D.J. Fired for Slip of Tongue

Disk jockey Dave Lenihan of KTRS in St. Louis has been fired after a “slip of the tongue” in which he referred to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice with a racial epithet that went out of use forty years ago. According to the AP account:

Lenihan had praised Rice, who has frequently said she aspires to run the NFL one day but has ruled out seeking to replace retiring Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, who recently announced his retirement. On his show, Lenihan said: “She’s been chancellor of Stanford. She’s got the patent resume of somebody that has serious skill. She loves football. She’s African-American, which would kind of be a big coon. A big coon. Oh my God. I am totally, totally, totally, totally, totally sorry for that.”

He said he had meant to say “coup” instead of the slur. KTRS president and general manager Tim Dorsey agreed that the remark was accidental but announced the same day that Lenihan had been fired.

This is an absurdity on par with the controversy a few years back about people being offended by the use of the word “niggardly,” even though it has nothing whatsoever to do with race.

I don’t know anything about Lenihan’s background on such matters and am prepared to be corrected if there has been a pattern. But given only this context, it seems rather clear that he was praising Rice and slurred his words, not her.

Rice herself did not do much to diffuse the situation, simultaneoulsy accepting an unnecessary apology and then tying it to slavery.

“My understanding is that he apologized, said he didn’t mean it,” Rice told “Fox News Sunday.” “I accept that because we all say things from time to time that we shouldn’t say or didn’t mean to say.”


Rice said Sunday that the incident is evidence that the “birth defect” of slavery infuses even mature democracies with racial tensions that take generations to heal. Rice added that she hopes the episode inspires Americans to “be a little bit more humble” about the progress of emerging democracies such as those in Iraq and Afghanistan.

If one accepts that the statement was inadvertant, the follow-on comment is a non sequitur. One could say, I suppose, that the legacy of slavery causes these things to be overblown ridiculously out of proportion because of high sensitivity. But the way to heal this “birth defect” would be to call for the man’s job to be restored.

Update (3/27): Interestingly, John Aravosis and I are on the same page here in substance if not style:

He mis-spoke and garbled his words when speaking about Saint Condi, a member of the BUSH ADMINISTRATION, eeeks! Sounds like a plot to me, fire him, Dixie Chick him, make it so that his mis-speaking ass never works again. After all, in Amerikkka we can’t have people unintentionally mixing their words, especially when talking about the revered Bush administration.

And you have to love Condi’s response, invoking slavery AND using this to justify the disaster in Iraq and Afghanistan.

She’s got some nerve, especially after it’s obvious from the transcript that the DJ in question was trying to say “coup” and I think “boon” at the same time – he ended up saying “coon,” then immediately caught what he said and then said oh my God I’m so sorry. You do not fire a guy for that – unless, UNLESS, the audio transcript shows that his tone was only mock serious when he apologized, otherwise it was an obvious confusion of two words.

Now, obviously, I think this has more to do with hypersensitivity over race rather than worship or fear of the Bush administration. But that a man should not be fired–or, indeed, suffer any negative consequence at all–for an unfortunate misspeak is something that Left and Right should be able to agree upon.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    a slip of the tongue it was. I heard the tape of the supposedly infraction last evening. If you’re in that business long enough, that stuff is gonna happen. That simply a fact of life. Further, I’ve heard Lenihan’s show in the past. He’s on record several times as having praised Rice, At least twice in my hearing.

    Note to KTRS managers: You overreacted here. Lenihan’s the best thing you get going. Of course, KMOX could always use a new guy. That’d work better for me anyway… they’ve got a better signal up here. To say nothing of better management.

  2. just me says:

    The audio may tell more, but considering there was an immediate correction, I don’t see it as being intentional.

    Not sure that this is something a person should lose their job over.

  3. LJD says:

    Of course, no reprimands will be handed out for repeated use of the works cracker, honkey, or white bread on the St. Louis rap station.

    What if he did intentionally say ‘coon’? Where are all of the free speech advocates?

  4. James Joyner says:

    LJD: I agree he should be free to say “coon” as much as he wants and that his employer is be free to fire him for it. If the man were making racially offensive remarks, the station would be wise to disassociate itself from him.

    It just doesn’t appear to be the case here.

  5. LJD says:

    It just doesnâ??t appear to be the case here.

    Exactly my point. Another person sacrificed needlessly to the P.C. police.

    If the man were making racially offensive remarks, the station would be wise to disassociate itself from him.

    My lesser point that we hold double standards for the use of ‘offensive’ language. For some reason, white men do not object to being profiled as people who cannot dance, shoot a basket, ask directions, of fix breakfast for their children.