CPB Office of the Ombudsman

“I Agree With the Listener”

Joel Kaplan

May 24, 2013

Phil Redo, managing director of news for WGBH radio in Boston, agrees with listener Patricia Newman who called in to complain vociferously about the radio station's coverage of the last month's Massachusetts primary to replace U.S. Sen. John Kerry following his appointment as Secretary of State.

Ms. Newman was incensed by remarks made by Margery Eagan, a columnist for the Boston Herald who hosts a show on Boston Public Radio with Jim Braude, during last month's Democratic primary campaign between U.S. Rep. Ed Markey and U.S. Rep. Stephen Lynch.

"There's a radio program that's on in Boston here from noon time until two every day and one of the hosts of the program, Margery Eagan, is a reporter from one of the conservative newspapers in town," Ms. Newman said. "Every time they have a segment where they talk about the election she shapes it to favor one of the Democratic candidates.

"Yesterday she said just straight out, 'as you all know I am pulling for Steve Lynch, I'm supporting Steve Lynch.' The whole piece was shaped to support Steve Lynch. Our tax money shouldn't be going to give this guy a free campaign ad every time she feels like doing something on the senate race.

"I want their funding pulled if we don't have them stop doing this. I don't think we should be paying for that. I, by the way, am a Democrat and this is a conservative Democratic candidate that she's talking about but it still doesn't seem right that's how our tax money is being used."

Mr. Redo said he did speak to Ms. Eagan and explained that comments on air were inappropriate.

"Basically, I agree with the listener," Mr. Redo said. "I've spoken to the talent (Ms. Eagan). She's a columnist and a radio host of many years and she said she didn't even really think about it.

"I told her that it's one thing to share your opinions about things when you're hosting a show, but when you get into voting and something that's in front of the public, you can't really share your opinions on that and you have to be much more circumspect. She understood.

"Oftentimes when someone writes in, they hear what they want to hear, but this time the listener heard correctly, and we took care of it. These are always delicate learning experiences that both producers and talent make errors and we need to make sure we address it and learn from it."

Ms. Eagan said that she now understands she should not have shared her personal political beliefs with her listeners.

"I've been a columnist for 25 years, "Ms. Eagan said. "That's what I do, I write my opinion. And that's what I did on my other radio program. When we got the complaint, Phil came to me and just let me know that it's not WGBH policy to give your opinion on the air and I understood. There haven't been any problems that I know of since."

Prior to hosting their show on WGBH, Ms. Eagan and Mr. Braude hosted the Jim & Margery show on Boston's FM WTKK. That show ended earlier this year when the station changed format to urban contemporary.

The incidents at WGBH are illustrative of what happens when the behavior one routinely hears on commercial radio bleeds into public radio.

While Ms. Eagan's remarks would be entirely reasonable on commercial radio, Ms. Newman is correct that her support of Mr. Lynch was inappropriate on taxpayer-supported public radio.

One of the distinct differences between public radio and commercial radio is that public radio hosts are supposed to host—not opine on their support of specific political candidates. To do so goes against very specific principles for public media.

And while it is heartening to hear that Mr. Redo agrees with those principles, it is a bit troubling that it took a listener's complaint for him to take some action.

For what it is worth, Rep. Markey defeated Rep. Lynch by 80,000 votes. He faces off against Republican and former Navy SEAL Gabriel Gomez on June 25.

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