Absence of Malice

The termination of Kaos and Syllli Asz: a rush to judgment?

On August 3, Clear Channel Communications canned two KATZ (100.3 FM) disc jockeys, Kaos and Syllli Asz, amid pressure from prominent local and national police groups. The DJs drew the cops' ire by discussing a hypothetical confrontation between an armed officer and an unarmed suspect whom the officer had just purposely unshackled.

But much was shoved aside in the rush to judgment -- including exactly what Kaos and Syllli Asz said, and the context in which their comments were made.

Tensions were already running high at the time of the July 13 broadcast; eight days earlier, nineteen-year-old Kevin Johnson allegedly shot and killed Kirkwood police officer Sergeant William McEntee while the officer was responding to a call in the Meacham Park neighborhood. After an intense three-day manhunt, Johnson's relatives arranged for a peaceful surrender to police in the north-county suburb of Northwoods.

DJ Kaos
Jennifer Silverberg
DJ Kaos

Between July 8 and 10, on an Internet message board popular with St. Louis County cops (http://members5.boardhost.com/COUNTYBROWN), several people -- presumably irked that Johnson was treated humanely upon being taken into custody -- posted missives claiming Northwoods Police Chief Greg Moore "struggled to get a third-grade education" and was "illiterate," among other taunts.

On July 11, Kaos and Syllli Asz, both African-Americans, revealed the postings on their popular show, Kaos in the Morning, which had climbed to second in the ratings since the pair took over KATZ's 5-to-10-a.m. time slot in January.

Two days later, Kaos posed the following scenario to his broadcast partner: If, after being handcuffed by a police officer, that cop willfully took off the handcuffs and challenged Syllli Asz to a fight, would Syllli go for the cop's gun first or his radio? Syllli responded by saying he'd go for the radio first, so that the cop couldn't call for backup.

KATZ owner Clear Channel suspended the DJs indefinitely on July 15. On that same day, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch ran its first account of the imbroglio, which included comments by St. Louis Metropolitan Police Chief Joe Mokwa, who characterized the duo's comments as "taboo and inappropriate." Mokwa also added that he understood "they were trying to be funny, [and that it was] time to let go and move on."

Kaos and Syllli were about to discover another meaning to "let go" and "move on."

In a July 17 "Rimshot" on the Post-Dispatch opinion page, entitled "Wacky Morning Guys," Kevin Horrigan (writing sans byline on behalf of the entire editorial board) chided Kaos and Syllli for engaging in a "public-spirited dialogue with listeners on how best to beat up and otherwise neutralize police officers."

The next day FOX's Hannity & Colmes played host to Mike Guzy, a 21-year veteran of the St. Louis Sheriff's Department and onetime Post-Dispatch editorial columnist. On this broadcast, while acknowledging that he'd "never listened to the program," Guzy opined that Clear Channel should feel "negligent in their obligations to the public to allow these people to use the public airways to air tutorials on how to injure and kill police officers."

KATZ general manager Lee Clear, meanwhile, played a tape of the broadcast for Mokwa, who, according to department public-relations director Richard Wilkes, "didn't provide any insight either way."

"It really is not an issue with the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department," says Wilkes.

The St. Louis chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police on July 19 called for the immediate firing of the two KATZ DJs, a position the chapter formalized in a July 21 letter to Lee Clear. In the letter, local FOP president Kevin Ahlbrand threatened to "call for an immediate boycott of all advertisers of KATZ and any other Clear Channel media outlet" if the station failed to fulfill their request.

National FOP president Chuck Canterbury echoed Ahlbrand's call for dismissal in a July 26 letter to Clear Channel's board chairman, Lowry Mays. On July 28, Post-Dispatch reporter Emily Dulcan wrote a brief account of police reaction, describing Kaos and Syllli as having "discussed on the air how to injure police officers."

On August 2, Kaos retained the services of Clayton defense attorney Scott Sherman (Syllli has yet to retain counsel but has consulted with Sherman). The next day, Kaos and Syllli were fired, learning of their terminations via a written Clear Channel announcement issued to the news media.

Two days later, Post-Dispatch reporter Todd C. Frankel penned a short recap of the entire affair, describing the jettisoned disc jockeys as "talking with callers about how to injure officers and take away their radios so they couldn't call for help."

When Sherman and Ahlbrand appeared side-by-side on FOX's (Channel 2) Jaco Report two days later, Ahlbrand conceded he'd never heard the broadcast or read its transcript.

(Ahlbrand and Clear did not return multiple phone calls seeking comment for this article.)

On August 8, the Post-Dispatch's opinion page again weighed in, under the headline "Kaotic and Aszinine." Writing for the editorial board, Bob Joiner supported Clear Channel's decision while acknowledging that "some fans of the two hosts stressed that they knew the controversial discussion wasn't meant to be taken seriously."

At this point, no one at the Post-Dispatch had actually heard the broadcast or obtained a transcript. Neither, by their own admission, had any of the FOP officials involved in demanding the DJs' termination.

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