Thursday, January 19, 2006

Journal Broadcast breaking the law

by running corporate issue advertising

UPDATE: An apology is in order.

Republican radio host Charlie Sykes is quite proud of himself for producing and airing an ad comparing Gov. Jim Doyle to two racist former Southern governors George Wallace and Orville Faubus, on the issue of school choice.

He's talking freely about how he and a WTMJ radio production person, Jim Gilles, produced the spot. Sykes is airing it on his program. He's posted the script and audio on his weblog.

It has no disclaimer, because, he tells WisPolitics, no one is paying for it.

Actually, that's not true. Journal Communications, and its Journal Broadcast Group, which owns WTMJ radio, is paying for it.

It is a corporation running free issue advertising on a bill that is in the legislature.

If that sounds illegal, it's because it is. State law does not allow corporations to run issue or political advertising, although in some instances it allows them to contribute to groups that do, like Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce.

Sykes says the commercial is simply "an element of my show."

But it's not, and it's not the same as parody commercials Sykes or Mark Belling have run making fun of Tom Ament or other elected officials.

This one is a real, honest-to-goodness issue ad that is trying to affect legislation and -- not incidentally -- do some damage to Gov. Jim Doyle, whom Sykes despises and wants out of office. The campaign for governor is already underway, which is a relevant fact as well.

Do you think Journal Broadcast lawyers reviewed and signed off on this spot? I would be amazed if they did, since the station is running an issue ad for free on taxpayer-owned airwaves. The Journal Broadcast Group does not own the airwaves; it is licensed by the government to use them.

WTMJ-AM is the biggest station in Wisconsin. This week, a spot on Sykes' show would cost an issue advertiser $520 if it ran before 10 a.m. and $320 between 10 and noon. There is a dollar value as well as a poliltical value to what Sykes and his corporate bosses are doing.

I'm not a lawyer and not in the business of filing lawsuits or complaints. But someone who is should take a close look at this and consider filing complaints with both the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the State Elections Board, for starters.

If Sykes can do this now, what's to prevent him, Jeff Wagner, Mark Belling and whoever to produce and run their own negative issue commercials right through the coming campaign and up to election day? Does that sound legal? If not, then what Sykes and Journal Broadcast are doing right now isn't legal either.

POSTSCRIPT: Sykes wonders why I don't mention Mikel Holt, editor of the Community Journal, who helped produce the spot. Is it because he's black? No, actually it's because he -- unlike Sykes and Gilles -- doesn't work for the Journal Broadcast Group, so his participation is not a corporate contribution. It does raise the interesting question, however, of whether Holt is an agent or representative of one of the other organizations that is advertising or lobbying on the issue. That could be a little problem, too.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Sykes' defense is that it's free speech. It's free to him because he's on the air, but it is paid for by the corporation he works for. If it were really free speech, the station would offer equal time for people on the other side of the issue to air their opinions and run their own "unsponsored" commercial.

THE REAL CHOICE. If anyone wants to get past the rhetoric and compare the proposals on choice caps from Gov. Doyle and the legislative Republicans, click here.


At 12:50 PM, Blogger steveegg said...

I respectfully disagree with both your analysis of the specifics of this issue and the broader issue.

At 1:41 PM, Blogger tmmadison said...

When newspapers give out endorsements immediately before an election, would you also consider that breaking the law by running corporate issue advertising?

At 3:01 PM, Blogger getitright said...

I don't believe equal time comes into this does it? Why shouldn't Sykes air his opinion, and gin up a little dramatization if he wants to? This happens all the time on talk shows (he crafted it as an example of the willingness of the Choice community to express their opinion, and offered it to others to take up and run it as an ad if they wanted to).

Apparently there are people now going out and trying to find out who helped out (the kids!!) in the ad. Democrat operatives, union hacks, no doubt. Look at who you're siding with Xoff, a bunch of goons.

You've said you support Choice but you're coming up with a clever way to obfuscate the issue for the Governor, who's trying to kill the program. Be ashamed..

At 4:44 PM, Blogger Horace said...

Tsk! Tsk! Tsk! Such a disingenuos post Xoff. Here are the facts regarding radio advertising:

1) WTMJ sells a certain number of minutes each hour during Sykes program to advertisers ... once those minutes are purchased, and spots scheduled for them, no more spots can be purchased during that time

2) Charlies 'Spot' that he and others produced does not run during this allotted advertiser time, nor has it displaced any ad already paid for.

3) The 'Spot' is coming out of HIS show time, and therefore hasn't cost WTMJ anything because they wouldn't be selling the time he is using up with this spot to sell to advertisers, even if all advertising time available on the show were not sold.

