Monday, July 30, 2012

Bob Ehrlich and WMAR: Déjà Vu All Over Again?

Yogi Berra famously called it, "déjà vu all over again."

Whatever it is, I had this strange “haven’t we been here before” sensation yesterday as I blogged about Bob Ehrlich’s new TV show – oh, sorry…infomercial – on WMAR.

Well, it turns out we have been “here” before – sort of.

I did a Google search last night, and found an article from the Baltimore Sun dated December 26, 2007.  The article, the header of which read, “Ehrlich takes on challenge of TV,” announced Ehrlich’s new “gig as a news analyst and commentator” on the ratings-impaired WMAR.

The article goes on to explain:

“Ehrlich, who will be paid for his appearances and will continue his Saturday-morning program on WBAL-AM Radio, promises that he and WMAR will be upfront about his party affiliation and loyalties. When discussion turns to the 2008 presidential race, as the former governor assumes it often will, viewers will be reminded that he is Mid-Atlantic chairman for former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's campaign.”

This paragraph reminded me of something The Sun’s David Zurawik reported in his blog piece about Ehrlich’s new program, Politics Unplugged:

Here's the disclaimer WMAR runs at the start of the Show: ‘This is a paid political program. The opinions presented in it do not represent WMAR or E.W. Scripps. Former Governor Bob Ehrlich is the Maryland Campaign Chair for Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney.’"

So, other than the fact that Ehrlich is now the payer rather than the payee as far as his appearances are concerned, what’s really changed here?

Perception-wise, not very much, I’d argue.

In his blog, Zurawik reports:

“Last week, Bill Hooper, general manager at WMAR, stressed in a phone interview with me that the station had nothing to do with producing the show -- that the Ehrlichs were buying time as an independent advertiser like anyone else might.”

That may be true, but Ehrlich’s revolving door relationship with WMAR complicates things a bit. I mean, are all of WMAR’s “independent advertisers” prior employees of the station?

As I wrote yesterday, WMAR’s logo appears on screen during broadcasts of Politics Unplugged, and the show is listed by name in WMAR’s online schedule rather than simply as “paid programming,” as is evident in other cases (if you search WMAR’s Sunday morning schedule, you will see what I mean).

Speaking of prior employees of WMAR, I noticed this item in the 2007 story:

“Former Ehrlich aide Greg Massoni, who now works alongside him at the law firm of Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice, helped broker the deal with WMAR. He says the former governor's hiring could give the perennially third-place station's news operation a leg up on the competition. ‘This will go a long way to helping them, by having a really credible source to talk politics,’ says Massoni, who worked at WMAR from 1980 to 1995.”

Massoni now works with Ehrlich at the Washington, D. C. law firm King and Spalding, and helped produce the Ehrlichs’ WBAL radio show.

In other words, it all boils down to the fact that it is the same guy, on the same station, appearing at a different airtime.

Look, if Ehrlich wants to pay out of pocket so he and his wife can have a weekly media soapbox again, that’s his prerogative. But WMAR needs to do a better job tackling the perception issue

Based simply on appearances, it could be interpreted that WMAR is extending a favor – again – to one if not two former employees.

That’s the last thing the struggling station needs. 

3 comments:

  1. Richard,

    Do you have any idea whatsoever about what could possibly have possessed the Ehrlichs to do this? Has anyone in the MDGOP even tried to ask them what in the world their motives are or to tell them how foolish they seem?

    Seriously, I do not want to believe that they are so madly in love with their own voices that they decided to buy their own ego-driven soapbox just to stroll down memory lane one more time.

    What's the backstory to all of this?

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  2. Hi Anon:

    I'm not sure what the exact genesis of the WMAR show is as I have not talked to anyone involved, but there are things we can glean from the facts we do know.

    The Ehrlichs were out looking for a new talk radio gig after their show on WBAL ended. I think they guest hosted on a station in DC as part of an audition. As I pointed out on my follow-up blog, Ehrlich was once a paid commentator on WMAR, and handler Greg Massoni worked there for 15 years. So, my guess is the Ehrlichs - particularly Kendel - wanted a new soapbox, and the past relationships with WMAR were leveraged to make it happen.

    I agree with your assessment. No one that Ehrlich would listed to would try to dissuade him from doing it. They're still governed by a mindset stuck in 2003. I don't think that they therefore regard it as embarrassing or seeming desperate. That's unfortunate.

    Best,

    RJC

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