Ten years after: The mother of all controversies
Published: Sunday, September 16, 2012
Updated: Sunday, September 16, 2012 21:09
One host asked, “Which porno star banged the most guys in one day and how many did she do?”
“She knew,” the co-host responded.
Later on: “Clearly, we’ve got a few fags out in the Rainbow Center,” one host noted. “Yes, well, I mean they breed ‘em weird over there,” the co-host answered.
Ladies and gentlemen, your University of Connecticut student fees at work.
The year was 2002, the channel was student-run television station UCTV, the show was entitled “I Did Your Mother,” the two co-hosts were Joe Kingsley and Peter Pietro, and the controversy was national. The show’s rise and fall 10 years ago this year continue providing profound lessons about sensitivity, taste and the pitfalls of humor gone too far.
“We would go live, booze on air, and take calls,” remembers Kingsley via phone interview from California. “We held a wet T-shirt contest. We ran a commercial where a girl got up from under a table wiping her mouth. My mom called me almost in tears, telling me to tone it down.”
Outcry came fast and furious, and CNN invited Kingsley to debate fellow student Rebecca Nesbitt on “American Morning with Paula Zahn.” Zahn asked Kingsley “What’s the point of this show?”
“I guess you can’t really say it has a point other than to entertain. And I think it does that,” answered Kingsley, who would become production assistant on reality television shows including “Trading Spouses,” “Jersey Shore,” and “Shot of Love with Tila Tequila.”
“Not only is it disrespectful, but it also is on the border of hate speech,” retorted Nesbitt. “Hate speech defined as spoken or written words that threaten, harass or intimidate.”
UCTV operations manager Vivek Sukumaran was between a rock and a hard place. Holding a newly-created position as liaison between student media and university administration, Sukumaran attempted balancing freedom of speech with “looking out for the best interests of the station.”
“I wanted to become a sports journalist,” recalled Sukumaran, who hosted his own show “Sports, Sports, and More Sports.” “Representing the station during that time made me want to go into public relations.” Ditching sports journalism, he worked in public relations for several years until getting laid off in 2009. Sukumaran now attends Touro College in New York to become a physical therapist.
Kingsley claims Sukumaran tried pressuring him off the air: editing skits, controlling which calls made it on air, even abruptly cutting to black. Sukumaran denies the claims.
The Associated Press and Hartford Courant wrote of the show, forcing Dean of Students John Saddlemire to release a statement calling it an “abusive and offensive run of programs.” Saddlemire added, “I do question the judgment and depth of consideration utilized by the UCTV leadership in regards to the potential for harm the show can cause at the expense of fellow campus community members.”
Bill O’Reilly invited co-host Pietro and Daily Campus Editor-in-Chief Daniel Drew on his Fox News program “The O’Reilly Factor.” “If you look back to the  Supreme Court Southworth decision a few years ago,” noted Drew, “they protected student fees from offensive content based on the educational value that the programs offered have.”
“All right, now let me stop you,” interrupted O’Reilly. “That’s very, very good, Mr. Drew. You have a future in journalism, by the way.” (Drew would report for the “Potomac News” in Washington D.C. and the “Connecticut Post” before being elected mayor of Middletown as the state’s second-youngest mayor.) “Mr. Pietro,” O’Reilly asked, “what is the educational benefit of ‘I Did Your Mother’?”
“Probably none at all,” replied Pietro. “We are not aiming for any educational benefits.”
“Boom!” yelled O’Reilly triumphantly. “There goes your Supreme Court decision!”
Drew now explains via phone interview that “the show was garbage. It wasn’t even funny. I never found a whole lot of redeeming value in it. But I will stand up for their First Amendment right to put out garbage until my dying breath.”
This year I host a UCTV comedy talk show “UConn Tonight,” which began production only two weeks ago. Researching this article has made me more vigilant against airing possible offensiveness. I want a funny show – and yes, I admit desiring attention. But I never want to hurt anybody. “I Did Your Mother” surely lost the hosts more potential friends and allies than they gained. Their content was indeed “their First Amendment right to put out garbage,” and I too defend it “until my dying breath.” But as for me, I choose to take a different path.