A Boston-based public radio station is apologizing after someone called in pretending to be an executive of a national seafood chain, then made racist on-air remarks.
The incident unfolded Thursday, Dec. 20, during a live broadcast of WBUR’s “On Point,” according to Boston.com.
“We took a call from someone who identified himself as ‘Dominic’ from ‘Aspen, Colorado,’ ” the call-in news show said in a statement. “He unexpectedly made racist comments about African-American restaurant patrons. He also claimed to be ‘a vice president of a chain of restaurants called Chart House.’ ”
“On Point screens its callers to create the most robust hour of live conversation possible,” it continued. “We apologize that this hoax got on the air.”
Show host Meghana Chakrabarti was in the middle of interviewing San Francisco food critic Soleil Ho, whose work often explores food through the lens of politics, identity and culture, before turning the show over to callers. That’s when “Dominic from Aspen” phoned in and began criticizing Ho for failing to concentrate on the “ambiance” of restaurants.
The caller, who purported to be the vice president of the Chart House seafood chain, went on to grumble about how “some clientele” tend to sour the dining experience for others. When Chakrabarti asked what he meant by this, “Dominic” replied that it was “normally Black people that do that; they ruin the meal for everyone.”
Chakrabarti began to press the caller further, but ultimately decided to end the call.
“Dominic, thanks for your call, I guess,” she said before hanging up. “Soleil, I did not see that one coming, so apologies for that.”
The station later tried verifying the identity of the caller, who it turns out had also lied about his employment, Boston.com reported. Steve Scheinthal, executive vice president and general counsel for Landry’s, Inc., the Houston, Texas-based company that owns the Chart House chain, told WBUR there’s never been a company officer or employee named Dominic and that no one from the chain called in that morning.
“I don’t even know who this Dominic is,” Scheinthal said. “This is a horrible hoax. Our organization has zero tolerance for any kind of racism. We take this seriously. It was a horrible statement that does not reflect the views of our organization.”
According to “On Point,” the incident marked the second time in the last two weeks that someone has called in and unexpectedly made racist remarks.
Sam Fleming, managing director of news and programming for WBUR, told Boston.com that the station is now “looking into technology that can enhance our screening capabilities, and will continue to remain as vigilant as we can to prevent future incidents.”
“Fortunately, it’s rare that a caller has malicious intent, but this [is] one [of] the vulnerabilities of live radio,” Fleming said of taking listener calls. “There are occasional callers who misrepresent themselves to the call screeners, but in 17 years on the air, it’s been few and far between.”
Later during Thursday’s show, Chakrabarti said how “shocked” she was by the caller’s “overt racism” and pivoted her interview with Ho to discuss race and food. One listener called in and described the subtle acts of racism they experienced as a Black patron, such as a server not being attentive to their table.
“A lot of people have accused us of making things up, and thankfully there’s proof right there that there is a lot to talk about, and we’re not making a big deal out of nothing,” Ho said of restaurant’s attitudes toward of people of color. “If you feel like you’re being treated differently, or if you observe people being treated differently, because of their race or gender presentation or sexuality, that matters, too, to the experience.”
“Those are the people I’m writing for as well,” she added. “They have been sort of shut out of these conversations because their experience didn’t matter for a long time.”