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Chicago Urban League calls on iHeart to Rescind Michael Berry Award and Show

Sent Via Email

Robert Pittman
Chairman and CEO
iHeartMedia, Inc.
125 W 55th St.
New York, NY 10019

Mr. Pittman,

On March 10th, we met with Matt Scarano and Angela Ingram to discuss our concerns relating to comments made about Chicago homicide victims by Michael Berry and the “Talk Personality of the Year” award iHeartRadio chose to present him. While we appreciate the meeting and the speed with which Matt and Angela sought to address our concerns, those concerns have not been alleviated.

As we understand it, Berry was given the award as a way of recognizing his ratings, social followings and a myriad of other factors. That this is an internal award has no bearing on our position. The award should not only be rescinded; his platform on iHeartRadio should be rescinded, as well. The award, which Matt noted “seems to run contrary to the company’s core values,” clearly indicates that iHeartMedia puts profits over moral consciousness. By rewarding Berry and continuing to air his show, you are explicitly supporting and sanctioning racist and incendiary hate speech. As Chairman and CEO, you are able to place limits on what your company does and does not support across iHeartMedia’s 805 radio stations nationwide. The responsibility attached to that privilege is immense and must not be taken lightly. However, the language and false narratives you continue to not only allow, but directly fuel by rewarding, would seem to suggest otherwise.

Berry has used the platform that his radio show provides to refer to Black people as “jungle animals,” ridiculed victims of gun violence, and demonized Muslims. There is no need to further recount what Berry has said on your airwaves for the past several years, for we hope by now that you and your Board of Directors are aware. As written in a March 2nd Chicago Tribune article about the presentation of the award to Berry, Media Matters’ guns and public safety program director, Tim Johnson, said that, even by the debased standards of talk radio, Berry’s comments about crime victims are reprehensible. “If he was mocking the victims of a public mass shooting that makes national headlines instead of these very vulnerable people, advertisers would flee his show, and he would be fired.’’

We strongly agree with Mr. Johnson. If steps are not taken to adequately address this situation, they should be. As you know, the undersigned represent a very large and powerful constituency across the city of Chicago and, in fact, the country. We’ve heard from many of them who are ready to take action, and amplify existing action, against iHeart in order to hold the company accountable for the reprehensible narrative and dog whistles it allows to penetrate its airwaves.

We want to acknowledge the purported apology that Berry read on the air last week. It was pandering and disingenuous at best, delivered because he received push back — not because he suddenly cares about the people or communities he chose to attack. It neither excuses nor alleviates the damage that he has done or that iHeart continues to do by allowing such vitriol to be spewed over your airwaves. It is, quite simply, not enough.

We would like to meet with you as soon as possible to discuss what actions will be taken to address the negative impact Michael Berry’s comments have had on our society and what will be done to correct such programming moving forward. iHeartMedia Inc., including its Board of Directors, benefits from listenernship and sales in Black and brown communities yet it perpetuates racial stereotypes that are egregious, offensive, dangerous, and promotes intolerance and hate.

Given that iHeart reaches 90 percent of African Americans, according to Matt Scarano, we would also like to discuss with you the alarming lack of racial diversity among the company’s executives and Board of Directors. Boards that are too culturally homogenous often wind up with blind spots and miss important cultural cues and internal imbalances that can prevent the false equation of racist speech = free speech. We urge you to take this opportunity to meet with us by Friday, March 24, 2017. We will reach out to your office this week to arrange a time to meet telephonically.

Shari Runner
President and CEO
Chicago Urban League

Rev. Michael L. Pfleger
The Faith Community of St. Sabina

Rufus Williams
President and CEO
BFF Services