January 12 dispatch: How NYC AM radio responded to the pro-Trump mob’s storming of the Capitol building (with audio)

Jose Luis Magana/AP

This dispatch won’t be too extensive. If you follow this stuff, an obvious pattern begins to emerge: the right-wing radio hosts will largely defend Donald Trump at all costs. We will present the more notable moments, and the notable exceptions. Curtis Sliwa and Juliet Huddy, for instance broke from the normal narrative, with Huddy displaying a refreshing courage.

We are focusing on NY-based hosts here, including a few with a national audience. We aren’t looking at national radio figures like Rush Limbaugh, who claimed the mob action was manipulated by democrats and sell-out republicans who “want a political coffin” for Trump. Aside from the predictable rhetoric, his response was near-identical to most of the hosts we survey here. We also aren’t including Ben Shapiro’s reaction, as he isn’t based in NYC, and no longer appears in the New York radio market. As we were getting this dispatch ready to go up, the New York Times reported that Cumulus media warned its radio roster to stop “dog-whistle talk about ‘stolen elections,’ ‘civil wars’ or any other language that infers violent public disobedience.” (The Times article used info from the paywalled site, Inside Music Media, which reported Cumulus’s actions as an act of censorship.)

While all the hosts condemned the storming of the Capitol building, almost all of them engaged in whataboutism (“What about Black Lives Matter?”). Several hosts openly worried about the optics the mob actions would have on “the movement.” We heard this sentiment expressed by Buck Sexton, Brian Kilmeade, Lidia Curanaj, Sid Rosenberg and Bernie McGuirk. Much effort was made to understand the “legitimate” concerns of the DC protestors, who were repeatedly referred to as law-abiding “victims,” driven to the boiling point by the left. We were told repeatedly that as bad as the mob was, at least they didn’t burn any buildings, they were all Antifa anyway, and whatever nonsense helped run down the clock at any given moment. Many of the groups participating in last Wednesdays protest, like the nefarious Proud Boys are violent thugs. This was an attempt to overturn a democratic election. The deluded throngs chanting “Stop the Steal,” as they attempted to steal an election are only slightly less despicable than the mob that stormed the Capitol building. It’s beyond disingenuous for conservative radio hosts to claim the Capitol-storming mob was out-of-character for a pro-Trump rally.

This argument is especially absurd coming from the likes of Rudy Giuliani, whose radio show attracts callers who rail against Jews and promote white supremacist groups like the National Alliance (see audio clips below). 

Some of these same radio hosts bear some degree of responsibility for the mob action at the Capitol building. Rudy Giuliani actually spoke to the crowd shortly before the barricades were breached. Many of the other hosts have been egging their audiences on since November, telling them the election, and the country itself had been stolen from them.

On Wednesday (1/6) Rudy Giuliani addressed the crowd in DC, imploring to engage in “trial by combat.” Within hours, he was back on his “Chat with the Mayor” slot on WABC. We only caught the last 20 minutes of the show, which was mostly a rehashing of the same “stolen election” conspiracy theories; he’s got video, there is still evidence no one has seen! Same old same old. At the very end a caller denounces an earlier caller who called Giuliani a coward. “Giuliani offers to meet the caller “in an alley somewhere.” The former mayor and the caller proceed to paint the DC mob as a Soros plot. For some odd reason, this program does not appear in the WABC archive, perhaps there was some concern that Giuliani’s rhetoric could be potentially actionable? We recorded the final chunk of the show (see excerpt below).

On Thursday morning, WOR’s Len Berman and Michael Riedel brought on former New York governor (and former WOR radio host) David Patterson. Patterson struck a measured tone, calling for Joe Biden to respond to divisions in the country by “maybe taking a couple suggestions by Mitch McConnell,” and pushing for “legislation that conservatives might like.” In short, by taking a centrist tack. Berman and Riedel also brought on photojournalist Michael Nigro, who detailed how lax Capitol security was compared to the many other DC protests he as covered.

On Friday, the two hosted former NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton, who approached the DC mob from a tactical perspective. He blamed the Capitol Police.

