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

Hot 97

In late January 2005, the morning disc jockeys at New York City's Hot 97 started spinning a new parody song about the tsunami victims in Southeast Asia to the tune of "We Are the World." The song, full of racial slurs and blatant mockeries of the victims was penned by producer Rick DelGado, and recorded by comedian and morning DJ, Todd Lynn and his co-host, Miss Jones.

Here's a sample of the offensive lyrics.

"... There were Africans drowning, little Chinamen swept away you could hear God laughing, 'Swim you bitches, swim' So now you're screwed, it's the tsunami you better run or kiss your ass away, go find your mommy I just saw her float by, a tree went through her head and now your children will be sold to child slavery ..."

Miss Jones continued to play the song every day for a week, despite the protest of another co-host, Miss Info, who said that she wasn't comfortable with the song and wanted them to stop playing it. Miss Jones accused Miss Info of feeling "superior, probably because [she's] Asian" and Lynn interrupted saying he thought he was going to start shooting Asians.

The so-called "Tsunami Song" found its way around the Internet and offended people across the country prompting an Internet petition campaign on, sidewalk protests in front of the Hot 97 building and the loss of several advertisers' support, including Sprint and McDonald's.

Morning personality Tarsha Nicole Jones, who uses the on-air name Miss Jones, issued an on-air apology soon after the song first aired on Jan. 21.

She said, "I apologize to all who have been offended by my poor decision to go along with playing that insulting (to say the least) tsunami song. I should have known better, and I didn't. So I'm sorry and hopefully we can move forward from this, or I can move forward from this being a better hostess, because I am better than that and I know better than that -- and you deserve better radio than that."

In addition to Miss Jones' apology and one posted on the Hot 97 website, the Morning Show producer, Rick Delgado and co-host Todd Lynn were fired. The rest of the staff, including Miss Jones, was suspended for two weeks, with their pay going to support tsunami relief. Miss Info was not punished and has brought a lawsuit against her co-workers alleging that her persecution on the job went beyond the Tsunami Song and that the Morning Show was a hostile work environment.

Not everyone thought the "Tsunami Song" songwriters deserved punishment. NYU student Will Phung wonders if people are "Killing free speech in the mass media."

But all this wasn't enough for some listeners. Several New York City Council members called on the station to donate a week's worth of corporate revenues, or $10 million, to tsunami aid. Brooklyn City Council Member Leticia James said, "This should serve as a lesson to people who profit from hate that it's going to cost you, and it's going to cost you dearly." And Asian-American rapper Jin wrote a song blasting the Tsunami Song that starts, "Since when was hip-hop about being racist?"

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» Sources:
» McShane, Larry. "NYC radio station still reeling from tasteless tsunami parody" Associated Press, February 7, 2005.
» Guzman, Rafer. "For two, tsunami joke is a swan song." Newsday, February 2, 2005.
» Hinckley, David. "Tsunami Song' Fallout: 3 Suspended, 2 Fired." Daily News, February 2, 2005.