It is disingenous at best for you to argue that Charlie or WTMJ are doing anything other than having an on air personality offer up editorial opinion during his show, as he is paid to do. In this case he is using a specific vehicle to do it ... a 'Spot'! I have heard Charlie state opinions ... I have heard him interview guests to help promote an editorial opinion he has ... I have heard him encourage others to read articles in specific newspapers which espouse a particular opinion he is advancing (By YOUR standards, does this become an advertisement for that magazine or periodical which is provided free?) ... I have heard Charlie use satire ... parody ... and now, a very well produced editorial 'spot' which advances his opinion. Its the same as a newspaper offering an editorial ... or running a column or excerpt from a book on their editorial pages ... to advance an issue. Its the newspaper's space for editorials ... how they choose to advance that opinion is the prerogative of the newspapers editorial staff ... just as it is Charlie's prerogative to advance his editorial opinion any way he sees fit, so long as it is during time set aside for his program, and not during time allocated for paid advertising.

You know this ... which makes it clear all you are doing is trying to raise dust to take people's attention off the ad because it is so damning!

Weak effort XOff ... VERY VERY Weak!

At 5:16 PM, Blogger steveegg said...

Regarding your Postscript 2, the last time I checked, the "Fairness" Doctrine didn't exist anymore. Nice try though.

At 5:51 PM, Blogger Xoff said...

We know there's no fairness at WTMJ radio, whatever the law.

At 6:03 PM, Blogger Dad29 said...

Well, enough talk, X.

Bring suit. Stop with the pandering to racists (like Jimbo did in the S-O-S message--you know, the Mercedes...)

And you KNOW that's meant to inflame racism out-State.

Because that's what it IS, X.

At 6:34 PM, Blogger steveegg said...

WTMJ is no less "fair" than WPR, the Madison papers or the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, or even you and me. Again, nice try.

Which specific statute did they "violate"? I'm not a lawyer either, so it shouldn't be a surprise that I couldn't find it; but I did find the annotated version of the State Constitution. While it notes a questionable exemption to the right of free speech for ads that expressly advocate for or against the election of a candidate or referrendum (one that appears to be contradicted by other annotations), it does not have a blanket "issue ad" exemption, not even for an issue that is before the Legislature or governor.

At 6:34 PM, Blogger Spotlight said...

If it sounds like an ad, and reads like an add, and functions like an ad during a campaign and legislative session, it's an ad. Charlie and the engineer who cut the spot are WTMJ employees and used the station's equipment to produce the spot. If that's not a campaign contribution, then Skyes can do this all year long - while editorials are one-shot deals.

At 6:39 PM, Blogger Horace said...

Interesting that the objection of the original article, as well as the responses to the article is one of 'fairness' rather than a rebuttal of the premise of the 'spot' Sykes' show. That speaks volumes in and of itself.

At 6:41 PM, Blogger Cheesehead_FIB said...

"We know there's no fairness at WTMJ radio, whatever the law."

What a well thought-out and intellectually stimulating comment/response, Xoff...

To quote Horace from above: "Weak effort XOff ... VERY VERY Weak!"

At 7:12 PM, Blogger steveegg said...

Spotlight - you forget that editorial boards can and do keep on hammering and hammering and hammering on the same points on issues like concealed carry. There have been so many of those from the Journal Sentinel I've lost count.

At 7:31 PM, Blogger Michael J. Cheaney said...

X-OFF, why not just come out and tell the BLOGSPHERE, what you really mean, instead of doing the whole bull-s*** song and dance routine? Oh wait you can't (sorry,my bad) Since your balls are not big enough, I'll do it for you.
See by eliminating vouchers, the Democrats get a blank check for the the re-election campaign, while in return, by shutting the choice schools, the Democrats are forcing the kids back into a system that is OBVIOUSLY failing, thereby creating a whole new class of "victims" who after being told through out their 12 years of schooling, that the whole reason that they are failing is because MPS does not have enough money to give them a quality education, and that the Democrats will make it all better. WELL GUESS WHAT...THE BUCK STOPS HERE, PEOPLE IN THIS AREA, ARE SICK AND TIRED OF TEACHERS NOT BEING HELD ACCOUNTABLE.
And the 1st step is by putting "your Governor" Out of work!!!!!!
BTW please let me know if I have broken any laws. after all I'm sure my ISP is somehow paying for my opinions to be spread across the internet.
Please contact your lawyers and get back to me!
Michael J. Cheaney
Pewaukee WI.

At 8:20 PM, Blogger Xoff said...

Welcome, Sykes Writes readers. your rants are very insightful.

I'd invite you to post some of your thoughts on his blog -- but he doesn't alllow comments.

So much for free speech.

At 8:53 PM, Blogger Michael J. Cheaney said...

You Really are a class act aren't you? With your holier than thou attitude and all!!

