The Radio Equalizer: Brian Maloney

29 December 2009

WGN Uses Anti-Republican Smear Ad To Censor Talk Hosts


Slanderous Ad Used As Basis For Muzzling Chicago Talkers

Here's a fantastic new way to slander Republican candidates and muzzle talk hosts at the same time: run a fringe wacko in the primary, raise some money for his campaign and air radio spots that smear the front-runner. Station management can then issue an edict that prevents on-air denunciations of this dishonest advertising.

Winners: marginal candidates who would otherwise be ignored, other campaign opponents and station owners with political agendas. Losers: honest individuals who become victims of this overt deceit.

In Chicago, that's exactly how Congressman Mark Kirk (R-IL) (shown right) has been slimed by a Republican US Senate primary challenger, with WGN-AM conveniently hiding behind legalese that protects the smear merchant behind the spots. There is also a documented instance of a Democratic Party opponent using the phony allegation to attack Kirk.

According to longtime broadcast reporter Robert Feder, corporate suits are telling WGN personalities that not only must an ad accusing Mark Kirk of homosexuality air uncensored, but that hosts cannot discuss the topic during their programs. From the station's memo to staffers:

“A station cannot selectively disclaim political advertising that it does not agree with. . . . Both as a general matter and specifically with regard to the Martin spots, please do not react to political commercials on our air, or take calls that do the same thing. You can of course discuss candidates, elections, political advertising and political issues as you always do, but do not react to a commercial you hear on-air one way or another.”

Other stations, however,
do refuse to air political advertising, often citing vague conflicts with corporate "standards and practices". Earlier this year, for example, Boston CBS affiliate WBZ-AM refused to air pro-life ObamaCare spots produced by anti-abortion activists.

Feder and the station must believe the distinction lies between issue-oriented ads and those produced for candidates during an election cycle (the primary is scheduled for February 2 2010), with the latter somehow being untouchable.

But a prohibition on discussing dishonest political advertising simply because the spot aired on that particular outlet? It's beyond absurd. Worse, it greatly undermines WGN's audience credibility. Once listeners no longer feel they can trust the station, a long and painful cycle of decline begins.

While censorship is the obvious objection here, hosts are also deprived of a chance to jump at the hottest local topic of the moment, potentially leading to lower ratings and revenue. Just take a look at the smear merchant's background:

Martin, it appears, is a wholly unreliable source of anything, from what CBS2 has reported about him. A perennial candidate for office, he was convicted of assaulting two TV photographers in Florida, was denied admission to the Illinois bar over character issues, and once ran for Congress proposing to "eliminate Jew power in America," according to CBS2. Kirk's campaign issued a statement that Martin's claims are "untrue and demeaning to the political process."

The station also reports that an openly gay Democratic candidate in the race is suggesting that Kirk, who is now on active duty as a Naval intelligence officer, could be subject to military investigation under the "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy--essentially using Martin's accusation as an opportunity to attack that policy.

Not surprisingly, the GOP is protesting the ads, which have also run on several other stations in Illinois, but the damage has been done. The smear patrol wins and it is up to Kirk to "defend" himself from the "charge".

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  • KMOX in St. Louis is also running this ad and doing the same thing that WGN is doing. It is disgusting that KMOX also refused ads that were anti-Obama, but they claim that they must run this ad. Radio has fallen to the point that I could care less about it. Radio is not that far behind newspapers or the TV media. Just disgusting.

    By Blogger Unknown, at 30 December, 2009 10:00  

  • This is why subscriber based radio could explode. I have XM, & it kills most free radio programming.

    By Anonymous danybhoy, at 04 January, 2010 20:45  

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