Howard Stern, the once and possibly future King of All Media is in trouble again. This time, Stern is being sued in federal court over a taped and rebroadcast phone conversation.
The story is a weird one if you believe the official report. According to the lawsuit, the woman called the IRS and was connected to an agent, who had been scheduled to appear on Stern’s radio program. “Somehow” Stern’s producers were able to listen in – and tape – the conversation between the woman, Judith Barrigas, and the IRS agent.
Stern subsequently played excerpts of the 45-minute conversation between the woman and the agent on his hugely popular syndicated radio program. According to the lawsuit, Barrigas suffered severe emotional distress, struggled to eat or sleep and had to seek professional treatment. The suit alleges “invasion of privacy” and “negligence.”
No word on if or when the case will go to court. There’s a strong chance the attorneys will attempt to settle out of court.
Stern is hardly a stranger to controversy. He pioneered the concept of the radio shock jock before leading the shift in live radio programming to more of a topical talk format. His team concept of quirky host, a producer as “straight man” and a revolving door of comic relief has been relentlessly copied by others trying to find fame on the radio.
And, of course, all of this plays right into the Howard Stern playbook. He loves the spotlight, the more controversial, the better. After a brush with renewed national fame during the presidential election, Stern settled back into being his version of the King of Radio, though not exactly the King of All Media.
Stern, no longer as taboo as he once was, was also not nearly as universal a figure. Others on the radio have taken over the title of personality listeners love to hate the most. Since controversy wasn’t working as well, Stern faded back a bit, losing headlines in a country that was increasingly interested in and divided by politics rather than the antics of entertainers.
Then came the election. When comments made by Donald Trump on Stern’s radio show some years back became a follow-up story to the notorious Access Hollywood piece, Stern was once again relevant to the mainstream outside of his dedicated fanbase. He was getting calls from talk shows and news programs, doing interviews in which he tried to answer questions about conversations that happened 20 years ago.
But, as all the dust settled, the focus stayed on Trump and moved away from Stern. That’s not to say all of this is a work for the show, but it would just the kind of thing Stern might do to grab some ratings. He’s lived entirely out of the box for his entire career, so this kind of controversy is his stock and trade. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out.