What Jay Severin thinks about the poor

Jay Severin is Boston’s local version of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Laura Ingraham, etc. How anyone takes him seriously, I don’t know. One of my guilty pleasures is listening to his show and, when I’m able to get through, berating him on the air. Here is a transcript of my call with him from February 25, 2008 at about 5:45 pm. The conversation lasted 5 minutes, 45 seconds. That’s a LONG time in talk radio.

David: Hey, Jay!

Jay: Hey, David.

David: I’m doing a little blogging, and I wanted to get you on the record about what you said previously about the poor. And I know you don’t like to be misquoted, so maybe you’d want to just repeat that about, exactly what you said about their hygienic habits.

Jay: Well, I don’t recall exactly. Would you like to ask me a question? I’ll be perfectly candid with you.

David: Well, what I thought you said was "I don’t have anything against the poor, except for the fact that they don’t bathe very often and don’t smell very good." Is that accurate?

Jay: I did say — The best of my recollection is I said that or words to that effect.

David: And you believe that?

Jay: Well, obviously there was some dark humor involved in what I had to say, but I — You’re asking me whether I said it, and so —

David: Well, because —

Jay: (inaudible) … words to that effect.

David: You’ve previously said something to the effect of "you don’t say anything on the air unless you honestly believe it."

Jay: OK, well, all right. If you wish a debate here, if you wish a parsing of words I’m certainly not reluctant to administer one. You know, the — Now again, this is not necessarily in relation to what we’re talking about, but if you’re asking me to speak to this, a smarter man than myself would just, you know, not pick this fight, but I’m here and what I say is fair game, therefore what I’m saying is that poor people, socio-economically speaking, poor people have different habits of every kind than do the affluent. That’s to say, by the way, people of different classes have different habits in every realm of their lives than people in other classes. And the fact is that if you were to say that there are some people who have better or not so good practices of personal hygiene, clearly the more affluent one happens to be, the better one’s practices of hygiene happen to be, by and large, and the poor tend, for one reason or another, not to have either access to or inclination toward hygiene the same as the middle, upper-middle, or upper classes. It seems to me that’s a straightforward socio-economic or sociological observation.

David: OK, but that’s not what you said. You didn’t say that wealthier people tend to bathe more often —

Jay: No, I didn’t say that. You’re saying that.

David: Right, you said, I think — and again, I don’t want to misquote you, this is why I’m on the phone — you, essentially you said that poor people smell bad.

Jay: I said, I said something like, very much like, in fact maybe even verbatim, I said something like "poor people are boring, and often smell."

David: OK, so they’re often smelly but they’re always boring.

Jay: I didn’t say always.

David: You just said that. Poor people are boring and they often small bad. So —

Jay: I don’t contest that.

David: OK, so can you define "poor" for me then? Because I just want to let these folks, you know, know who they are that you think are boring.

Jay: You know, I enjoy a good joust, but I’m not a fool. No, I think you can probably go on from here and identify the poor.

David: Well, I don’t know, I mean … anyone who makes less than you?

Jay: I think I’ll let you define the poor. The Democrats, of which you are clearly one, you define pretty well who the rich are, like anyone with a family income of $75,000 or more? So I’ll let you do what you’re so good at, because by the way, the Democrats practice every day the religion of class warfare —

David: Now now, now wait a minute —

Jay: I’ll let you define the poor.

David: No, no. You’re all about "words have meaning." You know, you’re very precise in terms of language.

Jay: Indeed I am.

David: And so if you’re going to use a word like poor, I assume you know what it means. It’s a relative term, so what does it mean to you?

Jay: "The poor" is not a relative term. The poor are the poor.

David: What do you mean it’s not a relative term?

Jay: I mean it’s not — I mean "the poor" is not open to interpretation. The poor are the poor.

David: Are you talking about the definition of the poverty line?

Jay: Look, my opinion of the poor is not different than your opinion. There’s a certain fact quotient here. The fact quotient is that either one is poor or one is not. One may disagree on the standards, but the fact is somewhere, somehow, there’s a definition of what it means to be rich, much as there’s a definition to be what it is to be poor.

David: Well, I would suggest then that you —

Jay: What are you after? What do you want me to tell you?

David: Basically, I want you to admit that you said something stupid for once. Why can’t you just do that? Why is it so hard for you to be confronted with something stupid that you said and say "you know, gee, that was a dumb thing to say. I take it back."

Jay: I don’t take it back. I was clearly — I was clearly trying to have fun with everyone when I said words to the effect that poor people are boring and they don’t bathe a lot. Now, if you can’t be — Is that something you might maybe hear on Saturday Night Live or someplace else?

David: You don’t hold yourself out as a comedian, Jay. You hold yourself out as one who offers social commentary and wisdom.

Jay: I’m asking you, is it reasonable that you might hear someone say that — Is it reasonable that you might hear, say, Eddie Murphy, or Chris Rock say that in the course of their performances?

David: It’s totally irrelevant whether they would say it or not. I’m not going to answer that question —

Jay: Totally irrelevant quickly is —

[At this point Jay hung up on me. I was unable to get to a radio in time to hear the final comments he made before going to commercial or the next caller.]

This is classic Severin:

  • He ridicules callers who disagree with him if they don’t know the dictionary definition of words like racist, bigot, and discriminate. He lights into people when they things like "what I mean by sexist is…" But he refuses to define a word that he brought into the conversation, and even refuses to admit that "poor" is a relative term. Is someone with a $25,000 salary and $2,000 in the bank poor? In some places yes, in some places no. Jay, if I ever hear you roll out that "words have meaning" line again, I’m going to call you a hypocrite. And I’ll be right.
  • When trapped, he tries to counter his opponent by changing the subject and demanding yes or no answers to irrelevant questions. The Saturday Night Live thing was typical. Fortunately, I didn’t take the bait.
  • He will note that politicians’ true sentiments are conveyed in off-hand remarks, and he may have a point there. But in this case he tried to simultaneously stand by and distance himself from his own outrageous, off-hand remarks. You can’t have it both ways, Jay.
  • He seems to pride himself on his debating skills, yet he makes fundamental errors that most of his listeners either can’t or won’t point out. He scoffs at the (conveniently unnamed) Democrats who define "rich" as anyone with household income over $75,000. By that logic, $75,000 is too low; one shouldn’t be considered rich unless one has household income of perhaps $100,000 or $200,000. And he seems to think there’s a pretty clear division between being rich and being poor. So in other words, Jay, you think that all people making less than $100,000 or $200,000 — that is to say, the vast, vast majority of Americans — are boring and smell bad. Is that right, Jay?

Jay could have taken it like a man and left it at that. But after the 6:00 news, he felt it necessary to further impugn my credibility, referring to me as an unemployed wanker. I’ll post the transcript of that bit when I get a chance. I’m actually NOT unemployed, so I may not get to it right away.

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