Finneran flashback

The Boston Globe today reports that Tom Finneran is seeking a pardon from President Bush, and that four former Massachusetts governors are supporting his bid. In 2005, Harvey Silverglate explained in the Boston Phoenix why Bush should grant Finneran’s request.

I’m not sure Finneran deserves to be pardoned for the lame talk show he hosts (now co-hosts) on WRKO Radio (AM 680). But the former Massachusetts House speaker is no criminal.


Piercing talk radio

Charlie Pierce is on a talk-radio rampage. Last month he went after WTKK (96.9 FM), and specifically Don Imus, Michael Graham, Jay Severin, Laura Ingraham and Michele McPhee, whom he doesn’t actually name, referring to her only as “a woman who sounds like she’s shouting her program off the back porch of a three-decker in Revere.”

Now he’s back, targeting Tom Finneran of WRKO (AM 680) as host of “one of the lamest shows in the history of the electric radio device.”

I can’t say I disagree, except to note that McPhee doesn’t actually shout. It only seems that way.

Finneran embraces the dark side — again

You would have thought that WRKO Radio (AM 680) talk-show host Tom Finneran had learned from his last go-round. Less than three months ago, Finneran was lambasted for signing up to be a lobbyist for the state troopers union. He quickly backed off.

Now, though, Finneran, a former Massachusetts House speaker, has officially registered as a lobbyist, according to the Herald’s Jessica Heslam, and has taken on the Liquor Liability Joint Underwriting Association of Massachusetts as a client. If that sounds a little too obscure to worry about, just consider that Finneran’s new best friends will be very interested whenever there’s talk of new laws regarding underage drinking, drunken driving, liability insurance and the like. According to the organization’s Web site:

LLJUA is a liquor liability insurer of last-resort. To be eligible for coverage from LLJUA, the business owner has to be turned down for coverage in the voluntary market. LLJUA’s liquor liability insurance is available for owners of taverns, hotels, restaurants, social clubs, package stores, caterers and other businesses that sell alcoholic beverages.

So, let’s see. A man staggers out of a bar, wraps his car around a telephone pole and is seriously injured. His family sues the bar, claiming the bartender should have known he was drunk and refused to serve him. Finneran the talk-show host rails against the suit, claiming that the driver should take responsibility for his actions and that tort reform is needed to prevent such frivolous lawsuits. And Finneran the lobbyist pockets another check from the organization that stands to benefit from such “reform.” Got it.

My Northeastern colleague Steve Burgard is rightly appalled (I’m thinking of renaming this blog “Husky Nation”), telling the Globe’s Carolyn Johnson, “For a serious news organization, it would be unthinkable.” Hosting a talk show may not be journalism, but it’s an activity with many resemblances to journalism. Finneran doesn’t owe his tiny band of listeners much, but he does owe them his independence.

You’d like to think that when Finneran’s expressing his opinion in his tortured, rococo syntax that his opinion isn’t bought and paid for. But it is. He should be gone. And perhaps he will be — the Herald account suggests that WRKO management is none too happy about this.

More: The Outraged Liberal has further thoughts.

Photo (cc) by Brosner, and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

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.

Finneran gives up lobbying

I’m pleasantly surprised that Tom Finneran chose to keep his radio talk show over lobbying. I had figured we’d be hearing any day that he was leaving WRKO. Good for him — although I don’t understand how he ever thought he could ethically do both.

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.

Speedy recovery, Mr. Speaker

Best wishes to Tom Finneran, who’ll be off the air for a few weeks while he prepares to undergo and recover from surgery for prostate cancer.