During the Persian Gulf War in 1991, I was on Pacifica Radio station WBAI in New York, criticizing bombing the cradle of Civilization back to the cradle, when someone ran into the studio to say that a producer from The Sally Jessy Raphael Show was on the phone.
One of the Beautiful things about Community Media is that all kinds of volunteers come in. I figured this one was hallucinating. Sally Jessy Raphael was a popular national TV talk show host – “the Queen of tacky TV talk shows,” As the Houston Chronicle dubbed her – known for dealing with issues such as fad diets and “Love triangles,” but certainly not War.
But when I took the call, a producer from The Sally Jessy Raphel Show was on the other end. She said she was listening to the Radio in her limousine (maybe her chauffeur had tuned in), and she wanted me to come on the program to talk about my opposition to the War. Could I come down to the studio in a couple of days? I was pleasantly surprised – okay, floored. I said I’d be there.
It turned out that Sally Jessy had invited three women who were for the War and three women against. It promised to be an interesting exchange. As we sat offstage before the show, the producers informed us that Sally didn’t generally do this kind of show, so when we got out there, we should mix it up. The producer told us not to be afraid to speak our minds. It sounded like Sally Jessy Raphael was going to teach Tom Brokaw and Dan Rather a thing or two about what real diversity of opinion sounds like.
The six of us went out on cue and took our places on stage, and the videotaping began. Sally Jessy started off by wading into the audience and letting someone ask a question: “What do you think about the fact that Saddam Hussein has biological Weapons?” a woman asked.
Dr. Yolanda Huet-Vaughn was sitting next to me on the stage. A physician and captain in the Army Reserves, she refused to serve in the Persian Gulf War because she said she was trained to save lives, not take lives. Wearing glasses and a long black dress, with her hair tied back, the mild-mannered doctor looked as if she could be Amish. “Well, that’s an important question,” she began. “I think it’s important to look at biological Weapons that Saddam Hussein might have. And we should also look at the biological Weapons that are right here in the United...”
Before Dr. Huet-Vaughn could say “States,” Sally whirled around and came charging up on the stage, shouting, “Get out! Get out! Get off my show! You shut up! This is my show!”
I thought she was going to attack Dr. Huet-Vaughn. As she barreled up to the stage, I said, “Whoa! Back off, Sally!”
Not being a regular viewer, I didn’t know what to make of this. I wondered, Is this how it works? The host goes nuts, and then... are we supposed to physically defend outsevles?
Sally Jessy just kept screaming, “You be quiet! You be quiet!”
People had come from my Radio station, WBAI, at the invitation of Sally Jessy’s producers. Well, if there’s one thing Community Radio listeners know how to do, it’s participate. They started to chant: “Free Speech! Free Speech! CEN-SOR-SHIP!”
Sally stopped the program.
She was shaking. The producers came out and started rocking her back and forth. “It’s okay, Sally. It’s okay, Sally,” they consoled her. She succeeded in uniting her pro- and anti-War guests – in disbelief at the spectacle in front of us.