Mark Simone (WOR) blamed Washington DC mayor, Muriel Bowser who he claimed, “defunded the police.” He then then insinuated the mayor let the whole thing happen to make Trump look bad. Simone blamed Antifa infiltrators, and engaged in the usual whataboutism, asking why Black Lives Matter is praised by democratic politicians. He also repeatedly played the last few words from Joe Biden’s speech denouncing the mob. The audio sounded slowed down. Simone pointed to this as evidence that Biden is unfit to serve. As an example of Democratic Party double standards, Simone pushed the fake story from 2000, claiming the outgoing Clinton administration trashed the White House and removed the letter W from all the computer keyboards.

WABC’s Sid and Bernie engaged in their usual blowhardism, claiming the DC protests, like Charlottesville were hijacked by the far right and Antifa, and that “99.9 percent of the protestors had legit concerns.” Like WOR’s Buck Sexton, they asked, “What’s next for the movement?” they opposed the excesses or the bad coverage. The two also interviewed MAGA organizer “the Real Tina,” who spouted about the DC protests, and promoted an upcoming anti-Covid-restriction rally in NYC.

Brian Kilmeade (also WABC) pushed the narrative that the wannabe insurrectionists were pushed to take action. “Mr. and Mrs. Johnson from Wisconsin who loves [sic] the president have never been a problem. In fact they’ve been victims. They show up with their families to support Trump, to be at a rally, a lot of times they end up getting beat up or threatened. This is the first time, right? Where were the riots November 4th? They didn’t happen because Trump people don’t riot. This time they snapped, many of them. No doubt there was probably some infiltration there, but so much went wrong leading there.”

Over on WOR, Buck Sexton expressed this same sentiment: the protestors went too far, but they were pushed. Sexton, an old money Manhattanite who claims to have been in both the CIA and NYPD, portrayed the Trumpers as the forgotten working class being punished by the elites. He claimed the democrats were “using lockdowns as a tool against Trump….There’s a sense among many Trump supporters that there was a willingness to…use lockdowns as a tool to make the country miserable and vote for Biden and they made people suffer more than they had to so that Joe Biden would win…” Like most of the other hosts, Sexton spent much time delving into the DC protestors’ “legitimate” grievances. For what it is worth, we have never heard any of these guys pose the same question regarding any other group, especially not the Black Lives Matter protestors they complain about daily. Sexton interviewed Will Ricciardella of the Washington Examiner, who omitted the fact that the DC protests were held to demand the overturning of a legitimate election. Ricciardella claimed the protests were responding to the pain inflicted by “Democratic governors [who] hijacked the economy” to hurt Trump. “…look at the past 5 years, these are the people that elected Trump…the opposition party created a dossier with no evidence, basically there was a coup…the people felt like they voted him in…then you get into the Ukraine debacle…and when they were fighting against masks, they mocked them…this was a big giant powder keg, they feel frustrated, they don’t feel like they are being heard.”

WABC’s Lidia Curanaj alternately condemned the Capitol storming and attacked Black Lives Matter. She warned not to allow the mob to “tarnish the entire movement, the push for democracy…job growth, making America great again.” Immediately after a caller referred to the DC mob as “patriots” protesting a “stolen election,” Curanaj compliments the caller on his “excellent point,” asking “how many stores were looted yesterday, how many buildings were burned?” The DC rioters did kill a cop, and smeared feces all over the walls of Congress, but when your entire career has been predicated on defending Donald Trump, you learn to make excuses.

Credit where credit is due department

Curtis Sliwa and Juliet Huddy, hosts of WABC’s Curtis and Juliet show consistently criticized the DC mob action without engaging in whataboutism. We have criticized Sliwa multiple times on this site, but we must credit him with a principled response to this situation. What does it say when NYC AM radio is so over-the-top that Curtis Sliwa comes across as one of the few voices of reason? Juliet Huddy, for her part rose to the occasion, actually pointing to the infiltration of various law enforcement agencies by white supremacists and other far-right groups (audio below).

