Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bruce Murphy fires back

Milwaukee Magazine editor Bruce Murphy explains the decision to run the Shelley story on talk radio (my take here) and the communication with WTMJ-AM before the story was published.

Why run the story? Well, in four days, the magazine’s Web site had 49,000 unique visitors, about 10 times more traffic than normal. It was an editor’s dream. But frankly, I had bigger plans. Before the story was published, I contacted Sykes and made him an offer: I would leak the piece ahead of time to him and offer the chance to write his own story, defending talk radio and responding to Shelley’s claims. This would place Milwaukee Magazine at the heart of an important debate, give both stories equal treatment and generate two straight months of controversy.

Sykes seemed interested and asked to see the story. But after that, I never heard from him. Finally, I was contacted by Sykes’ boss, Journal Broadcast Executive Vice President Steve Wexler, who informed me Sykes would not be doing an article for us. Instead, he asked the magazine to run a short letter from management that, among other things, said “neither the station nor our hosts were offered a chance to comment on or correct errors of fact.”

In response, I e-mailed Wexler and told him the magazine always runs corrections of factual errors, so he should inform me of any such examples. He never responded. After we posted the story, he again e-mailed me and asked if we were going to run that letter. I again responded that he needed to alert us of any errors. I was again met by silence, so I sent Wexler a revised letter that changed the wording to this: “Neither the station nor our hosts were offered a chance to comment on the claims made by the author.” Wexler agreed to this and I posted his letter.

Murphy then uses Sykes' response to the Shelley story to illustrate the claims by Shelley. I'd note that Murphy does a better job of providing examples for Shelley's claims about Sykes' methods for talk radio than Shelley did.

One point Murphy attempts to make I think points directly at the flaw in the Shelley article. Murphy claims, "What’s striking about Sykes’ blogged response to Shelley’s essay is how unresponsive it is. Sykes doesn’t directly address or deny that conservative talk radio hosts..." followed by 11 different points of supposed (bad) behavior by talk radio hosts. Here Murphy is holding Sykes to a higher standard than Shelley, who provided no examples to support his arguments.

What would be really interesting is a broader look at talk radio in this town, including the liberals, to see how different topics are picked and handled, and how callers are selected. It would be fun to see some myths about talk radio demolished. Unfortunately there have been only a handful of people who have worked for both of the major talk radio stations. Maybe Charlie could write it.