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CPB worries about two public radio Presidents

Dr. Alan Chartock (source: Wall Street Journal).

Dr. Alan Chartock (source: Wall Street Journal).

Reading Corporation for Public Broadcasting Ombudsman Joel Kaplan’s recent posts on public radio stations WAMC in Albany, New York and WHDD in Sharon, Connecticut, one could come away with the impression that these signals have become the political domains of two men on hyper drive.

For example, Kaplan, a journalism professor at Syracuse University, quotes one of his students, who has gone to work at WAMC, presided over by Dr. Alan Chartock.

“While I have not directly been put in an ethically compromising position as a result of my CEO’s support of OWS (Occupy Wall Street) or Dr. Chartock’s opposition to hydrofracking, for another example, it certainly makes me feel like the newsroom’s ethics are tested,” the student writes, “and I feel rather squeamish about it, and morally compromised as a journalist”:

“Dr. Chartock’s picture is peppered all over the front page of our website and hangs on the walls in the station along with the bobbleheads that graced the Wall Street Journal article. Alan is on the airwaves several hours a week with his one-hour interviews, commentaries and through other programs and segments. When most people think of WAMC, they think of Alan. I tell people in town that I work for WAMC, and many respond with a wry smile and ‘Oh, Alan . . . ‘ The notion that he does not speak for the station is incorrect. He is the face, voice and overwhelming viewpoint of the network. I remember from your, and other, classes at SU the notion of ‘equal time’. While we may offer commentaries or ‘open forums’, they certainly do not occupy equal time. And those open forums are often hosted by Dr. Chartock himself.”

The “cult of Alan,” the author of that WSJ piece calls WAMC. Then there is Marshall Miles, founder and president of WHDD in Sharon, Connecticut (home, by the way, to the conference that launched Young Americans for Freedom half a century ago). Miles is running for a Board of Education seat in Salisbury, which borders Sharon to the north.

Kaplan was responding to various individuals in the area who wrote to him expressing concern that Miles’ political activities were overlapping his governance of WHDD.

“When all this started happening and he started going on the air and being very critical of the superintendent and other people within Region One [the school district that Miles is seeking office in], I got concerned and questioned him on it and it didn’t stop,” the CPB post quotes former WHDD participant Susan Clayton as saying.

To which Miles responds on his Region One Report blog: “That is a BOLD FACE LIE. Since Susie left WHDD, never mind the fact that she has never once asked me to stop, as a matter of fact, she has never spoken a word to me in that time, never sent me a letter or email to stop, so that should be removed from your report.”

Sorry, but I must admit that I’m unclear what the “bold face lie” is here. The Clayton quote does not say that she asked Miles to stop. It says she “questioned him” on various matters. I also can’t figure out from his response at exactly what time she allegedly had not “spoken a word” to him, but even if she did not send him a letter or an email, there are other contexts in which she might have expressed her concerns, such as a public meeting. This he said/she said over how and when communication took place seems less relevant than the obvious fact that Clayton was concerned.

To be fair, Miles charges that Clayton has been involved in politics herself. And he has pledged to keep his board activities off WHDD. But he gives the impression, at least to me, of someone who is so wrapped up in his issues that it is difficult for him to accurately read public criticism of his actions or statements, or respond to them without sputtering. Frankly, I can relate. I’ve been there myself when it comes to public radio wars. But I’m not the President and/or CEO of a public radio station.

“There is nothing wrong with Mr. Miles running for a seat on the regional board of education,” Kaplan’s post on Miles concludes. “There is also nothing wrong with his presiding over a public radio station. What is wrong is that he should not do both at the same time. It is wrong; it is unfair; it is a conflict of interest and it should stop.”

Kaplan invokes a Code of Integrity assembled by a coalition of public television and radio stations to bolster his arguments. Public media employees should “be alert and sensitive to conflicts of interest between personal interests (including family members) and their professional public media responsibility,” the Code advises. Kaplan appears to think that this should apply to Presidents and CEOs as well, whether they’re paid or not for their position.

I wrote to the Ombudsman and asked him if the CPB has any enforcement authority in these regards. Do any regulatory teeth sit behind these words?

