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COUNTERPUNCH

There Was No Agenda in KABC's Choice of Guests

May 29, 2000|CARR D'ANGELO

Having learned the meaning of "conflict of interest" during the Staples Center scandal, the Los Angeles Times now seems obsessed with rooting out such perceived conflicts in other media. If only the Calendar section's resources were devoted to more serious radio coverage, the Morning Report item about advertisers appearing as guests on KABC talk shows might not seem so absurd ("Of Conflicts and Chickens," May 20).

Having heard the programs in question, I can say that neither Mr. KABC (Marc Germain) nor Al Rantel deceived the audience by hiding the fact that these guests are advertisers. Isn't that the first journalistic tenet for dealing with a conflict of interest? Reveal it to the audience so we can make up our own minds. If The Times learned that advertisers were being promised guest shots for buying ads, then there might be a story, but that is clearly not the case.

If The Times' radio reporters listened to KABC on a regular basis, they would know that defense attorney Myles Berman is a not uncommon guest on the show, appearing maybe two or three times a year. The recent appearance was not an unusual event, and therefore newsworthy only to The Times reporter unfamiliar with Rantel's show. Further, Berman spends most of the hour fielding calls from hostile callers. In a way, KABC is offering an open forum for listeners to confront an advertiser they don't like.

In the case of Lillian Zacky, I think Mr. KABC's defense stands on its own. Voice-overs and commercials are often discussed on Mr. K's show, and he satisfied his audience's curiosity.

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What I don't understand is why the Calendar editors think there is something remarkable about a radio personality conducting an interview with an advertiser. Do they read their own section? The Calendar section regularly conducts interviews with actors, directors, musicians and studio heads who directly benefit from the advertising they buy in the Los Angeles Times.

On television, almost every talk-show guest's appearance is supported by advertising on that network. Is Jay Leno criticized for interviewing Russell Crowe when there are millions of dollars' worth of "Gladiator" ads on NBC? Is it improper for CNN to interview George Bush and Al Gore knowing full well that they have paid campaign spots on the same network? The answer is no.

Certainly, the Los Angeles Times is not reporting every time it happens on TV the way it has targeted KABC in recent weeks. And unlike television, on talk radio, the audience is allowed to question the guest's agenda.

If The Times wants to assign someone to listen to talk radio and critique the hosts, I for one would love to read that column. But if this nit-picking is the best radio reporting The Times is capable of, then do us all a favor and tune out.

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Carr D'Angelo is a Sherman Oaks-based writer and producer.

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