Recently defeated U.S. Senate Republican candidate Bruce Herschensohn resumes his old job as KABC radio and TV resident conservative voice today, displacing liberal commentator Murray Fromson.
Far from a quiet homecoming, however, Herschensohn's return to KABC-AM (790)and to KABC-TV Channel 7 so soon after his defeat in the June primary is raising questions about KABC's journalistic judgment and could provoke a protest demonstration from Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting, a national media watchdog organization.
Fromson sparked the furor Friday morning when he publicly rebuked station management for creating an allegedly imbalanced political viewpoint.
"Those of you who think balanced commentaries are preferable to monologues ought to write and call the station," he said during his final "Ken and Bob Co." radio spot. He accused Herschensohn of refusing to have matched opposing viewpoints on the morning drive-time talk show, airing from 5 to 9.
"In the meantime, I'm going off to look for some Senate seat I can run for. Perhaps George (Green, KABC radio's president and general manager) will invite me back as quickly as he did Bruce," Fromson said.
Herschensohn said he was "promised nothing" about a future job at KABC radio or TV when he left in January after a long farewell address.
John Severino, KABC-TV's president and general manager, was unavailable for comment, but Green said he asked Herschensohn to return to KABC radio in any event. "Even if he had won, we'd have asked to have him on the air," Green said.
"I think Murray was absolutely unprofessional in his remarks this morning on the radio," Green told The Times following the Friday broadcast. Green said the program format--not Herschensohn--precludes matching commentaries as Fromson proposed.
"We find ways of making sure both viewpoints are heard," Green said. He cited the 9 a.m.-to-1 p.m. weekday Michael Jackson talk show, "but the morning format doesn't permit that every day."
Fromson, a veteran broadcast journalist who has covered the Vietnam War and the Far East for NBC News and CBS News, took the daily commentary position when Herschensohn left in January to run for the Republican Senate nomination. Fromson has criticized Herschensohn's speedy return--six weeks after his defeat in the primary.
"Most journalists I know who have gone off to politics usually spend six months to a year and a half before re-entering journalism," Fromson told The Times. "I went to work for Jerry (Gov. Edmund G.) Brown as deputy campaign manager in 1978 and did not work in the media again until 1980," he said. "I think there's a real issue here."
Herschensohn told The Times that having endorsed a party ticket as a candidate presents no conflict of interest for the station and no unfair personal advantage for those with political aspirations.
"I'm giving opinion," he said. "That's exactly what a commentator does. I want the audience to know exactly where I stand. I think it's irresponsible not to if you're giving commentary."
Green also said he sees no conflict of interest: "I don't think there's a conflict of interest and Bruce is professional enough to know what and what not to say. . . . If we determine that he is changing his viewpoint by playing party politics, he won't be on the air."
Meanwhile, FAIR's director, Jeff Cohen, criticized KABC. He threatened to welcome Herschensohn back by sending 30 to 100 protesters to picket KABC-TV for alleged right-wing partisanship.
"We think it's improper to have Herschensohn on the air unbalanced by someone progressive," Cohen said. He characterized former U.S. Sen. John Tunney, Herschensohn's KABC-TV Democratic counterpart, as too docile to be a serious challenge to Herschensohn.
"The radio lineup at KABC is really imbalanced to the right," Cohen said. "To think that Ray Briem, Dennis Prager and now Herschensohn are somehow balanced by Michael Jackson is absurd. They should just say that with a couple of exceptions, they're a right-wing company."
For a balanced commentary, KABC-TV "would have to find someone who supports the North Koreans or the Albanians," Cohen said.
Fromson and FAIR also have questioned the propriety of KABC radio and TV broadcasters being closely associated with conservative politics. Among those cited was returning anchorwoman Tawny Little, who had been head of volunteers for Herschensohn in his campaign bid.
While requiring equal time for station editorials, the Federal Communications Commission's fairness doctrine does not require rebuttals to personal commentary. Neither Herschensohn nor the station claims that he is an objective journalist, but Fromson remains critical: "Ever since the FCC was established, we've striven for balance on what is essentially public airwaves. A commentary is a straight-out three-minute opinion piece. If there is no balancing commentary with a 24-hour period, it's nothing more than a station editorial and should be identified as such."