Radio-Free Little Saigon

Politician Van Tran tries to silence his most vociferous critic

Photo by Jessica CalkinsGarden Grove city councilman and Assembly candidate Van Tran, who has previously bought airtime to accuse prominent Little Saigon radio host Diane Vo of slandering him, has now formally complained to the station's owner and is threatening legal action to silence Vo.

Sometime in December, Tran sent a letter to Salem Communications Corp., the nation's largest Christian broadcasting company and owners of Westminster-based KXMX-AM 1190, claiming that Vo slandered him on two separate Saturday evening broadcasts in December.

Salem, whose editorial board counts local conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt as a member, referred calls for comment to its counsel, Bob Mesrop, who did not respond to interview requests by press time.

Vo says Salem officials refused to provide her with a copy of Tran's complaint. She then contacted her attorney, Harry Bagby, who in turn demanded the complaint from Mesrop. Although Bagby claims that, by law, Salem must produce Tran's letter, Mesrop had not done so by press time.

However, Mesrop does reveal much about Tran's grievance in a Jan. 2 e-mail he sent to Bagby. The e-mail warns that Salem is investigating Tran's contention that Vo's Dec. 20 and Dec. 27 broadcasts contained "slanderous comments . . . against him and others in the community, and that she made threats against Mr. Tran and friends of Mr. Tran on the air." Tran "also contends that programs such as Ms. Vo's cause great harm to the Vietnamese community due to their divisive nature."

Though not revealing what any possible repercussions might be, Mesrop did inform Bagby that Salem will "take any appropriate measures in response to the outcome of that investigation."

This represents the latest sally in a months-long war of words between the radio host and Tran. Little Saigon's most prominent politician, Tran is an attorney seeking the Republican nomination for the 68th Assembly District seat in March's primary election. Vo interviewed two immigrant sisters on another radio station, KALI-FM 106.3, on July 29, 2003, and they claimed Tran botched a wrongful-termination lawsuit on their behalf the previous year. When OC Weekly picked up the story, Vo and the sisters jumped from radio show to radio show, riding Little Saigon's whitewater airwaves to openly warn his potential Assembly district constituents that Tran could not fulfill a contract.

Tran responded by purchasing a 40-minute time slot on KXMX on Oct. 10 to tell listeners that Vo was sullying his good name. Four days later, Westminster city councilman Andy Quach, former Santa Ana commissioner Hoa The Nhanh and two other Little Saigon leaders appeared on KALI to insinuate that Vo was a communist and to proclaim that only good things should be said about Tran since "he is a part of our community."

Tran referred a request for an interview to his attorney, Dale Washington, who stressed that his client is not suing Vo for slander—yet.

"I didn't regard [Tran's letter to Salem] as a complaint [but] a heads-up," said Washington. "His purpose was to put the station on notice so that they could not become a party. Maybe they can put some guidelines to her. . . . She's striving to tear down the only game in town."

Bagby, who does not speak Vietnamese, said he would await a translation of the tapes before determining what his course of defense will be. But he scoffed at Tran's contention that Vo's on-air discussions constituted slander.

"When right-wing talk show stations talked about Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky when the scandal broke, that caused division but no one stopped them, with good reason," Bagby said. "The fact that something causes division is certainly not a reason to keep someone off the air. That's what [Tran is] trying to do."

Vo maintains that during the Dec. 20 broadcast she only mentioned that Tran is an Assembly candidate and that on the follow-up show she translated into Vietnamese stories about the councilman that ran in OC Weekly and the Orange County Register. She vows to file suit if Tran continues to press his allegations.

"He has destroyed my business reputation," she said. "He doesn't want me to be on the air anymore. He thinks that if he could put me away between now and March, there is a chance he could win the election. He's afraid of me because I criticize him.

"I have a law degree, so I know what I can and cannot say on the air," she added. "I haven't committed any slander. And I'm not going to stop criticizing Tran."

Vuonganh Ngo contributed to this story.
 
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