How Ira Hansen got the boot

As a talk show host at KKOH, he had nearly complete freedom of speech—until he questioned U.S. foreign policy in Israel

It’s a good thing Ira Hansen, a former Reno radio talk show host, didn’t quit his day job as the owner of a plumbing business.

It’s a good thing Ira Hansen, a former Reno radio talk show host, didn’t quit his day job as the owner of a plumbing business.

Photo By Deidre Pike

Getting canned after spending five years in the radio talk show host biz isn’t Ira Hansen’s biggest gripe. What worries the conservative Republican the most is the censorship of political discussion—especially in this time of national crisis, when having access to the marketplace of ideas is arguably more important than ever.

“This issue is so critical right now,” Hansen says. “If we’re ever going to solve problems in the Middle East, we have to be able to have open dialogue about it. The smear tactics of using economic blackmail and using terms like ‘anti-Semitism’ toward those who bring the issues up—that stifles conversation.”

For five years, listeners could catch Hansen’s Saturday call-in show at KKOH-AM 780 at 11 a.m.—an hour after Garden Talk Line with Mr. Vegetable. Hansen was fired on Sept. 15. KKOH station manager Dan Mason says the station can’t comment on personnel issues. Hansen, owner of a Sparks plumbing outfit called Ira Hansen & Sons, says he lost the radio gig after a local casino owner threatened to pull its advertising with Citadel Communications Corp., the station’s parent company.

“The whole story is that they made a story out of nothing,” Hansen says. “I didn’t say anything rude or that wasn’t factual. … This completely stunned me. I didn’t see it coming.”

In the days after the attacks of Sept. 11, Hansen was asked to do a special 3 1/2-hour program for KKOH. He’d introduce a controversial topic, as usual, and take calls from listeners.

For Hansen, it seemed a golden opportunity to talk about issues that worried him personally—like the threat of war. After all, Hansen, 40, is a father of eight children. His oldest son, Daniel Alexander Hansen, 19, was student body president at Manogue High School, lettered in three sports and maintained a 4.0 GPA. The teen now attends Brigham Young University on a scholarship.

“In short, he’s just the all-American kid,” Hansen says. “And the last thing I want to see is that kid fighting in some hellhole in Afghanistan because of our country’s blind relationship with Israel.”

Hansen had used his radio show to talk about issues in the Middle East before. He’d done his homework. When Ariel Sharon was to become prime minister of Israel, Hansen did a show on what that might mean for peace in the Middle East. To truly address terrorism, Hansen says, it’s critical to look at its roots. He traces these roots back to the conflict in the Middle East.

“It’s not that [radical Muslims] don’t like our Western way of life,” he says. “Then they’d hate Germany and France, too. The reason we have this complete hatred of Americans is Israel. Until we rectify that, we’ll never have decent relationships with the rest of the world. You can kill Osama [bin Laden], and 10 more will pop up, because they’ll make a martyr out of him. … We’ll never have peace unless there’s parity between the Muslim/Arab world and Israel.”

It helps to know a bit about the mindset of the Israeli prime minister. As Israel’s defense minister in 1982, Sharon was held indirectly responsible for the slaughter of 2,000 Palestinians at refugee camps in Beirut. The Israeli Commission of Inquiry recommended then that Sharon resign. He did.

Time passed. Nowadays, as the newly elected prime minister of Israel, Sharon seeks to achieve his stated goal of “security and peace” by ordering plenty of helicopter attacks and the bombings of buildings in the Gaza area.

In a recent article in The Nation, Neve Gordon writes that since Sharon came to power, “Tank and infantry units have entered Beit Jala and Jenin, and Israeli death squads operate regularly in Talkarm, Hebron and Ramallah. … Palestinians have been under siege for months, and their economy has all but collapsed, leaving thousands to cope with grinding poverty. The extensive restrictions on freedom of movement have not only prevented Palestinians from reaching hospitals and work but have also cut off access to drinking water in 218 West Bank villages.”

The United States continues to back Israel, giving the nod to the nation’s questionable tactics and sending it the lion’s share of U.S. foreign aid, Hansen says.

“Israel totally abuses the rights of the indigenous people that live in that area and forces Jewish settlements into places that aren’t legally part of Israel,” he says. “It’s a horrible injustice against these people, and it has not been rectified.”

When Hansen first introduced the topic of U.S. foreign policy toward Israel on his show—months before the events of Sept. 11—many irate listeners began to call the station, he says, including the Jewish Defense League and Atlantis Casino Resort owner John Farahi.

Hansen says the station’s management told him that he could only talk about Israel in a positive way.

“If Israel was the bad guy, then they didn’t want me talking about it,” Hansen says. “That was the only time KOH asked me not to talk about a specific topic.”

Farahi told the RN&R that he had no comment regarding Hansen’s story. The Jewish Defense League doesn’t have an office in Reno. And while Rabbi Myra Soifer of Temple Sinai-Reform in Reno says she isn’t familiar with Hansen’s show, she says that it would be too simplistic to attribute the terrorist attacks to Israel.

“I’m not crazy about Ariel Sharon—I don’t agree with all of his policies—but it’s nonsense to say that this isn’t about anti-Westernism,” Soifer says. “There’s a much larger context that has to do with problems [some have] with the West and democracy.”

Why did Hansen decide to ignore his boss’s directive and again bring up issues in Israel?

“After [the] terrorist attack, I listened to talk radio extensively and was appalled by the sentiments being expressed, especially by syndicated KOH host Mike Savage,” Hansen wrote in a Sparks Tribune column that ran Sept. 23. “Savage, who is Jewish, was calling for all-out war against all Islamic and Arab nations in the Middle East, openly naming Libya, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and several others. He was totally in earnest, speaking of the need to, in effect, wipe all Muslims off the Earth. … I was disgusted, and when my Saturday [radio] show came up, my entire focus was on combating this blind and vengeful hatred against all Muslims and Arabs.”

So Hansen talked about Israel. And Farahi’s name came up briefly in response to a caller who was asking about the dimming of lights at local casinos.

The woman kept talking. The show went on. Then about two hours later, Hansen says, his boss burst into the studio.

“He said, ‘You’re in deep shit. John Farahi called and he’s threatening to pull his advertising. You’re in deep shit.’ And he slammed the door,” Hansen recalls.

After the show, Hansen sat in his boss’ office while calls flew back and forth. Hansen told his boss, “You and I know what’ll happen if it comes to keeping a local yokel talk show and keeping advertising.”

Hansen’s suspension was immediate. He was fired 15 minutes later, after he’d left the building, via cell phone. He says he won’t mind having Saturdays to spend with his family, but that’s not the point.

“I’d like to see anyone show where Mr. Hansen has done something that’s anti-Jewish,” he says. “It’s not the case. I’m not bigoted against Jews in any way, shape or form.”

Hansen, in fact, prides himself on being an independent thinker.

“I’m just as harsh with Republicans as I am with Democrats," he says. "If somebody does something right, I’ll praise him. If he’s doing something bad, I’ll blast him with both barrels regardless of ideological orientation."