Jerry Bader and I go back a long way. He made a horrible mistake on the air this week at WTAQ radio in Green Bay, where he’s been a very popular talk-show host for several years. He’s the guy who “broke” the story - which turned out to be completely inaccurate and false - about the “real reason” Barbara Lawton dropped out of the race for governor.
I’m not going to repeat the story here. If you’ve heard it, you’ll know why. It is simply so astonishing and shocking, that to repeat it would be, I think, unethical and wrong. Suffice it to say it was sensational and lurid. And it appears there was not a scintilla of truth in it. He's been suspended for two weeks, and after that, the station will decide if he still has a job.
Those of us in the biz…as I was for 30-some years…have plenty of battle scars and emotional bruises from mistakes we’ve made on the air - things we said or should have said and didn’t - that ended up doing real harm, and hurting people.
What Jerry said about Barbara Lawton was deeply personal, entirely false, and hurt her horribly. I think Jerry got “spun” by some Republican operatives, who fed him a line of BS and he unfortunately believed them, and aired it. I can’t believe he would have gone on the air with the story if he didn’t have confidence that his sources were telling him the truth.
I gave Jerry his very first job in broadcasting in the Fox Valley over 30 years ago. He was finishing up at UW-Oshkosh and his professors told me he was a very smart kid who worked hard. I hired him to come in to work at 4 AM and make the police and fire beat calls and gather news from sources around the Fox Valley.
I wrote my own newscasts for my morning radio news anchor shift back then, as I always have, but Jerry understood that if HE made a mistake, I made a mistake - but it was me that would “take the fall”. I came to completely trust his thoroughness, judgment, and instincts. What I wrote was based on his notes, and he understood he had to be 100% accurate. He always was.
I would be stunned to learn that he’d abandoned those principles in the Barbara Lawton story he aired earlier this week. I think he believed his sources, and they burned him.
And in so doing, caused great emotional pain to the Lieutenant Governor and her family, embarrassed his radio station, lost his credibility, and may have ultimately ended his career. I trust he has personally apologized to Lawton.
I cannot believe that Jerry aired that story just to be sensational or to “hype ratings”. I taught him, just as I have all the young people I’ve worked with through the years, that there are some mistakes you can recover from - and some you can’t.
When you are dealing with ANY person’s reputation - whether it’s just some guy working third shift at a manufacturing plant, or a candidate for the highest elected office in the state - you have to be extremely careful and completely certain that what you’re going to say about them is true.
Talk show hosts are given wide latitude in saying outrageous things. News people have always had different, and I’d like to think higher standards. But the lines are so blurred these days. The braying ass calls himself “America’s Anchorman” as if he were reporting news on his show. A lot of people think it’s “news” and don’t understand that it’s entertainment. Rush pretends he’s “the news” and denigrates the “state-controlled drive-by media”.
Jerry Bader’s mistake earlier this week should be a cautionary tale for anybody who sits behind a microphone or talks to a TV camera. Your sources have to be airtight and 100% accurate, and you need a healthy dose of skepticism when listening to them. And, you have to understand clearly that in a case like the one this week, if you’re wrong, you’re toast.