944 Magazine Apologizes to Hispanics for Exec's Racist Comments

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944 says it really likes Hispanics now. No, honest...

Some of you may be familiar with the legal donnybrook Scottsdale's 944 Magazine is engaged in regarding the handling of its 2008 Super Bowl party, which 944 hosted along with its business partner in the venture, California-based Explosive Productions. On March 27, Explosive Productions filed suit against 944, alleging that 944 defrauded them out of gobs of dough by using the party as a promotional venture, giving away thousands of high-priced tickets to aspiring models, instead of attempting to turn a profit.

Ultimately, the party was a bust. According to the lawsuit, "Revenues totaled less than $1.6 million while expenses totaled more than $2.4 million." (You can read the complaint in its entirety, here.) One of the many reasons Explosive Productions cites for the flop was 944's decision not to publicize a series of boxing matches, with Hector Camacho, Jr. as the featured boxer. The Explosive Production execs wanted to target the Hispanic market by advertising the fights on Spanish language radio, but 944 refused to do so.

According to the complaint, 944 reacted with "hostility" and "crass open racism" to the idea. Indeed, the text of the suit has 944 exec Steve Kushnir sounding like Dog the Bounty Hunter's Hispanic-hatin' protege, if he had one.

"We can't promote on Spanish radio unless you want to kill this event on Sat night," Kushnir allegedly wrote in one e-mail. "We will have a bunch of gang bangers and get shut down."

There was another e-mail along the same lines reproduced in the complaint. The kicker was a comment Kushnir supposedly made in front of witnesses.

"There is no fucking way we are going to advertise to Mexicans and have them on our property and destroy this event," Kushnir told several others at 944's offices, according to the complaint. (Wonder what Camacho would've done if he'd heard Kushnir spit that bull?)

The complaint states that another 944 exec agreed with Kushnir, and that 944 didn't want to advertise in the Arizona Republic because, "Mexicans read that newspaper."

And here I thought it was a bunch of blue-hairs subscribing to the fishwrap of record up in Sun City.  

Kushnir's outrageous anti-Mexican harangue, as related in the lawsuit, has been reported on by TheDirty.com, and the Arizona Republic. Lydia Guzman, president of the immigrant rights organization Somos America, sent me a letter she e-mailed to 944's PR director Carly Harrill, wherein Guzman points out the power of the Hispanic market in America and demands 944's apology.

"This behavior is offensive and unacceptable," wrote Guzman in her missive, which you can read below. "I demand that 944 Magazine publicly apologize to the Hispanic Community via the same publications where we learned of this despicable behavior: via the Arizona Republic as well as an apology to the viewers of Univision."

Asked about 944's reply to Guzman's letter, Harrill e-mailed me a response.

"Addressing Lydia Guzman's request for an apology," wrote Harrill. "We offer our sincerest apologies for any hardship the situation has caused to her and the Hispanic community. 944 Media greatly values the Hispanic/Latino audience and their interests, and have considered them an important part of our readership since day one. 944 has produced and/or sponsored more than 2,000 events over the past eight years, and this is the first accusation of this kind."

Kushnir, too, chipped in on a plate of crow.

"I offer my sincerest apologies for any harm my comments might have caused," Kushnir's quoted as saying. "The situation was misconstrued, and is not a fair representation nor a reflection of my personal character. Likewise, these comments do not reflect in any way on 944 and its wonderful and diverse team of executives and employees."

Will Kushnir and 944 get to slide on this one? As is, the mag's lucky not to have an army of infuriated Hispanics at its doorstep, demanding Kushnir's dismissal. If the lawsuit is accurate on Kushnir's racist rants -- and Kushnir's apology suggests that it is -- this was not a one-time outburst for Kushnir, but rather a pattern of prejudiced remarks. Sometimes saying you're sorry just ain't enough, particularly when we're dealing with adults: businessmen who should know better. But that's the Hispanic community's call to make, not mine.   

(Full disclosure: Explosive Production's attorney Mike Manning also represents New Times in its ongoing legal battle with Sheriff Joe Arpaio.)

