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Cbs Records Issues Internal Memo Denouncing Bigotry in Music Industry

January 12, 1990
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The controversy surrounding the anti-Semitic lyrics of CBS-sponsored rap music group Public Enemy took another turn Wednesday with CBS Records’ issuance of a company memo denouncing bigotry in the music industry.

“A number of recordings have recently been released,” wrote Walter Yetnikoff, chief executive officer of CBS Records, “which have stirred strong reactions outside and within the industry suggesting that these songs validate and promote bigotry and intolerance.

“When the issue is bigotry, there is a fine line of acceptable standards which no piece of music should cross. Our company is committed to making sure that none of our recordings promote bigotry.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Anti-Defamation League of B’nai B’rith, which have sought in recent months to restrain Public Enemy from recording anti-Semitic rap songs, applauded the CBS memo. It followed letters of concern from both organizations and a meeting last week between Yetnikoff and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Wiesenthal Center.

The most recent issue of concern was CBS’ distribution of Public Enemy’s new recording, “Welcome to the Terrordome.”

The song’s lyrics revive the ancient accusation of Jewish responsibility for the crucifixion of Jesus, and imply that the Jews have done the same to the song’s narrator, Richard Griffin, more popularly known as “Professor Griff.”


Griffin received notoriety following a May 9 interview with The Washington Times, in which he said that Jews were “responsible for the majority of wickedness across the globe,” and backed up his assertions about Jews with references to classic anti-Semitic texts, including Henry Ford’s “The International Jew.”

According to Cooper, “although CBS says ‘Terrordome’ doesn’t cross the line, the song as it appears to the public is clearly anti-Semitic.”

No where in the CBS memo is there any specific reference to Public Enemy or “Terror-dome,” or to CBS’ intention to discontinue the distribution of the album.

According to Robert Altshuler, senior vice president at CBS, “this was only a general statement of our commitment to standards. We’re not talking about any album in particular.”

“We’re going to agree to disagree on this particular song,” said Cooper. “But this memo is an important first step from someone high up in the industry. It puts everyone in the company on notice. Now we’re going to move laterally to other executives in the industry.”

Abraham Foxman, ADL’s national director, agreed. “This is a position for the future,” he said. “I don’t expect them to go through the catalogues and purge themselves. I would rather they begin with criticism and then move on to the next step. Let’s start with Jan. 10 and see.”

“Clearly,” says Cooper, “Griffin and lyrics like his are not going to go away. But if I can’t stop him, I want to make sure that his type of music doesn’t get this type of exposure or make this kind of money. I would like to put them on the ‘lunatic fringe,’ which is where they belong.”

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