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.