On May 23, at about 7:15 am, the Wake Up Crew on Honolulu’s Island 98.5 radio station aired a “Micronesian joke” that served as a “rude awakening” for local listener Kat Lobendahn. Kat, a community activist, took immediate action to rally support around a petition to demand for disciplinary actions from programming director Jamie Hyatt.
Critics of the movement cited first amendment concerns (freedom of speech) and were unconvinced that actions were needed to respond to a “joke”. Kat’s response: “I understand the [first amendment] concern… however, I also feel, that one loses that right when it is used to degrade and dehumanize an ethnic group”.
The joke: "Why aren't there many beautiful Micronesians? Because babies with birth defects are usually terminated before birth."
Many listeners took the “joke” as an allusive reference to one of the devastating results of nuclear radiation caused by the U.S. military’s weapons tests.
So, did the Wake Up Crew go too far? Over 1,800 petitioners think so, with such sentiments as:
“I have worked in the media for 40-plus years. A radio show and freedom of speech does not mean [it’s] perfectly correct to mock any group of people.” (Tony Diaz; Hagatna, Guam).
“As a former teacher at Waianae High, I have seen kids use these jokes as part of a campus wide bullying problem so bad that nearly all Micronesian students are frequently truant. Micronesians living in Hawaii suffer from systemic and widely accepted, even supported, discrimination and harassment. This needs to stop...” (Clarisa Merucci; Parrish, FL.)
“The attempt at humor on your radio station is cruel, backward, ignorant of the ultimate sacrifice paid by the peaceful people of the RMI, and simply unacceptable. You open yourself up to a [lawsuit]. Apologize immediately, dismiss the offending DJs, and implement policies to ensure it doesn't happen again.” (Patrick Kevin Harmon; Mangilao, Guam)
These are but a few of the many comments made against the Wake-up Crew. You can view more statements and participate in the petition until Friday of this week.
Less than a week after the petition was created, Director of Programming/Operations Manager at Clear Channel Radio, which is responsible for seven radio stations in Hawaii including Island 98.5 released a statement of apology. In his statement he apologized for the "tasteless and offensive joke". He pointed at a "lack of sensitivity and understanding" on the part of the personnel and explained that the staff will be counseled.