Why not stick to the issue at hand? (in this case Choice Schools' in case you forgot)

At 9:07 PM, Blogger James Wigderson said...

C'mon Bill. You know you owe Sykes an apology. You're a political consultant. By now you should know the rules for mass media, and you know that unless Sykes and Journal Communications expressly coordinated their activity it was fair commentary. Otherwise we'd all be in Madison on Monday filing complaints against for the shill job you do for some Democrats around here. Next time take a deep breath before you hit "send."

At 9:18 PM, Blogger Xoff said...

If any apology is due, it is from Sykes to Doyle for comparing him to two racist governors who supported segregation and tried to keep black students out of public schools.

This is beyond fair comment, and misrepresents what Doyle has offered to do to solve the problem.

It is the Republicans, with their all-or-nothing approach, that are standing in the schoolhouse doors.

I guess if I had a radio station I could broadcast that. But I don't, of course. The only way I can get that message on WTMJ is to pay thousands of dollars.

Sykes, meanwhile, is free to play the same "spot" -- his term -- over and over, for free.

What's next, free issue ads on television, paid for by the stations?

At 9:21 PM, Blogger Xoff said...

Mr. Cheaney:

Don't let the facts get in the way. Doyle is not trying to eliminate choice.

He has made a reasonable offer to solve the problem.

If you want to deal in facts, and compare his proposal with the GOP's, here's a link.

At 11:46 PM, Blogger getitright said...

Once again it's a big boo hoo for you Xoff.

Doyle's "reasonable offer to solve the problem" is by now so shot through with bad faith - look at his state of the state. He dredged up the Mercedes story - 2 years old now and hardly the kind of story and rhetoric to choose if he is a governor working to "solve the problem" and "bring the sides together" and all the balogna I've seen served by the Governor's minions in the past few days on this story.

No honeyed words from the Gov to bring everyone together on this - otherwise none of what we're seeing would be happening would it? Where is his hard work to actually, really, solve this?

If he's done so much hard work why did 24 plusw CEOs sign an open letter in the major papers flat out dissing him on School Choice, telling him to quit playing games with it for Milwaukee's sake?

Instead, he is, once again, trotting out a laundry list of caveats and quid pro quos that must, just must, darn it! be satisfied.

These demands are coming from someone who has been below absolute zero cold towards Choice from the beginning - he HAS, Xoff, been trying to kill it for going on 3 years, no matter what you say he is trying to do today.

The Gov's list of demands has gotten longer over the years, more elaborate and more polished, as he's tried to carve out a defensible position to justify his vetoes, Xoff. And you are defending him at it.

What's fascinating to me is: how can someone be "working to solve this" when he never meets with anyone who is actually living the issue?

How can he be "furiously working to solve the crisis" as some shill put it when he vetoes bills as soon as they're put on his desk, so he can avoid any scrutiny. How's he working on this when he keeps his door shut when delegations of Choice families from Milwaukee come to try to talk to him?

He has absolutely no people skills, Xoff, and his hostility to the program and its people are crystal clear. And the people in milwaukee know it.

And standing in the door is an apt image in more ways than one. Not only does it connect to the southern obstructionists at the schoolhouse, but like I pointed out above, he stands in the door of the gov's office too, refusing people access to see him and be heard.

So Sykes gives these folks a voice in his spot and what do you know, the minions are all over that too: once again, the voice must not be heard. Xoff, you say you support Choice, but it must be you just haven't seen any part of Choice you like yet. Kind of like Jim Doyle, only he just omits the lip service about supporting it.

At 3:46 PM, Blogger Julie said...

Horace said...

"Its the same as a newspaper offering an editorial ... or running a column or excerpt from a book on their editorial pages ... to advance an issue."

Even while I believe Mr. Sykes has the right to say or run whatever spot he so chooses, his ad against Governor Doyle is not the same as an editorial in a newspaper. If there was a disclaimer, such as the following is an editorial or the opinions expressed by, etc. then it would qualify as an editorial, such as a newspaper has.

When you read an editorial in a newspaper, you know it is an opinion. An editoral wouldn't be put on the front page and passed off as a true news story. Nor, would an advertisement be placed on the front page without notification that it is an ad.

At 12:07 PM, Blogger Bonzo said...

Julie said

"When you read an editorial in a newspaper, you know it is an opinion. An editoral wouldn't be put on the front page and passed off as a true news story."

Obviously you haven't been reading the New York Times lately.

At 3:16 PM, Blogger Christopher Robin said...

I'm sure charlie would allow you to be a guest on his show. Chances are he would get enough material to make another editorial spot with your comments.

As far as the immage of Doyle standing in the doorway of the school--who has the power to lift the caps? The man in the doorway governor Doyle. If he weren't a solely owned subsidiary of WEAC he would have thought of those who currently attend choice schools.


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