Ask any gamer who Jack Thompson is, and it’s likely they’ll tell you not just who he is but exactly what they think of him, too. Long famed for his views on violence and sex in popular culture, Thompson made a name for himself by targeting a variety of people, companies and mediums when he felt their output was obscene, excessive or dangerous for children. Whilst high-profile campaigning against titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Doom boosted his notoriety in recent times, Thompson has a long and interesting history that stretches back far beyond his one-man crusade against violent video games. A history that swings from radio stars to rappers, by way of psychiatric evaluations and Supreme Court investigations. And whilst his story’s end will come to the surprise of nobody, his story’s beginning is unknown to many. A story that begins with the election of Richard Nixon in November 1960, in a small suburb in Cleveland, Ohio.
Part One: The Neil Rogers Show
In an interview with GameSpy in 2010, Thompson recounts his first ever political act – holding a ‘Nixon for President’ sign in his school playground on election day. “At the age of nine,” he muses, “I was already a member of the vast right-wing conspiracy.”
Thompson continued to be involved in local politics growing up. He was the student mayor of his high school, and even served as ‘mayor for the day’ in Bay Village, Ohio, where he got the chance to chair the city council for a short period.
After leaving school, Thompson enrolled at Denison University where he hosted his own political talk show on the college radio. Following graduation, he attended Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, to study law, and it was here that he met his future wife, Patricia. In 1976, he and his wife moved to Florida, where Thompson would stay, becoming a born-again Christian and a local legend in years to come.
But for a long while, that was the end of the story. It would be another twelve years before Thompson would crest the headlines, and when he did so it was in a long, bitter battle against radio legend Neil Rogers.
By the late 80s, Neil Rogers had been on the air for over twenty years, and was something of a rock star in the radio world. Consistently the highest-rated talk show host in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale area, he was well known for his liberal, borderline shocking, style of presenting. This included a section one day in late August when Rogers – who is homosexual – asked for other men to phone in if they wanted to go on holiday with him, complete with a fair amount of sexual innuendo about what would happen when they were away (so the story goes).
Thompson happened to tune in that afternoon, and was shocked by what he heard. Almost immediately, he sent in a written complaint to the station, WIOD. He received a response a short while later, not from WIOD, but from Rogers himself – on air. Thompson’s name, address and phone number were read out on the show, and almost overnight he found himself the target of death threats and bomb scares. Someone left a rifle on his lawn; appointments were made with his contact details at urologists, rectal surgeons and psychologists throughout Miami; someone even tried to put his house on the market, getting as far as arranging for a realtor to show up for a meeting.
Following this, Thompson began legal proceedings against Rogers and WIOD for invasion of privacy. But if the radio star was concerned, he didn’t show it, and continued to berate the lawyer on air. Thompson decided to up the stakes by attempting to interfere with the station’s advertisers, telling them what Rogers was doing. When WIOD found out, they counter-sued him.
During this same time, Rogers was broadcasting a series of risqué parody songs, with titles such as Penis Envy, Boys Want Sex in the Morning and The Masturbation Song. Over a dozen complainers voiced their concern, including Thompson, who pressed the FCC to act against the station – which they did. An investigation was launched into Rogers’ show, during which time they refused to renew WIOD’s broadcasting license. Once they were done, they fined the station $2,000 per song, for a total of $10,000.
Afterwards, WIOD agreed to cease their on air harassment of Thompson, as well as promising to pay him $5,000 for each violation from there on. The next day, Rogers violated this agreement ninety-four times.
Thompson knew this because he was listening, which he continued to do over the next few months, recording the show onto video cassettes in order to keep an accurate log of what Rogers was saying. But the violations kept coming. And coming. And coming. Thompson stated that, by August 1988, Rogers had broken the agreement a staggering 40,000 times. At $5,000 a pop, that amounts to $200 million – which was the figure Thompson went on to sue for.
The case happened to fall upon the desk of Dade County State Attorney Janet Reno, who promptly threw it out. Unfortunately for Reno, this was a move not soon forgotten by Thompson, who realigned his laser focus and spent the next two years attempting to best her in a series of bizarre legal challenges.
But that’s Part Two of our story…