Case Studies: What Happens When Shock Jocks Go Too Far?


The First Amendment guarantees that Americans have the right to say whatever they want in public, as long as they don't yell fire in a crowded theatre; actively encourage violence against a particular person, or a group of people; or, commit libel. Our freedom of speech makes it possible for citizens to criticize their leaders, whistleblowers to tell their stories, and for radio 'shock jocks' to exist.

Over the past 20 years, radio disc jockeys have become increasingly outrageous in what they say -- and the stunts that they pull -- in order to increase their ratings. In the wake of the Janet Jackson/FCC controversy, some have noticed the tenor of talk radio becoming more mean-spirited and bigoted, in lieu of the sexually explicit gags that are now a risky invitation to expensive FCC fines.

Many so-called shock jocks wear their fines and firings as badges of honor. And the more publicity they can garner, positive or negative, is more press for their next gig, wherever that might be. These DJs aren't guilty of hate speech. They aren't actively encouraging violence against a particular person, or a group of people. But they are engaging in hateful speech.

On the next few pages, we've pulled together some examples of DJs who crossed a line with their listeners -- and suffered the consequences. The stories are emblematic of what a community can accomplish when it stands up together against offensive speech.

Next: Hot 97 & 'The Tsunami Song' »


» Jacoby, Jeffrey. "Hate speech of the left." The Boston Globe, December 28, 2003.
» Hate speech, Wikipedia
» McMasters, Paul. "Must a civil society be a censored society?", January 17, 1999.