On WCBS, the tone was also much different from the usual AM talk radio blowhardism. Marla Diamond, reporting from Downtown Brooklyn, got a quote from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, comparing the police response in DC to the treatment dished out to Black Lives Matter  protests last summer: “Where were the rubber bullets yesterday? Where was the tear gas yesterday?” Adams, a former NYPD officer was speaking outside Department of Justice headquarters alongside Black clergy and other electeds. He called for “a commission like we had after 9/11 to be convened to determine how these people were able to easily breach the Capitol yesterday and who is responsible.” Diamond also recorded NYC Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, who said the responsibility lies with the president.

Bill O’Reilly, also on WABC, flipped the DC riots back on the Democrats. “Ok let’s get to the political aspect of this. There is a major villain emerging and that man’s name is Senator Chuck Schumer from New York. He now is calling for the removal of President Trump using the 25th Amendment, the 25th Amendment is that the president is unfit for office.” O’Reilly used this occasion to engage in one of his favorite activities, plugging one of his books, by mentioning that he wrote about it extensively there. He then asks, “Why would you put the nation through another hateful exercise? Why? Because Schumer doesn’t care about you or me or the country, he is and always has been a rank ideologue who worships at the altar of power, he has been senator here in NY for decades, he has done nothing, nothing, to help this state which is in a disastrous position right now, so Schumer publicly is calling for Donald Trump to be removed using the Constitution, That’s not going to happen, ok, now President elect Biden should stop this immediately and show some leadership, he should come out today and say ‘We’re not going to do that because that divides the country even further and creates hatred, Donald Trump will serve out the next thirteen days and then I’ll take over.’ I would respect Joe Biden if he did that, will he do it? No, unless he sees me right now and he may get a transcript and then changes his mind and wises up a little bit but if he did that  if he shut Schumer up as he should, if he really want’s—Biden—to represent all of the people, points his finger at Schumer and says, ‘Button it!’”

This dispatch was compiled by Jim Rawls and R. Cleffi.

Audio clips

Brian Kilmeade of WABC painting the overall protestors as peaceful (“Mr. and Mrs. Johnson from Wisconsin…who snapped”)

This clip of Buck Sexton of WOR interviewing the Washington Examiner’s Will Ricciardella is a good example of the way conservative radio covered the Capitol building riots. Sexton (who condemned the riots) puts the onus on the Democratic governors and Covid restrictions. Ricciardella claims protestors were “working class Americans,” responding to Covid restrictions,  saying “stop laughing at us, stop mocking us…they feel they have no voice.”

Here, Sexton asks Ricciardella what the protestors want. While Sexton asked about the election certification results, Ricciardella omits mention of the fact that the protests were demanding the election results be overturned.  

Here’s Juliet Huddy calling out far-right and white supremacist infiltration of law enforcement agencies.

Rudy Giuliani responds to a caller railing against “perverted Hollywood,” and George Soros the “international Jewish communist.” Giuliani questions the use of the term “Jewish,” saying Soros’ “connection with Judaism is questionable,” but that it shouldn’t be used against Soros. Claiming “This is the first time I’ve heard that.”

Here’s Giuliani saying, “we can meet in an alley somewhere” in response to an earlier caller who criticized him. He also claims Trump rallies, and “the so-called bad boys did nothing,” that the Capitol storming was a “left wing provocation,” which goes back to “Engels and Marx,” and of course, George Soros.

We present to you a clip from a few months ago, in which a regular “Chat with the Mayor” caller, “Joseph in the Bronx,” gets greeted like an old friend by Giuliani (“I missed you!”). Joseph recommends a video by the late Nazi William Pierce on “gun control” (the video is light on gun control, and heavy on eugenics). Giuliani responds, “Once again, you’re making a point I forgot to make, and it’s an excellent point!”

WABC’s Lidia Curanaj pulls a “both sides” on the Capitol storming. This clip is pretty indicative of Curanaj’s time on WABC’s airwaves: rantish, uninformed bloviating.

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Published by Frequency and Amplitude, an NYC Radio Roundup

Surveying what's left of the analog NYC-area radioscape.

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