Bice: Madison firm pulls funding for radio station after Vicki McKenna’s rant on Kenosha protests

A Madison health care firm has decided to pull the plug on conservative talk radio host Vicki McKenna.

Group Health Cooperative of South Central Wisconsin said Friday that it is dropping all of its funding from McKenna’s Madison radio station in response to her comments about the protests in Kenosha. 

“There should be some consequences,” said Allan Wearing, chief business development officer of Group Health Cooperative. “This was over the top.”

On her Wednesday show, McKenna came to the defense of Kyle Rittenhouse, 17, of Antioch, Illinois, who was charged Thursday with intentional and reckless homicide in shootings at a Kenosha protest Tuesday that killed two people and injured a third person. The 17-year-old was charged as an adult under Wisconsin law. 

McKenna said Rittenhouse was acting in self-defense. 

Beyond that, the veteran talk show host also encouraged “patriots” and “militia” members to get their guns and ammo and head to Kenosha to defend life and property. 

“By the way, where are all the patriots who brag on Facebook, ‘Hey, bring it, baby! Lock and load!’ Where the hell were you last night?” McKenna asked. She continued, “Have you cleaned your guns lately? Do you have enough ammo?”

Beyond that, McKenna suggested that “cop-hating, anarchist-loving” Gov. Tony Evers and “pathetic, idiot puppet” Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes, both Democrats, should be put on trial for what happened in Kenosha.  

Wearing said that McKenna had the right to say what she wanted to say about the Kenosha protests. But he said he also had the right to pull his funding from her radio station.

Her show airs on WISN-AM (1130) in Milwaukee and WIBA-AM (1310) in Madison.

Group Health Cooperative has a package deal with iHeartRadio to air ads on its AM and FM stations in Madison, Wearing said. He said he informed the station owner that it wanted to pull all of his firm’s advertising from WIBA.

The health care firm, Wearing said, currently serves as sponsor of the station’s news desk. 

“We pulled the whole package,” he said.

Wearing declined to say how much money was involved. He added that Group Health Cooperative is a “fairly significant advertiser.”

McKenna didn’t respond to this decision by the Madison firm.

Instead, she went on the attack on her Friday show, saying she was being “smeared” by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and others. She said my column suggested that she was telling people to murder protesters, something that is, of course, false. 

McKenna made it clear that she and her stations have been inundated with emails and calls from people criticizing her comments and, in some instances, implying she’s a white supremacist, a term the Journal Sentinel never used.

Of her critics, she said, “You’re sending emails out there perpetrating these smears, perpetuating these dangerous lies, that could get me and my family hurt — or worse.”

Then former Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. — blast from the past! — joined McKenna to say the criticism of her remarks amounted to “domestic terror” and “orchestrated violence.”

He cited the Journal Sentinel, the liberal group One Wisconsin Now and unnamed others. 

“It’s kind of like the Salem witch hunts,” said Clarke, the government critic now drawing a $100,000-per-year public pension. “They go out there and identify somebody, they draw blood and they create a feeding frenzy. That’s what it is.”

But it’s nothing like that. The Journal Sentinel hasn’t talked to One Wisconsin Now about McKenna or anything related to her.

I wrote a column, and people and businesses responded. 

For instance, Dan Brown, executive director of Ho-Chunk Gaming, called to say he wants people to know that his casino does not sponsor McKenna. Instead, it sponsors WIBA’s call-in line, so it is mentioned several times during her show. 

“We had no idea we were being associated with this type of rhetoric,” Brown said. 

He said his advertisers throw out a wide net on a variety of radio stations in the Madison area. He said Ho-Chunk Gaming does not sponsor any particular radio personalities. 

“In the instance at hand, we generically run ads during a time slot that happened to coincide with McKenna’s show,” Brown said. “This is not a sponsorship nor an endorsement of her show or its views.”

Contact Daniel Bice at (414) 313-6684 or dbice@jrn.com. Follow him on Twitter @DanielBice or on Facebook at fb.me/daniel.bice