Civil Liberties

Disrespecting Elder


He has earned solid ratings with the prospect of national syndication, a favorable profile on 60 Minutes, and a regular gig as a pundit on CNBC's Charles Grodin program. But those achievements may not keep "the Sage of South Central," libertarian radio talk show host Larry Elder, from losing his job. (See "Elder Statesman," April 1996.) On November 17, Los Angeles station KABC cut Elder's daily program–which in October had the second-highest ratings of any show in the lucrative afternoon drive market–from four hours to two. KABC said it brought in journeyman left-liberal host Ed Tyll to split the afternoon drive shift with Elder to give listeners something different. But it looks a lot like the station is cowering under pressure from a group of race-baiting radicals.

In the spring of 1996 the secretive Talking Drum Community Forum, a group of perhaps 30 Afrocentrists, started leafletting South Central neighborhoods with personal attacks on Elder (one handbill read "Wanted: White Man's Poster Boy–Dead. Bring Head to South Central") and picketing merchants that advertise on the program. Especially vexing to Talking Drum are Elder's assertions that individuals of all races are responsible for their own actions and that many African Americans seem too willing to blame their woes on lingering racism. Talking Drum also started writing letters to national advertisers on The Larry Elder Show, and more than a dozen of them–including American Airlines, J.C. Penney, Sears, Ford, and Motel 6–pulled an estimated $3 million in advertising from the program.

Talking Drum rarely makes its case in an open forum–the group refused to talk with 60 Minutes–but in a telephone interview with Jill Stewart of the weekly New Times Los Angeles, a member identifying himself as "Thutmos Turner" contended that the only reason Elder was given a show in the first place was due to a Jewish conspiracy against blacks led by Disney CEO Michael Eisner. (Disney had purchased KABC in 1996.)

Elder has garnered support from the conservative Center for the Study of Popular Culture, which raised more than $350,000 to run pro-Elder ads on L.A. cable outlets, and from Project Larry Elder, an ad-hoc group of Elder fans and civil rights leaders who may disagree with Elder's positions but take umbrage at Talking Drum's tactics.

As the controversy continues, Elder soldiers on. "I would be lying if I said I was happy about" having the show cut back, he says. But at press time he says "there are only a few details remaining" before he signs with a national syndicator for his program. And Elder will begin writing a weekly national newspaper column for Creators Syndicate in February.