Sunday, July 29, 2012

David Zurawik, Bob Ehrlich, and the Piñata...

So, I consider myself a piñata kind of guy. In other words, give me a stick and position me in the right place, and I can’t help but to take a swing – even when I probably shouldn’t.

For that reason, I feel compelled to weigh in on what David Zurawik reported inhis blog today.

It seems a certain ex-boss of mine and his wife are now hosting a Sunday morning political show – Politics Unplugged – on WMAR TV, the perennial cellar dweller among local TV stations.

Thing is, it’s not really a “show” in the traditional sense of the term. Zurawik reports that the Ehrlichs are “buying time” from the station, rather than being paid by the station to host a WMAR program. So, in essence, it’s more like an infomercial.

When it comes to Maryland politics, the Ehrlichs are largely a moribund subject. But Zurawik’s piece, and the seeming re-launch of the Ehrlichs’ media ambitions, invites a response.

First, I thought the tone of Zurawik’s piece was partisan and unnecessarily nasty in some places.

Yes, I agree that the Ehrlichs’ launching a pay-to-play TV show on Sunday mornings on the lowest-rated TV station is fraught with pathos, as well as numerous opportunities for head-shaking by viewers and unintentional comedy on the part of its hosts.

But Zurawik’s response reminds me of the guy who guffaws loudly when a model trips on the runway.  Accentuating it with laughter or mockery seems unnecessary, if not downright gratuitous.

Zurawik’s liberal sensitivities are clearly offended by what he describes as Ehrlich’s, “steady stream of criticism of President Obama 100 days out from an election.” By interjecting his own political leanings, Zurawik undercuts his ability to render a subjective judgment.

Sorry, Mr. Zurawik, but Ehrlich is entitled to his opinions, even in liberal Maryland.

Zurawik’s TV critic sensibilities are ruffled by the amateurish nature of the program. He delights in poking holes in the program’s poor production quality and the stilted TV presence of its hosts.

Yes, the Ehrlich program does make Wayne’s World seem sophisticated by comparison. But most locally-produced news-ish programs have a no-frills, bare-bones feel to them. Ever see Square Off or State Circle?

I don’t know what Zurawik expects of a program whose marquee sponsor, other than the Ehrlichs themselves, is Scott Donahoo.

All that said, I thought Zurawik’s quip that Ike “had a far better TV presence” than Ehrlich was kind of funny. But I digress.

Zurawik goes on to make the valid point that Politics Unplugged, though characterized as independent advertising, airs with the apparent imprimatur of WMAR. The station’s logo appears visible at the corner of the screen, and it is apparently shot at WMAR’s studios.

Further, I noticed that Comcast’s scrolling programming roster lists the program by name, as opposed to simply calling it “paid programming” as is often the case for infomercials. All of these elements may breed confusion for viewers as to the extent to which the Ehrlichs’ views are reflective of the station.

For me, confusion exists on a completely different level. Why are the Ehrlichs even bothering to do this?

They miss being on the public stage, I suppose. This latest media push reflects their ongoing desire to be heard, and to be regarded as influencers in a state in which they are ideologically out of step.

For Bob and Kendel Ehrlich, the game ended prior to plan. As was the case with the WBAL radio show and the book, they continue to pursue relevance, and an audience, using any means still available to them.

Still, I’m skeptical whether yet another media platform will help them achieve relevance, or if instead they will be subjecting themselves to the kind of mockery evident in Zurawik’s story and some of the subsequent comments it attracted on the Sun website.    

Some of the greatest boxers ever – including Joe Louis, Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, and Mike Tyson – reached the awkward point in their careers in which they stayed in the ring past the point of logical retirement.

Similarly, Ehrlich is a proud, stubborn competitor, and a guy who still has something to say. But by speaking from such a contrived, artificial platform, he risks being viewed as the guy who didn’t know when to quit. 

If this were vaudeville, the hook would have come out from behind the stage a long time ago. 


  1. The shame of it is that the Maryland Republican Party doesn't have the money to sponsor the show.

    Ehrlich has always been seen by the people of the Baltimore area as trustworthy and worth listening to. I'd rather have him than Pat McDonough on that same time slot. This is paid advertising to promote something more than a 30 second spot. Isn't this a good thing?

    Would I rather Ehrlich be in step with the majority of Maryland voters? Of course, that's why I like I like having a respected spokesperson.


  2. Rusty Shackleford29 July, 2012 19:12

    I wouldn't call David Zurawik a liberal. He has regularly criticized President Obama since he took office- especially when it came to the administration's war with Fox News. If you follow Zurawik's columns, you would know that he regularly bashes MSNBC (particularly during the days of Keith Olbermann) while praising Fox News and CNN (while not disclosing that he is often invited to his buddy Howie Kurtz's Sunday morning talk show).

    Zurawik fancies himself as a political analyst, but to me is nothing but a glorified TV critic who once interviewed ALF.