Thursday, May 30, 2013

WTMJ Lawyers to FCC: Talk Shows Are "Bona Fide News". REALLY? SINCE WHEN???

There was a time, many years ago, when the logo above had at least an element of truth: WTMJ-AM was sort of like the “official” station of Wisconsin.  As the broadcast outlet for the Milwaukee Journal (the call letters stand for “The Milwaukee Journal”), WTMJ had fact-filled newscasts twice an hour all day and all night, and some of the best on-air personalities ever to work in Wisconsin.  WTMJ’s signal pretty much covered the entire state.


That was a long time ago.


Now, WTMJ is just another radio station, featuring extreme right-wing “talk personalities” and highly slanted news.  Often, it’s the stories WTMJ does NOT report (anything negative regarding Governor Walker or a member of the Republican Party) that clearly indicate the news department’s editorial bias.


No one under 40 years of age views WTMJ – or any other radio station – as “Wisconsin’s Radio Station”. All radio stations are equal in the digital age; whether a station has 500 watts of power or 50,000 watts of power; whether its signal reaches one neighborhood or seven states; whether it’s connected with a TV station or not, every radio station is equal on the internet.


WTMJ has become such a sycophantic voice for extreme right-wing politics that a petition was filed with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) by a group called the Media Action Center asking that the station’s license be revoked for supplying Scott Walker half a million dollars or more worth of free air time during the recall election, and refusing to give ANY time to supporters of Walker’s opponent in the recall, Tom Barrett.


This is the verifiable truth, although that seems these days to be an abstract concept for legions of citizens who feel entitled to their own facts and their own truths.  WTMJ simply refused to allow on the air anyone who had anything bad to say about Scott Walker.


The FCC has pretty much gotten itself out of the content-monitoring business, even though that was once one of the most important duties of the huge federal bureaucracy.  But there are still a few rules that have not been de-regulated, one of which is called the “Zapple Doctrine”, which states broadcasters must give supporters of both major party candidates comparable air-time.  The only exception to the Zapple Doctrine is a “bona fide news program”.  The exemption is given to allow and encourage real-time, live coverage of candidates’ events, news conferences, and public appearances.


Oh, there’s still some FCC content monitoring:  if a woman exposes her breast at half-time of a big football telecast, the FCC will be knocking on the control room door before the end of the third quarter.


Anyone who’s listened to WTMJ talk-show hosts Charlie Sykes or Jeff Wagner can discern within a few minutes their political bias.  And on a talk show, that’s fine.  There are just as many lefty yammerers as there are right-wingers.  The problem is that so many Americans have lost the ability to discern between “news” and “talk” programs.  (Where would they get that idea that talk programs and news programs are the same thing…..certainly not from the host of the highest-rated talk show on American radio, who refers to himself as “America’s Anchorman”.  At least the late Paul Harvey clearly labeled his broadcasts as “News and Comment”.


Now, for the first time in American history, attorneys for WTMJ have responded to the FCC regarding their license challenge – officially and in writing, mind you – with the assertion that its local political talk shows are “bona fide news”, and are thus exempt from the Zapple Doctrine.


This assertion that talk shows are news programs is complete BS.


But, if the industry trade publications are right, there’s a 50-50 chance the FCC will decide that Charlie Sykes is indeed, a “newsman”.


If so, it will be a sad day for Democracy.


  1. Well, Sykes IS "news" to those who read the "news"paper and expect straight reporting. He provides the rest of the story *cough*.

    A pundit notes that:
    "... the Committee of the Judiciary of the House of Representatives sent a lengthy letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking a series of significant questions about the veracity of his statements under oath in recent Congressional testimony.

    "The lead headline at the website of the Washington Post this morning is: “Americans regain half of wealth lost since crisis.” The second story is “Assad says Syria has received missiles from Russia.” Further down the page one finds this: “FBI intercepts potential ricin-laced letter addressed to Obama.”

    "Meanwhile, over at NPR’s website the lead article is: “Breathing Easier: How Houston is Working to Clean Up Its Air.”...

    "As of mid-day, neither the Washington Post, nor the New York Times, nor NPR has any story about the Holder investigation on its main website"


    Come to think of it, I haven't seen a front page (online edition) story about ObozoGate in the last few days, but I look at The Milwaukee Journal's site every morning.

    So yah, Sykes IS news. The news that the Media simply won't print.

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  3. Colonel,

    The FCC has pretty much gotten itself out of the content-monitoring business, even though that was once one of the most important duties of the huge federal bureaucracy.

    It had to get out. When "profanity" became a larger part of popular music, what could the FCC do? When shock jocks and talk show hosts became more outrageous, opinionated, and obstreperous, what could the FCC do but relax – or even let go of – the reins? When Geraldo or Dan Rather inject themselves into a story; when Sam Donaldson shouts at the President; when news presentation – especially on TV – evolves into entertainment complete with flashy graphics and swooping cameras in the studios...

    Not to mention the transformation of the newsmakers into news manipulators. The FCC sure can't monitor them!

    I'm not sure who the FCC was protecting by monitoring content. And there was always the possibility of politically-motivated interference with the operation of a broadcast outlet.

    Newton Minow was right.

    The Town Crank

  4. Outside of sports play by play broadcasts and severe weather outbreaks, I don't listen to AM radio anymore, and practically everyone I know is the same way. Many young people don't know AM exists. I just can't stay outraged 24/7 like those who host or listen to those "bona fide news" shows on TMJ or anywhere else. They're preaching to the choir anyway. As far as Sykes or anyone else, right or left, who has the news no one else will print, well, I'm leery of any news "source" that can't be verified.

  5. But there are still a few rules that have not been de-regulated, one of which is called the “Zapple Doctrine”, which states broadcasters must give supporters of both major party candidates comparable air-time.

    And as you know, the ZD is inoperative since the "fairness doctrine" went into the shredder.

    1. Any broadcaster who holds an FCC license would disagree with the statement above, Dad.

      Except, perhaps, the Journal Broadcast Group.

  6. The state of WTMJ is quite sad, so is the state of its FM side, the former WKTI. WKTI was once one of the best Top 40 radio stations in the country. Now, it's just a big nothing!