It's a little troubling.
We're always tooting our horns about NPR because (like Michael Medved) we believe in it, listen to it, and think it's great radio product. We've participated in public radio in a minor way both locally and nationally for years.
There's good reason NPR is so popular in Seattle, the most bookish city in the country this side of the Charles River- is because it's smart and balanced in its news coverage, and broad in its programming scope.
The in-depth treatment of public policy issues is unequalled. The time on the Seattle NPR affiliate KUOW spends on such as initiatives and referenda is really important.
Public radio's sense of equal time is still paramount in an age that the moribund Fairness Doctrine is gleefully known as the evil government regulation that Rush Limbaugh got rid of.
So when we recently heard that independent U.S. Senate candidate, Robin Adair was not allowed entrée into the forums on KUOW talk shows, we were puzzled.
What bothers us is that the decision to exclude her flies in the face of one of our favorite speeches about the very idea of public radio: that unlike commercial radio, they can program niches that don't necessarily attract a wide (read marketable) audience.
We're always teasing locally produced NPR shows like Weekday with Steve Scher for droning on about such arcania as fish psychology, Canadian rap music or Serbian water rights.
But actually we love that that kind of stuff can be heard despite that it might not pencil. That's the beauty of it- ratings be damned!
Anyone who's been around this election cycle knows Robin Adair. Her quixotic run at Maria Cantwell's job is based on her complicated-to-damn-nigh-inscrutable economic theory that she'll sneak into any conversation and to anyone with the time and the head for that sort of thing.
She's a gracious lady of a certain age who knows she's not going to win, but has paid the price of admission, raised some 16,000 bucks, hasn't got three heads- and is a legally registered candidate.
She says she was told by KUOW that independents were not allowed, yet Linnea Noreen the only other independent candidate in the state, appeared on The Conversation with Ross Reynolds today.
But Linnea apparently met the critieria that KUOW's Arvid Hokanson, spelled out to us in an e-mail:
We don't have specific benchmarks. Like other media outlets, we use our
professional judgement to determine with whom to conduct news
interviews. We look at polling, FEC reports, campaign structure and draw
some guidance from the Debate Advisory Standards Project. In Robin
Adair's case, she lists zero donations from individual contributors on
her FEC forms. Linnea has contributors, yard signs and volunteers.
Linnea has also gained some good attention from other media outlets.
Linnea has her positions well laid out on her website and easy to read.
In Robin's case, I personally have trouble determining her positions
from how they are written out. Before she ran for Senate, she shared her
philosophies in-person on several subjects with more than one member of
the program staff, myself included. Even with that, I still find it hard
for her to articulate her positions.
KIRO's Tina Nole, producer for Dave Ross and Ron Reagan, sees it differently. "We like to cover the big stories from various perspectives," she says, "so often highlighting the lesser known players makes for interesting conversations and informative programing."
Noles put Adair on the Dave Ross Show and she did well enough for the money grubbing ratings whores of commercial radio. "Actually," says Noles, "she's a smart woman, and she was very interesting on the air."
Then Adair went out to lunch with Dave Ross.
"We hear so much from the candidates with a lot of money," says Noles, snatching-up the high road, "and talk radio is a perfect place to allow those other candidates the opportunity to have their voice heard."
We have no question that KUOW acted legally and in a good faith. But as a political decision, we don't think it was a good one.
There were only but two independents in the whole state- KUOW gave one of them a platform. How difficult could it have been to provide the same for the other?
It's about the appearance of fairness.
UPDATE: KUOW'S criteria for candidates' financial viablity thinned a little today with the Seattle Times reporting that Linnea Noreen's "contributions" were augmented mightily by her mortgaging her condo for $40,000. This is not unlike Libertarian Senate candidate Bruce Guthrie who mortgaged his house in order to buy his way into a TV debate. There's nothing illegal or unethical about that, but spare us the 'financially viable', already- this green is astro-turf. It's another way someone with assets can buy onto the public platform and theoretically, into office. It's not like taking much of a risk- they don't even need to spend what they borrow, their campaign just needs to have it.