Lydia Guzman's letter to 944:

Carly Harrill

Director of PR, 944 Media

4253 N Scottsdale Road, Suite 200

Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Sent via email to: carly@944.com

Dear 944 Executives:

In today's news I read with great disappointment the comments made by Executive Steve Kushnir regarding his views of Hispanics. In this great time of economic stress I find it interesting that an industry focused on the promotion of events finds that Hispanics are the "wrong crowd" and that advertising in Spanish-speaking television might "attract a bunch of gang bangers".

In 2007 The Nielsen Company provided insight into the shopping behavior of Hispanic consumers, a collective buying power of nearly $1 trillion. "It is critical for retailers and marketers to understand the wide range of factors driving Hispanic consumers' shopping behavior," said Tim Kregor, president, Nielsen Consumer Panel Services. "By understanding what Hispanic consumers are buying, where they're buying it, how they're buying it and why, retailers and marketers can adapt product offerings and promotions to ultimately better satisfy this rapidly growing and diverse consumer segment."

Don Montori, Market Research's editor, announced in 2005 that, although much has been written about the growth in the U.S. Hispanic population, only now are we starting to appreciate their real impact on markets. Montori added that by the year 2010, one out of every six people in the United States will be of Hispanic origin, which is something that no company can afford to ignore.

The bigotry that came out of emails written by Mr. Kushnir is so offensive that he relates Spanish speaking viewers to being gang bangers. According to a news report regarding a lawsuit that was filed, Mr. Kushnir was urged to promote a boxing match on Spanish-language radio stations; the news report stated that Kushnir nixed that idea. "There is no (expletive) way we are going to advertise to Mexicans," Kushnir said at a meeting in 944 Media's Scottsdale office, according to the news article that sites this lawsuit.

This behavior is offensive and unacceptable. I demand that 944 Magazine publicly apologize to the Hispanic Community via the same publications where we learned of this despicable behavior: via the Arizona Republic as well as an apology to the viewers of Univision.

I sincerely hope that you rethink your marketing approach; Hispanic culture already has begun to influence consumer attitudes toward pop culture, fashion and beauty. As Americans continue to embrace this cultural shift, retailers and promoters of events will need to modify both their marketing efforts accordingly. I trust you will in the future, in the mean time I believe you owe the Hispanic Community a public apology.

Lydia Guzman, President

Somos America

944's response to my inquiry:

Hi Stephen,

In response to questions posed in your email, please understand that these accusations are not taken lightly by 944 Media.

The comments published in the Arizona Republic article are in no way an accurate representation of Steve Kushnir or 944 Media, nor do the accusations of racism in any way reflect our mantra. From the beginning, we have built a company dedicated to providing a resource that caters to the 944 reader, regardless of race, color, sex or ethnicity. However, Mr. Kushnir has expressed his deepest apologies for how his comments have been interpreted, not only to the Hispanic community, but also to the general public.  Mr. Kushnir also echoes our sentiments that his words ― inartfully chosen under extremely tense business circumstances ― are in no way, shape, or form a reflection on 944, its mission, and most importantly, its people.

Addressing Lydia Guzman's request for an apology, we offer our sincerest apologies for any hardship the situation has caused to her and the Hispanic community. 944 Media greatly values the Hispanic/Latino audience and their interests, and have considered them an important part of our readership since day one. 944 has produced and/or sponsored more than 2,000 events over the past eight years, and this is the first accusation of this kind.

Additionally, within our company, we are an equal opportunity employer and thrive on cultural diversity with a multi-ethnic staff throughout all of our markets. In fact, of our executive management team, a total of seven individuals, three are female, one is African American and two are Hispanic/Latinos.

Lastly, in regards to the allegations of fraud alleged in the complaint,  944 does not comment on pending legal disputes, regardless of how frivolous they might be.  This is particularly true in this instance, where the two parties have agreed to private arbitration to resolve not only the claims by Explosive against 944, but the very substantial and sizeable claims brought by 944 against Explosive.

Again, thank you for giving us the opportunity to respond. Please let me know if you need anything else.

 Statement on behalf of Steve Kushnir:

"I offer my sincerest apologies for any harm my comments might have caused,"said 944 Corporate Events Director, Steve Kushnir. "The situation was misconstrued, and is not a fair representation nor a reflection of my personal character. Likewise, these comments do not reflect in any way on 944 and its wonderful and diverse team of executives and employees."

All the Best

Carly Harrill

Director of PR, 944 Media


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