Scot Lehigh

Jay Severin, a punk posing as a pundit

By Scot Lehigh
Globe Staff / May 2, 2009
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I have to admit, I'm confused.

Has WTKK suddenly adopted elementary standards of civility?

Is it now applying an IQ test to its talk-show hosts?

On Thursday, the station suspended Jay Severin, and if you read between the lines, that indefinite suspension sounds like it might just be permanent.

Why?, Severin's anguished fans wonder. And I have to admit, it's a good question.

Sure, Severin reportedly called illegal immigrants from Mexico "criminaliens," "primitives," and "leeches." Yes, he said that Mexico's leading exports were "venereal disease," "women with mustaches," and "swine flu."

But come on. That kind of racist ranting has been his stock in trade all along. Indeed, it's precisely what has made him the pied piper of the pugnacious p.m. pinheads.

Now, let me be upfront about where I'm coming from. I've long been a critic of Severin's crude, bombastic, xenophobic discourse. Over the years, I have highlighted a few of his more blatant lies, outrages, and inventions because I thought his listeners should know what a bigot and a fraud he was. I more or less gave up the task when my wife told me I had proved my point and that pursuing it further seemed petty. And when I realized that discerning people got it - but that it made no difference to Severin's committed fans. So I'm hardly sorry to see this happen.

Further, I have to confess, it amuses me to read the comments from his acolytes, who see his firing as an outrageous violation of his First Amendment - or, in the case of one, um, constitutional scholar, Fifth Amendment - rights. Although I've been a longtime critic, I've never called for him to lose his show. Still, the notion that his suspension somehow tramples on the First Amendment is silliness on horseback. That amendment protects speech against state suppression. It doesn't prevent one from being suspended or fired as a commentator by his private-sector employer.

But my larger point is that anyone who listens to Severin with any regularity knows these latest comments are no particular aberration. It's what he does. Just like, say, calling Hillary Clinton "a lying bitch," and a fat communist this-or-that. Or labeling her husband "a traitor." Or saying that Mike Dukakis should be "executed" and that Al Gore "would murder his daughter" to become president.

And he's sounded positively deranged as he's ranted about how President Obama must be stopped.

It's all par for the course - and it's been going on for as long as he's been polluting the airwaves.

From the start of his talk-radio career, Severin was just bright enough to be an accomplished charlatan, clever enough to coat his gut-level biases and bigotry with a thin veneer of analysis. But he was neither smart nor knowledgeable enough to add much of value to the public discussion.

From his prepification of his name (Jimmy Severino to Jay Severin III) to his Walter Mitty-esque pretense of having been a top-level national political consultant to his assertion that he had a master's degree in journalism from Boston University to his preposterous claim that he had won a Pulitzer Prize, he was a figment of his own egotistical imagination.

The secret to his success - to the degree one could call a talk-radio host who traffics in venom and vitriol a success - was simple.

First, he appealed to the visceral grievances and resentments of his audience. Second, he flattered them by continually telling them they were the best and brightest, men and women of intelligence and discrimination.

What better salve for a listener's ego than to be told that his darker instincts are the very essence of red-, white- and blue-blooded patriotism?

The result was to take WTKK relentlessly down market.

On Thursday night, I caught some of Dan Rea's show on WBZ. Governor Patrick was his guest. Dan is conservative, and I suspect he disagrees with Patrick on many things. Still, he was civil and respectful. The callers I heard followed suit, with fair if sometimes pointed questions. The session was lively and interesting, which is to say, terrific informative radio. Tom Finneran does the same thing mornings on WRKO.

Listening to both men, you can learn something.

That's an experience I've never had with Severin.

Here's the difference. Rea, a veteran and accomplished journalist, and Finneran, the former House speaker, are informed, intelligent, and gentlemanly.

Severin, for all pretentious palaver, is simply a punk posing as a pundit.

Over the years, I've heard from lots of listeners who had once tuned in but had come to see Severin for what he really is. I can understand why, for occasional listeners, that took some time. After all, for most of us, talk radio is something we catch in dribs and drabs.

But not for those who heard Severin on a regular basis. And that returns us to the brass at WTKK.

Unless they are as dense as the elements that inhabit the upper ranges of the periodic table, the folks at 96.9 must have seen Severin for what he is years ago.

So tell us, guys, what took you so long?

Scot Lehigh can be reached at

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