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WMNF says it fired host Rob Lorei over email containing ethnic slur

Lorei said the explanation given to subscribers Thursday is wrong. The email was a response to a defender of the far-right Proud Boys, he said.
Rob Lorei was fired by WMNF three months ago, and Thursday, the station sent an explanation to its subscribers.
Rob Lorei was fired by WMNF three months ago, and Thursday, the station sent an explanation to its subscribers. [ "OCTAVIO JONES | TIMES" | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Jul. 22
Updated Jul. 22

TAMPA — More than three months after long-time radio host Rob Lorei was booted from the airwaves, subscribers to WMNF-FM received an unexpected email Thursday afternoon explaining why.

Lorei, who helped found the radio station nearly four decades ago, had said earlier that WMNF’s management gave him no reason when he was fired April 9. Around noon Thursday, Will Greaves, president of the station’s board of directors, provided subscribers with one.

“In November 2020, Mr. Lorei used an ethnic slur towards a listener from a station email account,” the email reads. “When confronted about it, Mr. Lorei confirmed the use of the slur and has since defended it.”

Reached for comment Thursday afternoon, Lorei disputed the explanation and said the email in question was from a listener who had defended the actions of a far-right group.

“People who know me and my long record at WMNF know I would never use an ethnic slur,” Lorei said in a written statement to the Tampa Bay Times. “I did use a political term in an email to a listener who wrote in to downplay the dangers of the Proud Boys on or about January 6th.”

The term at issue, Lorei said, is “kapo” — a German word used to describe prisoners who aided their captors in Nazi concentration camps. Lorei said he has always understood it to describe an ally of the far right.

The Proud Boys describe themselves as “Western chauvinists” and have been associated with white nationalist movements. Members of the Proud Boys have been charged in the attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 that delayed the certification by Congress of the 2020 presidential election.

Lorei said WMNF’s general manager knew about the email exchange at the time and laughed about it, telling him not to contact the person again.

“I didn’t,” Lorei said. “Three months later, I was fired.”

Related: Why did WMNF fire Rob Lorei? Station says he knows, Lorei says he doesn’t

In a written statement to the Times, Greaves, the WMNF board president, said the board didn’t learn until April that Lorei had used the word in his email. Lorei was fired immediately. Greaves noted that Lorei’s email was sent two months before the Jan. 6 insurrection.

“The term Mr. Lorei used in November 2020 was not a political term,” Greaves said. “It was an anti-Semitic racial slur that is highly offensive to any Jewish person.”

In its message to subscribers Thursday, the station said it was sending an explanation at this time “to clarify the record” after learning recently that Lorei “has promoted false and misleading statements regarding his termination from WMNF.”

Lorei was fired for “gross misconduct,” the email said. “WMNF condemns intolerance based on race or ethnicity, and this reprehensible language violates the mission and style statements. The Board will not reverse its decision.”

Lorei has continued to speak publicly about his ouster and the station’s leadership. Video of a June 26 “community conversation” at Sweetwater Organic Community Farm stirred a heated debate on the Tampa farm’s Facebook page. And the headline on a July 13 story at local news website St. Pete Catalyst said Lorei “breaks his silence” in a tell-all interview about his firing and the station’s future.

What’s more, some of Lorei’s fans have continued to criticize his firing, including one supporter who launched a change.org petition July 15 titled, “Return Rob Lorei to WMNF.” By Thursday afternoon, the petition had garnered 143 signatures.

Still, Lorei said he has moved on and has no interest in getting his job back.

That wasn’t the case in February 2019, when Lorei was fired by former general manager Craig Kopp. At the time, Kopp said the station had “ended its long-running relationship” with Lorei to help move toward “a new world” of news media beyond radio broadcasting.

A public outcry followed and some supporters canceled donations to the nonprofit station as Lorei appealed his firing to the all-volunteer board of directors. He was reinstated weeks later and returned as WMNF’s news and public affairs director, the position he held until April 9.

Lorei moved to Tampa in 1978 and joined a group of people who wanted to start a community radio station. They raised the money, even going door to door, and WMNF hit the airwaves in 1979.

He’s best known for hosting call-in and interview shows centered on news and public affairs, including Radioactivity with Rob Lorei at 11 a.m. weekdays. He also appears on TV, and continues to host the weekly panel discussion Florida This Week on PBS station WEDU, as well as regularly moderate debates and political forums.

• • •

July 22 email to WMNF-FM subscribers

Good morning WMNF,

After much deliberation, the Board has the following statement to our community:

The Nathan B Stubblefield Foundation Board of Directors is disappointed to have recently learned that Rob Lorei has promoted false and misleading statements regarding his termination from WMNF. The Board sends this email today to clarify the record.

In November 2020, Mr. Lorei used an ethnic slur towards a listener from a station email account. When confronted about it, Mr. Lorei confirmed the use of the slur and has since defended it. As soon as the Board discovered the email, it directed General Manager Rick Fernandes to terminate Mr. Lorei for gross misconduct.

WMNF condemns intolerance based on race or ethnicity, and this reprehensible language violates the mission and style statements. The Board will not reverse its decision.

The Board remains confident in management’s leadership and is proud of the staff’s commitment to providing mission-driven public affairs and music to the Tampa Bay community. The hard work of the station’s employees and volunteers has continued to move the station towards a bright future in step with the station’s long term plan, even in the face of the challenges the past few years have presented.