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

Barnicle may be WBUR-bound

The Phoenix’s Adam Reilly has some rather startling news. Apparently Paul La Camera, general manager of WBUR Radio (90.9 FM), is thinking of bringing in former Globe and occasional Herald columnist Mike Barnicle to do commentary.

La Camera has done a great job of bringing stability to ‘BUR and of adding some local focus to a station that has long been admired for its national reach. But he’s just wrong when he tells Reilly that Barnicle was done in by “wild accusations.” Barnicle left the Globe in 1998 after he was caught plagiarizing and making stuff up, but those were only the latest in a quarter-century of similar, very credible complaints.

La Camera and Barnicle have a history: Barnicle is a contributor to “Chronicle,” a magazine show on WCVB-TV (Channel 5), the station La Camera used to run. It was La Camera who decided to keep Barnicle on “Chronicle” after his meltdown at the Globe, a decision that played to mixed reviews internally.

Barnicle already does commentary for WTKK Radio (96.9 FM) and MSNBC. His grumpy-old-man shtick does nothing for me, but if he’s good for ratings, then fine. But ‘BUR and the National Public Radio system are news organizations that take credibility and ethics very seriously. It will be fascinating to see how this plays out.

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  1. Brian F.

    You said “…if he’s good for ratings…” Does WBUR worry about ratings since it is a non-commercial station? Just curious…

  2. Dan Kennedy

    Because of our warped system of radio ownership, I would argue that public stations are more market-driven than so-called private stations. Public stations are almost totally dependent on contributions from listeners and corporations. Private stations can and do book shows with low ratings if those shows are cheap or, in some cases, if they are paid to carry those programs.

  3. dbvader

    If Mike Binnacle ever gets within 50 feet of the WBUR studios, I will make an exerted effort to continue to not pledge money to WBUR.

  4. Anonymous

    If news managers at WBUR were ethical, they’d resign before they put a plagiarist on air.There’s one way for the community to voice its dissatisfaction with LaCamera’s foolishness: refuse to give money during the next pledge drive. That’s how publicly funded media is supposed to work.

  5. Anonymous

    Dan,I was going to advise you to monitor those “Barnicle Moments” on WBUR very closely, as I figured it would only be a matter of time before Barnicle lifted ideas from “Media Nation.” Then I sobered up and remembered who we were talking about. Barnicle, of course, has no idea what a blog is.Glen BergendahlWeymouth

  6. Anonymous

    Maybe this is a way to get Bank of America to underwrite the station (Mrs. Barnicle is a veep at the bank)?

  7. tvoh

    “Does WBUR worry about ratings since it is a non-commercial station?”Thanks to the miracle of the withholding system, we all get to contribute.Barnicle is a plagiarist and should have been persona non grata everywhere. As a commentator, he is no more full of himself than the usual run of public radio commentators.

  8. Anonymous

    After 15 years, I stopped contributing to WBUR precisely when John Fiedler stepped in and abruptly fired Dick Gordon and Michael Goldfarb. These dismissals, combined with the hiring of a commercial hack (definition: someone who made lots of money in the commercial realm and then decided to expiate his sins by pretending to care about the non-proft realm), made a flirtation with a Barnicle or someone like him predictable from the start. I understand all about bringing stability after Hurricane Jane, but stability did not have to mean a Paul LaCamera et al. One reaps what one sows, Dan. You can’t applaud the hiring of someone like LaCamera and not accept the inevitable compromises he brings.

  9. Anonymous

    Everyone is different. I started renewing my support of WBUR at the time that management shut down the redundant and not very good “Connection” to be fiscally responsible, and then refocused attention on local news and issues with their robust local “Morning Edition” coverage and now with “Radio Boston.” Besides, I think “On Point” is a vastly better show than “The Connection” ever was with either Lydon or Gordon. I think WBUR is firing on all cylinders now, and I give Fiedler and La Camera a lot of credit for cleaning up house and making some difficult decisions that resulted in long term gains. If I were La Camera, I wouldn’t reject Barnicle for the plagarism incident of long ago. I’d reject him because his sanctimonious commentaries are predictable, preachy, and range from “just not that compelling” to “utterly nauseating.” When Barnicle filled in after Imus left WTDK (I switch back and forth from WBUR to Imus, depending what’s on), I could hardly stomach him. If this rumor is true, Mr. La Camera, please for the love of God (and decent radio) reconsider, I beg of you.

  10. Man who is a WBUR fan

    You said “…if he’s good for ratings…” Does WBUR worry about ratings since it is a non-commercial station? Just curious…Yes, they most certainly do. Approximately 40% of WBUR’s total budget (around $15-20million, IIRC) comes from corporate underwriting (a.k.a. advertising with various FCC content restrictions). It’s actually MORE than that, because only about 25-30% comes directly from listener contributions. The remaining 25-30% comes from other “challenge grants” from other corporate and non-profit entities (these are matching grants made in response to listener donations).Puts an interesting spin on the “listener contributions make up the majority of our budget” line they often use, doesn’t it? :-)Anyways, how much WBUR can effectively charge for underwriting is in no small part determined by how good their ratings are. So yes, they’re VERY concerned about ratings. As well they should be; WBUR is usually in the top three, if not number 1, in the coveted/lucrative 25-54 demographic.———————–Getting back on topic, I said what I thought needed to be said about this issue over at Adam’s fine MediaLog. The short version is that objective journalism…something WBUR prides itself on…relies mostly (if not entirely) on perceptions more than reality. It doesn’t matter that it’s been a “long time” since Barnicle broke the rules…once he lost his innocence, he can’t EVER regain it; WBUR must be Caesar’s wife, ya know?I invite y’all to check it out and reply here or there, though.———————–I think WBUR is firing on all cylinders now, and I give Fiedler and La Camera a lot of credit for cleaning up house and making some difficult decisions that resulted in long term gains.I wouldn’t dispense the praise quite so lavishly. I don’t deny that Christo left Fieldler and LaCamera a giant mess to deal with, and they’ve done an admirable job. But some of those “difficult decisions” were actually cheap shots dressed up as sacrificial lambs. The Connection was a prime example: several of the higher salaried staff members were kept on even as lower-paid (and less “politically connected” (in the “office politics” sense of the word) staff members were given the boot. And more than a few of the “real” problem staffers (i.e. the cadre of much-reviled senior managers Christo assembled around herself) are still there; why weren’t they forced out in the process?Anyways, the bloodbath happened despite quite good ratings, an established brand, decent affiliate penetration, etc. The official reason was that The Connection had “plateaued” whereas On Point was a rising star. The real reason was that Fielder had to do something that appeared drastic in order to convince people both in Boston University and the outside public (including their financial supporters) that things really were changing after years of mismanagement by Jane Christo. In other words, in order to keep the masses in line, some public executions were needed.Mind you, I don’t entirely begrudge them that. I think it was a shitty thing to do to several of the staff members, but hey, business is a shitty thing sometimes. And when it comes to million dollar corporate gifts, perception is VERY important. Plus I confess I never really cared much for Dick Gordon as the host of The Connection; always thought he was too tame after Chris Lydon’s more bombastic approach to things. Still, it made have been that a dirty job needed to be done, and they did it, but that doesn’t mean they were clean before or after it…nor does it mean it was entirely “right”, or that we have to like it.

  11. Anonymous

    We can argue all day long about what went on (still goes on) at WBUR internally, but to me the real question is, do I want public money, either taxes or direct contributions from the public, to pay a plagiarist, even with the blessing of the station’s management?I say no.Jerry McFaddenDorchester

  12. Anonymous

    Anon. 9:17 – that’s “incidents.” “Plagiarism incidents.” As in, plural. And don’t forget the fabrications, often suspected, then in one case, finally proven.

  13. Anonymous

    La Camera’s reference to the rap on Barnicle as “wild accusations” is stunning. That’s just willful ignorance. “Wild accusations”? He’s a proven serial plagiarist, and a proven fabricator. Hopefully someone over there either knows the history or is capable of researching it.

  14. Anonymous

    Barnicle to WBUR….to do WHAT?Barnicle may have some talents…but radio isn’t one of them! He’s proven that.While I’m sure LaCamera is open to talking to Barnicle…I can’t imagine in what regard Barnicle could become part of the staff!What would he do there?

  15. Anonymous

    Maybe he can do a show called “I Was Just Thinking.”Bill Littlefield better look out…Shaughnessy will probably be looking to take over his show.

  16. man who is a wbur fan

    Jerry – I am pleased that no one has dignified your pathetic, tired argument with a response……aw crap! :-)By the way, Shaughnessy DID appear on Only a Game, being interviewed by Bill. It was a perfectly pleasant, informative, and overall decent interview. A complete opposite of the usual vitriol the CHB spews forth in his print column. One has to ask, will the real Dan Shaughnessy please stand up? 🙂

  17. Anonymous

    Man who is a WBUR fan – you seem not to have noticed, everyone else commenting here agrees with Jerry.

  18. Man who is a WBUR fan

    Anon 10:22AM, I could be misinterpreting things, but I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. Yes, people are agreeing with Jerry that they don’t want Barnicle on WBUR. Hell, *I* agree with Jerry on that point.But Jerry’s making the argument that it shouldn’t happen because his tax dollars “support” public radio, and therefore – by proxy – he’s making the argument that public radio shouldn’t air anything he doesn’t agree with.(side note: he also says that because WBUR takes listener donations, that WBUR shouldn’t air something HE doesn’t like…which is akin to saying that because someone else gave money to a college, they should name the new building after Jerry; it’s completely broken logic)This is the old, tired, pathetic (not to mention factually inaccurate) argument that’s been trotted out by detractors of public radio since the 1970’s. And it’s just not true. Besides the fact that at many stations, actual federal support makes up less than 10% (sometimes less than 5%) of the total budget…in reality every single major commercial station “conglomerate” gets tax breaks that total far more in real dollars than what CPB distributes to pubradio stations. So Jerry really should be madder at WTKK for employing Barnicle in the first place. 🙂

  19. Anonymous

    Well, MWAWBURF, is Jerry objecting because he disagrees with Barnicle’s politics, or because he thinks public radio should have standards?

  20. Anonymous

    Man Without a Real Name:Nowhere in my comments did I discuss Barnicle’s point of view, and I did not give my opinion of his writing ability, selection of subjects and overall political bent.What you fail to grasp is that I object to a publicly funded news station paying a journalist who has lost the trust of the public due to his acts of plagiarism and fabrication. The perspective in Barnicle’s reporting is irrelevant. His credibility, and that of any future employer of Barnicle, is the issue.Got it?Jerry McFaddenDorchester

  21. Anonymous

    WBUR/NPR is atrocious. It wants to seem to maintain its integrity while pandering to the right. Kind of like the Democrats and the DLC. Eventually they will have alienated all constituencies.

  22. Anonymous

    **WBUR/NPR is atrocious. It wants to seem to maintain its integrity while pandering to the right.**You ARE kidding….right?

  23. man who is a wbur fan

    WBUR/NPR is atrocious. It wants to seem to maintain its integrity while pandering to the right………………..You ARE kidding….right?I don’t know about this particular person, but I know literally dozens of people who have AT LEAST this extreme a view of how “right-wing” WBUR is. Sort of like how even a skyscraper looks tiny when you’re standing miles to the left of it. :-)Jerry – yes, NOW I’ve got it. You finally made clear that your problem is with Barnicle’s credibility…or more precisely, the lack thereof. On that we are in complete agreement.However, I disagree very strongly that any station should have to bend to your…or any one person’s…opinion just because they receive public funds or listeners’ contributions. Why does that have ANY relevance to whether or not Barnicle is a plagiarist? Is it “okay” for Barnicle to be a plagiarist and have (well, he HAD) a show on WTKK?Yes, NPR affiliates should be “accountable” to the public but in no way should they be “accountable” differently than commercial radio is: people vote with their ears. If they don’t listen, then WBUR’s ratings drop and WBUR loses critical underwriting dollars. That system works much better than overzealous members of the public (which you may or may not be) deciding they have a say in a station’s programming decisions because they donated $100 this year.P.S. I do sometimes post here under my real name. But in these cases I feel it appropriate to post under a pseudonym…it allows me to be more candid about what I can say given the industry I work in, where pettiness and retribution are an unfortunate way of life. :-/Hey, at least I’m consistent in my pseudonyms; you know all the “man who” posts are coming from me. Although, FWIW, I am not the dude who tacks up all the “man with a van” flyers around Allston-Brighton. 🙂

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