I have been hugged by Ken Hamblin.
This, I realize, hardly puts me in an exclusive club. The man is a heat-seeking missile. "I want to be liked," the talk-show host says, just seconds before verbally skewering another victim. When a group of journalists with all the huggability of prickly pear cactuses gathered weekly at Channel 12 to tape a Hamblin-hosted show, he would hug man, woman and liberal alike. For fellow minorities, though, Hamblin added a high-five.
A hug from Hamblin holds no particular horror for me, although as a taller, full-figured gal approached by a shorter man, it is impossible not to calculate trajectories and feel slightly like a Simmons Beautyrest at hibernation time.
"I've hugged you. I've squeezed you," Hamblin himself acknowledges. "But there is a line as clear as the sun rises, and I never cross that line." He has, however, noted the size of my bustline. When, for example, I suggested that a Dow-Corning breast-implant negligence trial might make a good Channel 12 discussion topic, he thoughtfully reassured me that I had no need of such surgery.
Moments before the cameras were to roll for another taping, Hamblin told me he had dreamt about me the night before. It had been a wild dream, he said. We were in bed, naked, and I was flailing him with my hair.
Although this sounded more like an unsavory ad for Mop-and-Glo than sexual harassment, it did strike me as a singularly stupid thing to say.
Unless, of course, you're a talk-show host who likes to catch guests off-guard.
Unless, of course, you understand that sexual harassment has a lot less to do with sex than it does with power.
Depending on what side of the hug you were on, December 31 was either a great day or a lousy one at KNUS. Since Rush Limbaugh left for KOA, Hamblin has been the great black hope of the faltering station, and he's given reason for optimism to station mogul Al Martishang--an octogenarian real estate magnate who refers to Hamblin as "the nigger" (Hamblin says) and tells editors he might grant interviews if the request were made by "a pretty gal" rather than a man (I say). On January 2, Hamblin would be profiled in the New York Times, which would label him "an intellectual brawler sometimes called the black Rush Limbaugh." The Times would go on to extol Hamblin's home in the mountains (where, he told the reporter, he would like to take black teens to show them how good life could be), his home in Denver, his two restaurants, his grandchild, his "scars from knife wounds" acquired while growing up on the streets of Brooklyn, and his "wicked zest that a white person couldn't get away with."
On January 3, C-SPAN was coming to KNUS to tape Hamblin in action, for national broadcast on cable that week.
So, not surprisingly, Hamblin was going hug wild that New Years Eve. Ultimately, he approached a co-worker--whom he later identified on his own radio show--for a smothering embrace. A "mercy hug," he now says. But hardly sweet charity: The staffer told Lakewood police that Hamblin kissed her on the neck, then pinned her down on a bench while "he pretended to have sex with me...making the sounds of a sex act."
Here's Hamblin's version: The staff is in a holiday mood, "high-fiving" and celebrating the deal with C-Span. The staffer "walks toward the desk with a smile on her face." Hamblin calls her "my lovely" (I've heard that before) and kisses her on both sides of her face. As she moves to a bench, sits, then leans back, Hamblin follows, drops to one knee, pecks her on the cheek and then--here their stories agree--says, "I've been waiting to do that all year."
She tells him, "That is the last time you're going to do that." The next day she goes to the Lakewood police.
"We all have to do what's right," the woman tells me, before declining to comment further on her allegation.
Hamblin speculates that one of his enemies encouraged her to file a complaint. "Is it political?" he asks, then answers himself. "You bet it is. But my enemies are celebrating too soon."
Hamblin was issued a citation not for sexual assault, not for sexual harassment, but for harassment--a misdemeanor. "I got a minimal citation, and my enemies are going to make hay out of it, but I'm not stopping," Hamblin says. "I've got big things going on." Suspended from KNUS for having mentioned the woman's name on the air, Hamblin headed to California, where he met with the new Fox network to discuss contributing regular commentaries for its Front Page show. He says he's also talking to publishers about a book, to the New York Times about syndicating his column, to CBS about filming an Eye to Eye with Connie Chung.
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Ken Hamblin does a lot of talking.
He was back at it again Tuesday morning, on the air at KNUS, where seven boxes of mail were waiting for him.
Hamblin's twice-weekly column in the Denver Post has also been suspended for two weeks (although Chet Whye--the Post's politically correct solution to the previous Hamblin hullabaloo, when black legislators threatened a boycott of KNUS and the Post because of Hamblin's "racist' comments--remains). "Based on Ken's description of what happened, his behavior was inappropriate," executive editor Neil Westergaard told his own paper. "We would respond similarly if it happened in our newsroom and with our employees."
They haven't: Months ago a Post reporter complained to management that Hamblin had threatened her, and a co-worker backed her up. Although there's been plenty of talk over that incident, which Hamblin has denied, the Post has taken no action. Nor, of course, has the Post acted on Hamblin's less ambiguous crimes--his fatuous, narcissistic assaults on logic.
But then, talk is cheap.