Q&A: Fox's Steven Cohen on the Advertiser Boycott Over His Remarks on Soccer Stadium Deaths

Last Updated Jun 24, 2009 12:59 PM EDT

Steven Cohen, the host of Fox Football Fone-In and Sirius XM's World Soccer Daily, is battling fans of Liverpool F.C. who are urging advertisers to abandon his shows. Cohen offended the fans by blaming them for the deaths of 96 people at Hillsborough stadium in 1989. Those who arrived without tickets, Cohen has argued, contributed to the disaster.

So far Heineken, FourFourTwo magazine, the Fado pub chain and Ruffneck Wear have pulled their advertising from his show. In response, Cohen has lambasted his advertisers and claimed that some Liverpool fans are spurred by anti-Semitism.

Cohen agreed to do a Q&A with BNET about the situation. Before we got to our first question, however, he drew a line in the sand:

Steven Cohen: I know that you're a Liverpool supporter, [and you've written an article] which was very slanted and very biased, so I'm not going to give tremendous fodder to these supporters' groups that I'm assuming you're in touch with.

BNET: What has been the effect of the advertiser boycott of your shows? SC: There are some companies that couldn't take the heat from the Liverpool supporters' groups. They frightened them. They intimidated them. I think some of them are going to be found wanting when it comes to interfering with third-party contracts. We've lost some clients, as I think you would in this situation. The financial loss has been absolutely minimal, I will tell you that.

BNET: Have you replaced any of those advertisers? SC: We are in the process of doing so. And in fact having taken the position of the glass being half full as we head into a World Cup cycle. Some of these advertisers I'm not completely displeased to have got rid of. Some of the people in these product categories should have been paying more for our show. I'm not going to mention any names.

BNET: Is World Soccer Daily in any jeopardy? SC: No. And in fact what has been quite fantastic about this in some respects is the campaign by Liverpool and their supporters' groups is seen [by his audience] to be the hate-filled and vindictive campaign that it is. Some of the supporters' groups have asked people to whip people up into a frenzy ... the anti-Semitism is coming out beautifully. For some people that have heard about it, they are interested in investing in the show very quietly.

People are beginning to see what it's all about. The amount of positive email we're getting is starting to far outweigh the vile and disgraceful stuff that has come from these groups. I do love it when they try and compare it [Hillsborough] to the Holocaust.

BNET: What portion of the email were death threats or anti-Semitic? SC: The ones who are against us I would say about 30 to 35 percent of emails I'm getting courtesy of the Liverpool supporters' groups have some sort of racist, anti-Semitic overtones to them and by the way were handed over to the FBI on Sunday.

BNET: Why? SC: They were handed over to the FBI because two weeks ago in Washington, D.C., a man walked into to a Holocaust museum as a known anti-semite and shot somebody dead. Hate speech and hate crimes are a crime in this country and you can't interfere with third-party contracts, it's interference. I've read a few of them out on the air.

BNET: What has been the reaction of Chelsea F.C. fans to all this? You're a Chelsea fan -- and the two clubs hate each other -- that's obviously a factor in making the Liverpool fans angrier at you. SC: [He begins by arguing whether it would make a difference if he was a Doncaster fan. I tell him that if he were a Barcelona or Wigan fan, Liverpool's fans would be less angry.] I think it will come as not a great surprise that Manchester United, Chelsea and Tottenham have been pretty supportive of our show and our opinions. I'm talking about our supporters. I reckon I could get a parade in Manchester right now. Oh, don't put that!

BNET: Has Fox Soccer Channel talked to you about what's going on? It's very unusual for a host to be in conflict with his sponsors like this. SC: No. Is it? Ask Howard Stern. Ask Don Imus. I can't speak for Fox.

BNET: Has Nick Webster, your co-host on Fox Football Fone-In, talked to you about it? He's a Liverpool fan. SC: Ask Nick Webster that.

BNET: Why do you think LFC fans have not accepted your apology of May 18? SC: I don't think they want to accept it. I think to a degree the groups are trying to show their power. They're trying to show how powerful they can be. So many people have asked me, Have you ever read the Taylor Report [the official government inquiry into Hillsborough]? Yeah, I have.

BNET: The main beef the Liverpool fans have with you is whether the deaths at Hillsborough were caused by unticketed fans trying to get into the stadium. The Taylor Report says the amount of unticketed fans was negligible. Why not just issue a correction, like a newspaper would, and be done with the issue? [We go into a long discussion of exactly what the Taylor Report does and does not say. Cohen reads from it verbatim]: SC: "One problem which creates difficulties for the police is the arrival of would-be spectators without tickets at an all-ticket match. While while there were not a large body of those, there were undoubtedly some. Those people who try to get in without tickets do not help the situation."

It was like Athens in 2007 [where Liverpool played AC Milan in the Champions League Final, and many arrived without tickets]. What we saw on Sky, we saw people punching people, stealing tickets out of their hands, stealing from kids ... you could see the stand was wickedly, wickedly overcrowded. My comments in some respects would be, you could make the argument, if that's the way people are going to behave not a great deal has been learned from Hillsborough.

BNET: Final comments? SC: I think [Tom] Hicks and [George] Gillette [Liverpool's owners] are going to be asked to account for this because at the end of the day this was a campaign that was approved of by Liverpool F.C. ... With all that's going in Iran and North Korea this does seem unbelievably petty to me.

Disclosures: The author is a Liverpool fan. This interview was edited and condensed.

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