Mike Rosen's use of racial slurs during KOA show appropriate, says Clear Channel exec

Update below: An item on the message board reveals that last week, veteran KOA radio host Mike Rosen used a variety of racial slurs on the air -- and claimed that his new boss, Greg Foster, head of AM programming for Clear Channel's Denver cluster of stations, gave him permission to do so. But Foster, who's been on the job for just over a week, says this post misses the reason for Rosen's comments, which he feels were appropriate.

Here's an excerpt from the item in question:

Listen to AM talk radio??? Mike Rosen last week said his new boss Greg Foster said it was OKAY to say the word "nigger" on-air... And Rosen did, adding "kike," "spic," "chink," "dego" and "wop" to his blow torch oratory...

Left out of this account was Rosen's subject matter: He was discussing the impending release of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer sans numerous terms: "Nigger" will be replaced with "slave," "half-breed" with "half-blood" and "Injun Joe" with "Indian Joe."

"It was definitely in the context of a legitimate news story," Foster points out. "He was talking about the controversy and the sanitizing of Huckleberry Finn for today's world. Political correctness has changed things over the years, and to use that word" -- nigger -- "in the context it was originally written and intended wasn't inappropriate for Mike to do on the radio."

Foster adds that Rosen also referenced Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word, penned by Harvard law professor Randall Kennedy -- and the conversation didn't stir the audience's ire.

"We had absolutely zero response from Mike's listeners," Foster says. "They realize that he wasn't using the words to tantalize listeners. He was using it in the proper context, and he was using it appropriately."

Update, 2:28 p.m.: Just spoke with Mike Rosen about this post, and he provided additional details about the portion of his program in which he discussed the changes being made in new editions of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer. On the air, he shared an anecdote about an African-American man who asked the publisher of the Merriam-Webster dictionary to remove the word "nigger" from the book because it was offensive. The publisher responded that the word is part of the English language and was clearly marked as derogatory slang -- hence its inclusion.

Rosen then went on to note that derogatory slang terms for other ethnic groups mentioned in the comment above are also published in the dictionary.

In Rosen's view, talking about a subject like censoring Mark Twain classics without mentioning the specific words is "infantile," especially considering that the FCC allows such usage as long as it's not gratuitous. Given that I work for Westword, which regularly publishes profanities and the like in quotes and descriptions in the name of journalistic accuracy and free expression, I'd have to agree.

For a more detailed look at this issue, check out the August 2000 Message column "Words Get in the Way," which examined reporting about the alleged use of the word "nigger" by then-Denver Broncos star Bill Romanowski.

More from our Media archive: "Mike Rosen slams David Sirota for distorting his 'satirical' mosque-destruction comment."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts