Lehigh on Severin

Boston Globe columnist Scot Lehigh, who’s tangled with Jay Severin before, weighs in with a terrific column on Severin’s suspension from WTKK Radio (96.9 FM). I love this:

From the start of his talk-radio career, Severin was just bright enough to be an accomplished charlatan, clever enough to coat his gut-level biases and bigotry with a thin veneer of analysis. But he was neither smart nor knowledgeable enough to add much of value to the public discussion.

On “Beat the Press” this evening, Emily Rooney expressed the view that Severin will be back. Perhaps she’s right. (The segment should pop up on the new BTP Web site over the weekend.) I believe that was Curtis Sliwa I heard filling in for Severin this afternoon, which suggests that management didn’t even have a Plan D in place, never mind a Plan B or C.

Still, I find it hard to believe that management is happy about paying Severin a reported $1 million-plus a year only to lose the ratings battle to WRKO (AM 680) host Howie Carr — who, after all, would now be ‘TKK’s morning host if only he hadn’t signed a contract with ‘RKO that would make Curt Flood weep.

Are these the Severin sound bites?

The Boston Globe posts two brief audio clips of Jay Severin insulting Mexicans. They are utterly unremarkable — pedestrian, humorless, racist crap of the sort that’s been tumbling from his mouth for years.

If WTKK (96.9 FM) managment wants to claim that these are what got him suspended (and we don’t know that), then you’d have to say this is a John DePetro situation. That is, management wants Severin gone and is looking for any convenient excuse.

Brian Flaherty writes that Severin makes more than $1 million a year, although I don’t know who or what his source is. And Flaherty notices something I’ve noticed, too — Severin’s afternoon drive-time rival, Howie Carr of WRKO (AM 680), has been crowing about having the largest talk-radio audience in the afternoon lately, something Severin had bragged about for quite a few years.

More than a million dollars is a lot to pay a talk-show host who is essentially in last place, given that there are only two major-station political talk shows in Boston during afternoon drive.

More: Lance has worse. Vile stuff — though, again, I’ve been hearing this garbage from Severin for years.

Globe, Herald target each other

Boston Globe reporter Keith O’Brien today weighs in with a story about the financial problems being faced by the Boston Herald and GateHouse Media, which owns some 100 community papers in Eastern Massachusetts.

GateHouse’s problems are considerable and well-known. The Herald, though, is a bit of a mystery, as publisher Pat Purcell tends to play his cards close to the vest. What we know is that the paper and its reporting staff have gotten tiny, but that Purcell appears to have hit upon a formula for survival.

O’Brien, after chronicling shrinkage in the Herald’s staff and circulation, offers a quote from Sunday editor Tom Mashberg: “How are things now? It’s tough. We once had a newsroom filled with reporters and a commercial department filled with commercial staff. And it has definitely shrunk.”

Mashberg, upset that none of the positive comments he says he made got into O’Brien’s story, has fired back with an e-mail to the Globe, which I offer here in its entirety, with Mashberg’s permission:

To Globe Editors:

Tom Mashberg from the Herald here. I’m pretty disappointed at the way the reporter slanted this story. We spoke at length about how the Herald was performing miracles to survive and turn a profit in a terrible climate. When I asked him what he was going to use from me, he sent me this email:

“Here’s what I will be attributing to you: The total staff figures you sent me yesterday. Is that OK?

“And I will be quoting you regarding how the Herald has dealt with the cuts. And about how the Globe should have seen these changes coming. The quote at the end of our interview yesterday when you said it was puzzling that the Times allowed this to play out like this at the Globe.

“This could change, of course. Still haven’t filed my story. So e-mail or call if you have any questions.”

No one expects a puff piece, especially between competing newspapers. But it looks like the editors got hold of this and turned it into a hatchet job. I guess that explains a lot about where the Globe is headed. Sad.

If O’Brien or anyone else at the Globe would like to respond, I will post it immediately.

Meanwhile, Herald media reporter Jessica Heslam today reports that veteran media-watcher Michael Wolff believes neither Rupert Murdoch (about whom he wrote a book) nor New York Daily News publisher (and former Boston real-estate mogul) Mort Zuckerman has any interest in buying the Globe.

Heslam includes this toxic quote from Wolff: “I don’t think that anybody’s going to buy the Boston Globe. The Boston Globe is now an unbuyable property. It loses too much money and it has too many union obligations. No one will want it now. They might have wanted it. They did want it two years ago. Not now.”

Left unsaid is that (1) Murdoch can’t buy the Globe, since the Federal Communications Commission bans anyone from owning a television station (WFXT-TV, Channel 25) and a daily newspaper in the same market; and (2) Murdoch and Purcell are business partners.

Finally, the second of Herald columnist Howie Carr’s sneering pieces about the Globe’s missteps over the years prompts an observation. Carr actually found a way to poke fun at the 1998 departure of Globe columnist Patricia Smith, who was caught fabricating, without making any mention of the other, far better known Globe columnist who lost his job that summer: Mike Barnicle, caught making things up and plagiarizing by — among others — the Herald.

Anyone who listens to Carr’s talk show on WRKO Radio (AM 680) knows how much he detests Barnicle. But, after all, Purcell hired Barnicle to write a column a few years ago, and though it didn’t work out, Barnicle still pops up occasionally in the Herald. Since Carr can’t write what he’d really like to write, perhaps he should go cover a press conference or something.

Union don’ts at the Globe

One line I’ve been recycling this week is that the showdown between New York Times Co. management and the Boston Globe unions would not come down to midnight on the 30th day — that union officials, based on their own comments, seemed to understand that both the Times Co. and the overall situation was serious, and would quickly agree to $20 million in cuts as the price of keeping the paper alive.

Well, now I’m not so sure. Coverage during the week has suggested increased intransigence on the part of the unions, and especially of Newspaper Guild president Dan Totten. And today, Christine McConville begins her report in the Boston Herald thusly:

Boston Globe unions are showing signs of digging in against management as frustrated labor leaders say their members have already given up enough in the effort to keep the struggling broadsheet afloat.

Meanwhile, the Herald’s Jay Fitzgerald learns that it might be possible for the Times Co. to place the Globe in bankruptcy even without selling it. That could actually be good news, as it gives Times executives a way of restructuring the paper without having to find a buyer in a brutal economic environment and without having to shut it down. (And has the Herald been indispensable this week or what?)

It is despicable that the Times Co.’s cash-fattened managers have said virtually nothing this week. They owe an explanation to the community at least as much as they do to their employees.

Still, there’s no question that the systemic disaster that’s bringing the newspaper business down has more to do with the Globe’s problems than any specific mistakes by Arthur Sulzberger Jr., Steven Ainsley and crew. So it’s interesting to see, as Adam Reilly of the Boston Phoenix reports, that there may be a mounting insurrection among some reporters against the union leadership, who could conceivably destroy the paper rather than give up perks like lifetime contracts.

So did I leave anything out? Oh, yes. Almost forgot. Howie Carr is an idiot.

Let the Pike go bankrupt

This story in today’s Boston Globe, reporting that the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority will face bone-crushing additional debt payments if the Legislature tries to repeal the absurd toll increases the authority’s board recently approved, has me wondering why we shouldn’t just let the Pike go into bankruptcy.

Regardless of why and how all this happened, the idea that the Legislature can’t replace something stupid (toll hikes) with something smart (a higher gas tax) because of deals that the Pike negotiated in the credit market smacks of extortion. I hope legislators will seriously consider doing what they think is right for the public, and let the Pike stew in its own mess.

Weirdly enough, some of this has to do with the bankrupt financial firm with which the Pike did much of its business, Lehman Brothers.

And by the way, I think my credentials as a good-government liberal are pretty much indisputable. If I’m taking a Howie Carr-like position on all this, then I think it’s likely these hacks have lost virtually all the support they ever had.

The Outraged Liberal has some additional thoughts.

Another easy payday for Howie Carr

At the Boston Globe, columnist Yvonne Abraham writes of the Dianne Wilkerson affair: “It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.” No. Ten years ago it was sad. Now it’s just funny.

And at the Boston Herald, columnist Howie Carr has been caught stuffing his underwear with Pat Purcell’s cash. If he put more than 10 minutes into typing about Wilkerson, I’d be shocked.

The media and John Edwards

For the past few weeks, I’d been sort of half-paying attention as a few political observers — especially Mickey Kaus of Slate — ripped the mainstream media for not following up the National Enquirer’s stories about John Edwards’ affair. Frankly, I couldn’t bring myself to care, and I felt pretty much the same way last October, when the Enquirer broke the story.

Did anyone seriously doubt that Edwards had been screwing around? Did it matter? (Bipartisan alert: I say that as someone who’s perfectly happy that Larry Craig decided to stick around. His only mistakes were pleading guilty to toe-tapping and sounding like a schmuck in his public statements.)

In Edwards’ case, it took a caller to Howie Carr’s show on WRKO Radio (AM 680) yesterday to snap me back to reality. Her point: If the media had ripped the bark off Edwards last fall, when he was still a semi-viable presidential candidate, Hillary Clinton would be the Democratic nominee today.

Good grief. She was right. While Barack Obama was winning Iowa, Clinton was coming in third, behind Edwards. Though she came back and won the New Hampshire primary the following week, she never really recovered from that devastating opening round. And until Edwards dropped out, he and Clinton split the anti-Obama vote. (I will grant you that these things change quickly. Just a few months earlier, Obama and Edwards were seen as splitting the anti-Clinton vote.)

Now, I haven’t gone back and re-examined the post-New Hampshire results, so my logic may not be impeccable. Edwards did fade very quickly, so there probably weren’t too many Clinton votes that he soaked up. But to the extent that he delayed the emergence of the Obama-versus-Clinton steel-cage match, he helped Obama enormously. And it was in those early weeks that Obama won the nomination.

So, to return to my original question: Should the media have gone after the Edwards affair last fall? I guess I’d have to say yes, for a couple of reasons.

First, Edwards’ campaign was a serious one, as these things go. He had very little chance of winning the nomination, but his chances weren’t nearly as slight as those of, say, Chris Dodd. And whether we like it or not, sex still matters in American politics. It’s not the media’s job to decide for the rest of us that it doesn’t matter. (Nor should the media overplay it, as they did, most memorably, in the Lewinsky story.)

But whether you like it or not, many Americans want to know if their would-be leaders have been faithful to their spouses, and in that respect the media failed to report important information at a time when it would have mattered.

Second, there was the peculiar nature of Edwards’ appeal. It’s only a slight exaggeration to observe that his entire public persona, other than fighting on behalf of the elderly union folks who lined up behind him at televised rallies, was based on the idea that he had a great family, and that his wife’s battle with cancer had only brought them closer together.

It wasn’t true — or, at least, it was more complicated than that — and, thus, Edwards was engaged at some basic level in consumer fraud.

I first saw Edwards while covering the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles in 2000 for the Boston Phoenix. One morning, he spoke to the Massachusetts delegation. I was repelled by his smarmy unctuousness, and though I should probably let him speak for himself, I think it’s fair to say that my then-fellow Phoenician Seth Gitell reacted the same way. (Update: Seth weighs in, and I was right.)

Last night I went to bed rather than watch Edwards’ interview on “Nightline.” I figured if anything noteworthy was revealed, I’d hear about it and could watch it online later. But I read the statement Edwards issued, and like many, was fascinated by its icky self-absorption. Watching CNN last night, I thought Paul Begala might actually throw up in discussing Edwards’ self-pitying tone. Unfortunately, the transcript’s not up yet.

And how about Edwards’ wanting us to know that he never loved Rielle Hunter (turning “I never had sex with that woman” on its head), and that Elizabeth’s cancer was in remission at the time, so it was, well, not OK, but not as not-OK as it would have been otherwise? But I’ve ranged far afield of my original point.

Every day the media put their thumbs on the scale not just in terms of what they choose to cover, but what they choose not to cover as well. No doubt editors and news directors came up with a lot of high-minded reasons for not going after Edwards in October. I might have even agreed with them then.

