John Kobylt and Kenneth Chiampou are among the most famous and unapologetic immigrant-bashers in the Los Angeles area media market. For nearly twenty years they’ve made immigration their biggest red hot button while dominating KFI 640 AM airwaves with a brand of racially-tinged rant thinly disguised as “free speech.”
During one of many California state budget battles a few years back, John and Ken openly targeted certain Republican state legislators who supported a deal that included revenue increases while calling for their “heads on a stick.” The “head on a stick” reference didn’t sit too well with many John and Ken detractors. Many accused the duo of painting the budget scenario with a broad brush and inciting rhetoric that was simplistic and divisive.
Immigration is a policy area where nuance matters because of different visas, refugee status, economic conditions, and personal circumstances. Someone can enter the country illegally or overstay a visa, and in one day, his status changes. In a state like Alabama where a tough new immigration law was enacted, farmers are having a difficult time finding enough employees as the state’s Latinos are fleeing for cover from deportation. The move is costing big farm industry states like Alabama, Florida, Georgia and others billions of dollars in lost, rotting crops. California is also one of those states that could suffer massive damage to its agricultural industry if a federal law is passed mandating all U.S. businesses comply with the national E-Verify database managed by Homeland Security. So painting immigration policies with a broad brush often doesn’t leave room for the consideration of unique cases and situations.
But, John and Ken seldom care about nuance. While many Southern Californians seek a more thoughtful discussion on immigration and tune in elsewhere, John and Ken seek sensationalism and advertising-generating radio antics. Back in 2004, the two initiated a “human sacrifice” stunt campaign to defeat Democratic Congressman Joe Baca and Republican Congressman David Dreier for their perceived softness on the immigration issue. The National Republican Congressional Committee even filed a complaint with the Federal Elections Commission against John and Ken for running an illegal campaign against Dreier. The complaint was rejected, and ultimately, Baca and Dreier are still in Congress today.
In the past month, the California DREAM Act made it out of the state legislature and was just signed into state law by Gov. Jerry Brown. The proposal allows undocumented youth who have been accepted into state universities an opportunity to receive state aid. But before this occurred, there was intense lobbying from both pro and anti-immigration advocates.
John and Ken seized the California DREAM Act opportunity (or “illegal alien college bill,” as they called it) to pounce on a favorite subject: undocumented immigrants. In the process, they stooped to a new low. On air they read the personal and office phone numbers of Jorge-Mario Cabrera, a spokesman for CHIRLA (Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles) urging listeners to “congratulate him for stealing your taxpayer money.” Cabrera received hundreds of angry phone calls, including a few that threatened his safety.
In media relations, cell phone numbers on press advisories are typically treated with confidentiality because they can be the personal numbers of an agency or organization’s employee. On the other hand, numbers issued to organizations are widely available, and reading an audience the phone number of an elected official is a common practice. But with an issue as controversial as immigration, reading out a cell phone on the air and then encouraging calls is plain irresponsible and hazardous.
Now, the National Hispanic Media Coalition and other Latino groups are calling for a boycott of Clear Channel’s KFI 640 AM and the John and Ken show. Leaders have asked to shut the duo show down, yet the station refuses to fire them. With the boycott on, Los Angeles area residents will have an opportunity to flex their buying power through John and Ken sponsors.
“What advertiser in the world wants to be associated with hate speech?” asked Alex Nogales, the head of the National Hispanic Media Coalition in a recent interview. “Especially in a county that’s 48 percent Latino. The large national corporations don’t even know they’re advertising on the show. Vons doesn’t know. Ralphs doesn’t know. Albertsons doesn’t know. Who shops in those markets but Latinos in large, large numbers?”
Media personalities can be against illegal immigration and against bills like the California DREAM Act, but broadcasting personal cell phone numbers on the air crosses the lines of decency. If the boycott of John and Ken sponsors goes viral, the colorful duo will back down. Already, John and Ken are writings letters to the editor of The Los Angeles Times, a paper that they both “ridicule as irrelevant,” complaining about how they are being targeted for their remarks.
John and Ken can always dish it out, but it looks like they can’t take it.