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.