“Not that I know of,” Kaplan replied. “My role is simply to handle complaints and weigh in based on my understanding of both journalistic standards as well as public broadcasting’s standards of balance and objectivity. I do know that the CPB board does read my reports so I imagine that if the board is also troubled by anything I write then it can take action.”


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8 Responses to CPB worries about two public radio Presidents

  1. Matthew Lasar October 19, 2013 at 12:52 pm #

    Update (10/18/2013): the CPB reports that Marshall Miles has resigned from his position “pending the outcome of the November school board election in which he is a candidate.”

    http://www.cpb.org/ombudsman/display.php?id=165

  2. Terry Cowgill October 20, 2013 at 7:38 am #

    Matthew, yes he did resign as president of Tri-State Public Communications, but it is very thin cover. He will still call the shots.

    http://ctdevilsadvocate.com/2013/10/19/motives-irrelevant-cpb-ombudsman-right-marshall-miles/

  3. Matthew Lasar October 21, 2013 at 2:55 pm #

    Terry: I don’t see the “thin cover” here. The CPB requested that Miles quit his board post at Tri-State, and to his great credit he did so. This removes the obviously bad precedent of a public radio official running for and holding public office. I didn’t expect that he would cease exerting influence at WHDD, and maybe that’s a good thing, given that at least one of individuals who complained about him to the CPB took Donald Trump’s moronic Birther arguments seriously.

  4. Terry Cowgill October 21, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Matthew, I assumed you were a commentator of some repute and seriousness, but I guess I was wrong.

    First of all, even if I took Trump’s birther “arguments seriously,” which I did not, what possible difference could that make in assessing whether or not Miles has taken sufficient action to resolve his conflict? None, of course. Kaplan essentially said the same thing in his second opinion when he concluded, “the backgrounds or motivations of those complaining about unethical behavior or a lack of objectivity and balance is irrelevant.”

    You have done nothing more than take a gratuitous cheapshot that does nothing to speak to the issue.

    In case you did not notice, I concluded the Trump blog post by saying, “And any attempt to make a big deal out of it is either publicity mongering (Trump) or an attempt on the part of nativists and racists to delegitimize Obama.”

    I guess you didn’t get around to reading that part? Or, perhaps you did not read Kaplan’s second opinion either?

    Now that we have disposed of the scurrilous distraction, back to the issue itself. Anyone who is familiar with that station knows that Miles runs it. His two partners know nothing about broadcasting. Even his uber-partner, Jill Goodman, stated in her missive to Kaplan, that we had launched an “ongoing, multi-year assault on Marshall, and by extension, our radio station.”

    So Goodman has conceded that Miles is, “by extension,” the station. Everyone knows this, evidently, except you.

  5. Matthew Lasar October 21, 2013 at 5:34 pm #

    I don’t think I took a cheap shot at you. Some excerpts from your essay:

    “Or maybe there is no birth certificate because he wasn’t born in the U.S.”

    and:

    “And it is strange there don’t seem to be a lot of friends who recall Obama from his childhood, or remember him during his college days. Strange indeed.”

    and:

    “If it was established that President Obama is not a U.S. citizen because he was born abroad, what do we do then?”

    Bottom line: you suggested the Birthers were onto something, whatever their motives.

    As for Marshall Miles, again, I think that his stepping down as President of Tri-State was positive. But what do I know? I always thought Obama was born in Honolulu.

  6. Terry Cowgill October 22, 2013 at 3:14 am #

    Can’t even resist a second cheapshot, eh? Acknowledging there are irregularities in Obama’s past and constructing a what-if scenario is a far cry from taking “Donald Trump’s moronic Birther arguments seriously.”

    Then you do it again.

    You never answered my first question, which is what does this have to do with the argument in the first place? Nothing. That’s why it’s a cheapshot.

    Now maybe you’d like to try to answer a second time.

  7. Sherry Gendelman October 22, 2013 at 11:54 am #

    I wonder how many people recall Terry Cowqill from his childhood. What utter racist nonsense in re Obama. Further, rather than acknowledging Marshall Miles for having done the right thing and resigned, Mr. Cowqill seems to want to continue to take pot shots at him, and now at Mr. Lasar. I guess its true, no good deed goes unpunished.

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