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Interview With Fired Radio Host

Aired July 9, 2003 - 14:27   ET


MILES O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: All right. If you think you can say just about anything in public nowadays and get away with it, we have two words for you: Dixie Chicks.
KYRA PHILLIPS, CNN ANCHOR: We might have a new name for you. The Chicks fell off radio playlists quicker than Michael Jackson when one of them bemoaned the fact that George W. Bush is from Texas.

Well, radio and free speech are back in the headlines with the firing of a South Carolina deejay allegedly for speaking out against the Iraq war.

O'BRIEN: All right, Roxanne Walker has a war of her own against a very big adversary. She joins us now from Greenville to talk about it.

The two other words that come to mind for me, Roxanne, are Joe McCarthy. This is ugly, isn't it?

ROXANNE WALKER, FIRED RADIO HOST: It is ugly. I truly believe, Miles, that I'm not the only one being subjected to this kind of situation across America.

PHILLIPS: Well, what happened? I mean you were 2002 Radio Personality of the Year in South Carolina.

WALKER: Yes, thank you.

PHILLIPS: There you go. Everybody knows you. A lot of people here in our newsroom know your name and show. Tell us about this relationship you have with you co-host. Have you always had this tension?

WALKER: Well, we are -- our political differences go way back. We've had a long running partnership. I have always been very open about my liberal bent and I write a weekly opinion column in a local magazine.


WALKER: No, not at all. And I was in fact encouraged all along to express my opinion, mix it up with the boys and be very vocal about my opinions. But that all changed when the war started.

O'BRIEN: So, was it subtle? Was it overt? Did they send you memos? Really, Roxanne, cool it for a little while. What happened? WALKER: First it was subtle and it was more overt on behalf of my co-host who felt free to call me a communist and, you know, lefty liberal and that kind of thing.

And at first it was sort of in good fun. Then it escalated and then management intervened in the fall of last year in terms of written memos, specifically asking me to tone down the rhetoric and soften or else exclude myself from those conversations.

PHILLIPS: You know -- I know this probably happens to you, too. Every time you travel around, people say, Oh you work for CNN. You are so liberal or you work for Fox, you are so conservative.

WALKER: Right.

PHILLIPS: Now -- I'm constantly defending myself and my position saying -- come on, we're fair and try to weigh this out. Now, here you are.

WALKER: Right.

PHILLIPS: It's sort of ironic.

WALKER: Well, Kyra, let me tell you that people who think the reporters and the on-air people drive the message, that's not right. You and I know it. Our bosses and the people that own our corporations, they drive the message. They dictate it. It's not up to us.

O'BRIEN: All right, let me ask you this, Roxanne. The First Amendment is something we hold very near and dear to all of us, certainly in this business. You also -- your employer has the right to get rid of you if they don't like what you're saying.

WALKER: Absolutely.

O'BRIEN: Where does your lawsuit come in here? How do you feel you have been wronged?

WALKER: A couple of things, Miles. First of all, our lawsuit is based on a statute in South Carolina, which I'll quote, makes it unlawful for a person to "discharge a citizen from employment or occupation for expression of political opinions or the exercise of political rights and privileges guaranteed to all citizens under the Constitution." That's No. 1.

O'BRIEN: But is that the case where the politics would be a side light to their job or imbued in their job? You know what I mean?

WALKER: Absolutely. It's definitely the employer's right to, you know, dictate the message and handle programming. But what I'm say something why was I terminated but my partners were allowed unfettered to have political discussions. So that's where you get into -- it's the message.

O'BRIEN: Now... WALKER: It's restriction of the message.

PHILLIPS: Better make it clear, too, I'm told we did call the station -- two things, that your co-host would not be reached for comment or didn't want to make a comment.


PHILLIPS: Also, that Clear Channel, San Antonio-based company does not comment on pending lawsuits, we are told.

WALKER: Right, I understand.

O'BRIEN: Now Clear Channel, as a back story, is the largest radio station owner in the country. Correct?

WALKER: Absolutely. Over 1,200 radio stations.

O'BRIEN: All right. So clearly they have been very interested in what has been going on in Washington as it relates to the FCC.

WALKER: Absolutely. It will relate to standing their media empire in terms of newspapers and television with the latest deregulation.

O'BRIEN: Do you think there's a link there?

WALKER: You know, a lot of people want to ask me about the link between corporate and my situation. And all I'll say about that is, again, it goes back to the message that obviously the company felt that it was okay to have political discussions that were pro-war and pro-Bush but wanted to restrict any opposing viewpoints.

PHILLIPS: All right.

WALKER: That's all I know.

I'm sorry, I didn't mean to cut you off, before we've got to let you go, why are you against the war? Why were you against the war?

WALKER: I'm a mother, Kyra, and I'm a Catholic. And I just felt -- I felt like that the threat with those weapons of mass destruction was not as imminent as we were led to believe all along. I believe at any cost we should avoid war.

PHILLIPS: Roxanne Walker, we are going to follow the lawsuit.

O'BRIEN: All right, Roxanne, thanks very much.

WALKER: Thank you, Kyra and Miles. I appreciate you having me.

O'BRIEN: Our pleasure.


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