Tuesday, November 22, 2011

WBZ radio needs an editorial reboot

I listen to WBZ radio nearly every weekday morning during my commute.  There is something comforting about its unvarying routine: weather on the tens, traffic on the threes, and in between a pretty good overview of the headlines of the day.  After a couple of cycles it gets repetitive and I flip to WRKO or Dennis & Callahan, but 'BZ is a pretty good early morning substitute for trying to read the paper while driving (which I'm told is contraindicated). 

The 'straight news' that WBZ provides has always been a little bit biased to my Massachusetts Republican ears.  For the last six years their news readers have fawned over Governor Patrick with as much ardor as anyone else in the Boston press corps.  But in context, with the morning 'news' (as opposed to 'news talk') alternative being WBUR, 'BZ has usually been palatable. 

Lately though  I am more and more frequently exclaiming aloud in my lonely car at some of the things that emanate from my radio.  Two examples from just this morning:

First, like everyone else in the Boston media it seems, WBZ has a burr in its collective saddle about Mitt Romney.  I don't honestly know from where comes this uniformly high degree of simmering hostility.  Mike Dukakis ran for President too, after all, but the Duke (when he pops up) doesn't get the audible sneer that characterizes most any coverage of Mitt.  This little bit this morning, though, went beyond the norm and into self-parody. 

Reporting on the Suffolk University poll of New Hampshire Republican primary voters that was released last night, WBZ's news reader said (I'm paraphrasing): 'New evidence that Newt Gingrich continues to surge in the GOP primaries, as the latest poll out from Suffolk University shows the former Speaker pulling into a tie with Ron Paul for second place.  Mitt Romney continues to lead the pack.'

That's it.  I hadn't seen the poll, but immediately I knew by the (obviously deliberate) omission of what would ordinarily be the key component of a report on a poll - the numbers - that Mitt's lead probably hadn't deteriorated the way some local pundits expected/hoped it would.

Sure enough, when I reached my desk I pulled up the story from Boston.com and Newt Gingrich has in fact pulled into a tie for second place with Ron Paul in the Granite State - with 14 percent.  And yes, Mitt Romney continues to lead the pack - with forty-one percent.  Some surge.  Nobody without an agenda could look at those figures and decide that the headline is 'more evidence of a Gingrich surge.'

Not ten minutes later (I know, because there wasn't an intervening weather report), I was treated to WBZ's coverage of the 'super committee' failure - which consisted in its entirety of an extended soliloquy by Senator John Kerry excoriating Republicans for their intractability on "taxes for the super rich," followed by "this is Carl Stevens, reporting."  Is there another side to the story?  A Republican with an alternate view perhaps?  Apparently not.  Now I'm no journalism major, but isn't there some kind of baseline standard having to do with the obligation to at least acknowledge the existence of 'the other side of the story' when a story in fact has two sides? 

Tangent: John Podhoretz has pretty much the most spot-on analysis of the whole 'super-committee' farce that I've seen, in today's NY Post.

My point is this: most conservatives I know are willing to put up with a certain expected amount of liberal bias in the mainstream media, so long as the 'news' is in there somewhere, not too deeply buried.  That's why most of us continued to read the Globe, at least until recently, despite the frequent grinding of teeth it tends to induce.  Underneath the judgements and the insinuations, the 'news' was usually there to be found.  But there is a point at which it becomes too much, and baseline credibility is lost.  

I don't spend much time watching Fox News for basically the same reasons.  What I want from the news is 'the news,' not an ideological back rub.  Much as I find Fox's sympathetic conservative bias comforting, I am never quite sure I'm getting the whole story.  So I tend not to watch.  A lot of other people do, which is more than fine.  I get my editorial fix from written sources; others get it from Fox (or from MSNBC, or that tiny little cable channel I'm told Al Gore runs).  All good.  And the degree to which Fox News's mere existence - never mind its popularity - drives my liberal friends to distraction is a reliable source of amusement.  But the channel isn't my thing. 

Anyhoo.  With the marked exception of my friend Dan Rea, who takes over the WBZ airwaves every weekday evening at 8 pm and is absolutely fastidious about covering all sides of the issues he takes on, I am losing faith in the proposition that what WBZ presents is 'the news,' rather than subtle editorial content masked as news. 

After that super-committee story this morning I flipped the dial - even before hearing the traffic on the threes.


  1. Interestingly, today's 8:00 a.m. "news minute" on WBZ's sister station, The Sports Hub, *did* provide the New Hampshire polling numbers for Romney, Gingrich and Paul. Given that WBZ staff do the Sports Hub news report themselves (I think it was Deb Lawler this morning), I'm hard pressed to explain the discrepancy.

  2. They know their audiences?
    Actually, that's interesting. And I should say that I recognize that the newsreaders are constantly working with tight timeframes for each blurb (gotta stick to that sched). So I might be overly-sensitive to any particular example. But still, after years of listening it is only recently that I've felt like they are slipping off the left end.


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