By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Finneran jumps the shark

Tom Finneran is on the air this morning, broadcasting from the Heritage Foundation in Washington. Which means that WRKO (AM 680) has already blown it. Program director Jason Wolfe should have hired a security guard to keep Finneran away from the microphone if that’s what it took to prevent the born-again lobbyist from using the public airwaves today.

I only listened for a few minutes so I could verify that (1) Finneran was doing his show and (2) he wasn’t talking about his lobbyist deal, reported today by Frank Phillips of the Globe. So I don’t know if the matter came up earlier in the broadcast. What I do know is that this is exactly what his critics predicted would happen when Finneran was hired, amid much ballyhoo and controversy, to take the 6-to-10 a.m. slot.

I like Finneran, even if I think his reign as Massachusetts House speaker was heavy-handed and occasionally abusive. I think his conviction on obstruction-of-justice charges was a travesty. I appreciate his efforts to establish a civil, substantive tone on his radio program, “Finneran’s Forum.” But though talk-show hosts don’t owe us much, they certainly owe us their independence. Now that’s gone.

According to Phillips’ story, Finneran the lobbyist is representing the state troopers union. How on earth can Finneran the talk-show host discuss public safety if he’s in the tank to a major player?

A word about ethics: No reputable news organization would allow a journalist to do this, whether he or she is a straight-news reporter or an opinion-monger. It’s not about objectivity, something that’s undesirable in columnists and talk-show hosts alike. Rather, the principle is that your opinions can’t be bought and paid for.

Yes, I understand that the ethical standards for talk-show hosts are different from those of journalists. (No self-respecting journalist, for instance, would read advertisements, which is part of the job description for talk-show hosts.) But there are areas where the ethics of these two very different media jobs coincide, and this is one of them. If Finneran were to criticize Gov. Deval Patrick’s public-safety policies, for instance, how can we know whether his opinion is sincere or if, instead, he’s grinding the union’s axe?

It’s possible — maybe even probable — that Finneran is looking beyond his talk-radio career. The show’s been dull, and one of the main reasons is that Mr. Speaker all too often sounds like he’s trying to maintain his political viability. His ratings have been painfully low. Perhaps he and management already have an understanding that when his contract runs out, he’s going to move on.

But this is an outrage. If Finneran plans to embark on a lobbying career, let him do it today. And let someone who’s not bought and paid for take his place at WRKO.

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9 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Shirley, this isn’t surprising. From a man with no ethical compass whatever?

  2. Ben

    What’s your take on sports radio guys in the employ of local teams? I’m asking because Jason Wolfe has never had an issue with that.

  3. Anonymous

    Who is Shirley?

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Ben: Well, it’s the toy department, but whom are you referring to? Tom Caron? It’s right out there, isn’t it? I wouldn’t put him on because everyone knows he could be fired from NESN if he pisses off the Red Sox. But as big a deal as Tom Finneran taking money from the state troopers union? No.

  5. Rich

    This guy makes me want to barf every time I hear his voice.

  6. Suldog

    As you rightly say, his conviction was fairly much a travesty. However, I think the more interesting part of this story is that the State Trooper’s Union would hire a convicted felon to represent them. Somehow that doesn’t seem right, either.(Disclaimer, if needed: I ran against, and lost to, Finneran in 1992.)

  7. O-FISH-L

    I’m normally not a huge Finneran detractor, but when I saw your subject line, “Finneran jumps the shark”, I thought for sure you were referring to his embarrassingly fawning interview of Sen. John Kerry this morning. I hadn’t yet heard that Finneran would be lobbying for SPAM.After throwing a couple of softballs Kerry’s way, Finneran trivialized Jim Ogonowski’s announcement that he would challenge Kerry for the Senate seat this year, then allowed Kerry to further brush off the challenger by twice saying something to the effect, “They (Republicans) will have a primary and once they get things figured out, they’ll have a candidate.” Of course Finneran made no reference to Kerry’s woeful MA poll numbers and the fact that during his current term there were rumblings that a candidate could emerge within his own party to take him on.I guess it’s to be expected that Kerry would never legitimize Ogonowski and his surprisingly competitive race against Nikki Tsongas last year, but the reference to a Republican primary only, is as if Kerry thinks he has already been coronated and guaranteed his party’s nomination, even though nomination papers aren’t even available yet. Kerry’s arrogance, and Finneran’s acquiescence, know no bounds.

  8. Peter Porcupine

    O-Fish – you should have heard him with Madame Tsongas later in the AM if you REALLY wanted to hear fawning!DK, he did discuss the lobbying gig with Steve Bailey later in the show. He said that Bailey was pushed up because all the Congresspeople had mad schedules, and needed to be on earlier, so the discussion was in the 8 – 9 am hour.Bailey seemed to have no problem with it, and joked with Finneran that his paper was overly concerned with Finneran’s actions, but Finneran said that he needed the second job, Bailey said he had three and sypathized, etc. There was speculation that SPAM had a better expense account than WRKO on Bailey’s part. A CALLER from the dreaded land of talk radio actually raised your points about objectivity on State Police/public safey reporting, and was pooh-pooed by the Globe professional (no, the caller was NOT me, but a gentleman from the North Shore somewhere). Finneran isn’t a journalist. I’m not certain to what extent radio personalities ARE journalists in the traditional form. Imus and Stern come to mind. But I agree it’s a shame that he’s losing even his fig leaf of objectivity regarding public safety matters.

  9. acf

    “A word about ethics: No reputable news organization would allow a journalist to do this, whether he or she is a straight-news reporter or an opinion-monger. It’s not about objectivity, something that’s undesirable in columnists and talk-show hosts alike”Who ever said that ‘RKO was a reputable new organization? Look at the history of their lineup of hosts. It’s a who’s who of ranters and controversy hounds. To my ears, I hear a FoxNews of bias.

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