But their decision — totally contrary to the way they handed similar allegations about Gary Hart in 1987 and Bill Clinton in 1992 — may have changed the outcome of the 2008 presidential campaign. No, they couldn’t have anticipated it. But that’s just another reason why they should have covered the story instead of covering it up.

Photo (cc) by Alex de Carvalho and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Howie being Howie

Boston Herald columnist Howie Carr’s snide attack on state Sen. Jim Marzilli today is by the numbers, but it’s worth reading all the way to the last two lines. No, he hasn’t gotten over it. Will Carr get chewed out when he shows up at work this afternoon at WRKO Radio (AM 680), or will this just be waved off as Howie being Howie?

Meanwhile, good Jon Keller commentary on WBZ Radio (AM 1030) this morning on Marzilli’s lawyer, who’s gone way, way beyond the call of duty. While Marzilli himself has made it clear that he’s got some serious problems by checking in to a psychiatric hospital, his lawyer, Terrence Kennedy, has dismissed the charges against Marzilli as “ridiculous.”

That’s pretty offensive. What ever happened to “my client has pleaded not guilty, and beyond that we have no comment”?

Boston’s talk devolution

While the focus on the talk-radio wars here and elsewhere has generally been on the dysfunctional station that is WRKO (AM 680), it seems that the real mess may be at WTKK (96.9 FM). Globe columnist Steve Bailey reports that WRKO is charging — and presumably getting — considerably more money for advertising than its rival during the all-important morning and evening commutes.

In the morning, ‘RKO’s Tom Finneran show (on which Bailey appears) is charging $400 for a 60-second ad, compared to $250 for the same ad on the syndicated “Imus in the Morning” program on ‘TKK. In the afternoon, Howie Carr (WRKO) gets $600, while Jay Severin (WTKK) lags at $350.

I imagine this needs to be taken with at least a grain of salt. In the newspaper business, ad-rate cards tend to feature more creative writing than anything you’ll find in the actual paper, and that may be true of radio as well. But Bailey’s numbers make a certain amount of sense.

Finneran, the born-again non-lobbyist, hasn’t exactly set the world on fire, but the aging Imus’ return has essentially been a non-story. I suspect that most of Imus’ few remaining listeners found a new morning routine during his richly earned hiatus, and they’re not going back.

As for the Carr-Severin war, it’s a shame both sides can’t lose — but Carr does manage to bring intelligence, wit and an encyclopedic knowledge of Boston to the table, despite his laziness and his occasional indulgences in homophobic snickering. Severin possesses a large vocabulary, but his ranting, his mindless cheerleading on behalf of Mitt Romney and his mundane-yet-offensive insights into politics are tiresome. I’m not sure why, but Severin has become much less listenable since his return from syndication a couple of years ago. I guess listeners agree with me, given that Severin was beating Carr in the ratings before he left.

WTKK could have solved its drive-time shortcomings. Part of it wasn’t the station’s fault — Howie Carr wanted to switch and become the station’s morning host, but his contract didn’t allow him to do so. If I were running ‘TKK and had somehow found a way to land Carr, I’d have kept him in the afternoon and moved Severin to the less important mid-day slot. Then I’d have moved “Eagan and Braude,” the station’s best program, to morning drive.

Not that they asked me. But you know what? They’d be better off if they had.

One final note. Bailey also reports that the ad rates charged by the sports-talk programs on WEEI, a sister station to ‘RKO, absolutely blow away both ‘RKO and ‘TKK. To paraphrase Henry Kissinger’s famous dictum about academic politics, the infighting between ‘RKO and ‘TKK is so fierce because the stakes are so small.

Eats shoots and leaves

Don’t know whether Howie Carr was tired or a Boston Herald copy editor has never heard of the term “plug ugly.” But an extra a misplaced comma provides an unintended bit of hilarity in Carr’s column today: “Mitt not only got his teeth knocked out by Mike Huckabee, but the Huckster and his new plug, ugly Ed Rollins, mussed up his hair pretty good, too.”