more various and serious types already, considering the number of 'criminaliens' already here."

This is strong, and offensive, stuff. Even in the midst of a serious debate about the future of United State's immigration policy — an important topic in which emotions sometime run hot — it is, or should be, unacceptable.

Severin was being more than an advocate for his anti-immigrant point of view, more than provocative, more than even incendiary. In our opinion, he was being hateful, trying to deny the basic humanity of Mexicans so as to render them unworthy of being afforded rights.

Hate speech may give offense to some; it might be impolite, even impolitic, but it is not illegal. The Phoenix is close to being absolute in its defense of anyone's right to say, write, or broadcast almost anything. This paper affirms Severin's constitutional right to say what he said. Likewise, we recognize WTKK's right to broadcast Severin if the station so wishes.

Still, WTKK should think twice about putting Severin back on the air. Does Severin's right to hold noxious opinions, and his parallel right to express them using intemperate language, override the station's right to hold itself to a higher standard?

If WTKK thinks about the situation with any depth of conscience, it might realize that, though it profits handsomely from Severin, his on-air presence does nothing to enrich or elevate public debate.

Should WTKK management have any doubts on this matter, we suggest it compare Severin's remarks about Mexicans with what Adolf Hitler wrote about Jews in Mein Kampf.

History surely has taught that Hitler's intentions were hideous, monstrous. But it's uncomfortable to realize that Hitler, at least in his early days, used language to attack Jews that was more temperate, or at least more carefully measured, than what Severin said about Mexicans.

Comparing anyone's words to Hitler's is a tricky exercise. Hitler, after all, did more than talk. He presided over the murder of approximately six million Jews, as many as 500,000 gypsies, at least 250,000 physically or mentally disabled people, and a smaller, undetermined number of homosexuals.

We are not suggesting that, as foul as Severin was, he was advocating violence or murder — on any scale.

Still, denying the essential equality of any individual, or group of people, is often a step in establishing or maintaining the supposedly second-class status of the group into which that individual was born. Hitler and anti-Semites did and still do this to Jews, segregationists to African-Americans, homophobes to gays and lesbians, and nativists to immigrants — legal and illegal.

Like all good civil libertarians, we support the right of neo-Nazis — or any other haters for that matter — to demonstrate, or publish, or communicate in any form they might choose. But just as we would defend WTKK's right to have a neo-Nazi or a racist as a guest on one of its talk shows, so, too, would we question the wisdom of giving someone of such questionable sentiments a permanent soapbox as a talk-show host.

Rather than give Severin back his radio platform, WTKK should exercise its countervailing right to broadcast something else. In other words, Severin's right to say what he wants is trumped by WTKK's right to broadcast as it sees fit.

The Phoenix will be fast to congratulate the station if it does the right thing and tells Severin to peddle his views elsewhere. We're under no delusion that he'll not find a taker.

Related: Rise of the political bogeyman, No sex, please, it's Boston?, A child of Hitler, More more >
  Topics: The Editorial Page , Adolf Hitler, editorial, Health and Fitness,  More more >
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Re: Boston's Severin problem
What is it about You pro-illegal immigration op-ed writer's? Why do You automatically call anyone that's anti-illegal immigration sided with a label as being anti immigration. That's the key difference. Illegal=Bad,Legal=good. Then put in perspective, most of what Jay said is true when put into the context of what the acronym criminalien actual means. Illegal immigrants. Don't call them immigrants. I understand political correctness is very important for a small leaflet's blog survival, but don't let it get in the way of facts.
By derek20 on 05/06/2009 at 4:37:06
Re: Boston's Severin problem
It is ALWAYS a mistake, I think, to resort to what Herr Prof. Dr. Leo Strauss used to call the argumentum ad Hitlerum. Happy days.
By jhmccloskey on 05/06/2009 at 5:54:17
Don't believe the Hype
If you listen to Jay, he differenciates between legal and illegal immigrants every day.  He absolutely did not direct this at all Mexicans.  I don't know about the VD claim but he is a self proclaimed expert when it comes to knowledge of other countries bunny ranches. Maybe he ordered a tainted Corona or something while on vacation down there... The worst part was the use of the word "Primatives".  Once again if you listen to him, right or wrong, he was refering to the country of Mexico being a 2nd or 3rd world country not the people.  He was specific on this point. So this is simply Jay stating the obvious; many of the illegals have no english skills, minimal education, maybe less vaccinations against disease, stuffing extra people into small living environments, etc etc etc because of where they lived before coming here.  Things that are common among this demographic that the average American doesn't even consider. I view it as a conditioning thing not a race thing and I think Jay is of the same opinion.  We are talking about people that can't or chose not to find jobs in Mexico. This IS a burden on our State and Country. Many are making due working under the table or with false SSI#'s.  Many are taking advantage of food stamps, welfare, public or subsidized housing, going to the emergency room for regular or easy to deal with illnesses. All of which directly affects me.Provocative YES... Hate Speach Not at all... Racist No Remember Jay was upset that we weren't closing the boarders immediately with the flu scare. Why not take that precaution? Because if we did then everybody will know that we can when ever we want (and we can). If you hate Jay you will think he is a racist. If you like him you will see that he isn't. It's a wash I hope it doesn't cost him his job. He must love the publicity though. Go get them Jay.
By jimmie on 05/07/2009 at 9:18:57
Re: Boston's Severin problem
I can’t tell you how glad I am to have Jay Severin off the air.  His comments on Mexicans were beyond the pale, but that's just the tip of the iceburg for me.  His arrogant and preening manner, coupled with his seeming inability to engage in thoughtful discourse, keep driving me back to NPR.    
By mar1044 on 05/08/2009 at 9:09:59
Re: Boston's Severin problem
Phoenix editors lament dehumanizing hate speech toward illegal aliens. Severin's comments are derogatory not dehumanizing. If dehumanizing speech is an evil to be denounced, why are the editors silent about dehumanizing speech toward persons with disabilities? Police, journalists, medical professionals, and court employees regularly dehumanize persons with disabilities calling them diseases. Why is saying a person is a "paraplegic" or a "schizophrenic" OK with the Phoenix editors? If a major concern of the Phoenix is hate speech and equal rights, why do the editors ignore widespread abuses of persons with disabilities? Is there bigotry at the Phoenix?    
By HILOMID on 05/09/2009 at 10:43:42

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