Saturday, November 03, 2007
Let's review the pressure the station has been under:
- In April, Pscymeistr reported on the newspaper's criticism of Steve Gottwalt, in which the local newspaper referred to KNSI as "KGOP." (The article is down, as is the comment stream, but Leo has captured most of what's written.)
- In July, state Senator Tarryl Clark stops by the station and inter alia informs talk show host Andy Barnett that she is not interviewing on his show any more because "is not comfortable doing opinion based entertainment talk shows."
- Over the summer, according to sources, the station has been advised by a consultant, and the talk show -- the only weekday local programming on the station -- underwent several changes at the behest of management. When I guest-hosted on the show in October I saw the new "clock" or hourly chart you follow to know when to do sports, news, commercials, etc. It was very different from what I had seen before. "Why?" I asked Andy. He indicated this was management-inspired.
- There has been criticism of Barnett's parodies, and those had created some criticism from mostly liberals.
- Barnett inherited a show from Dan Ochsner, and the show was singular in the KNSI format.
- The station runs syndicated conservative talk (e.g., Limbaugh, Soucheray, Savage) the rest of its weekday. It has a weekly show by the local mayor, former Republican state Senator Dave Kleis, as well as current Republican state Representative Steve Gottwalt. The KGOP tag isn't exactly wrong.
- Nevertheless, it does not appear the station was happy with the format.
- The station was pressured by local DFL and appears to have been stung by the Times' criticism.
- It fired Barnett within four hours of the disputed interview, between which times it had received a complaint from a city council candidate, canceled a debate, pulled Barnett from the air, and then waited two hours to make its move. This would seem to imply that the CEO, Bob Leighton, was at least informed and approved of this event, though nobody at the station will speak on the record. At least one member of the family that owns the business was in the station Friday morning.
This should not be construed that I think the station had no right to fire Barnett. It can do what it wants as long as it's not agreed to not censor Barnett through its contract with him; I agree with most that I do not think I would have fired someone for asking those questions (you can hear what was said by listening to this audio on Andy's site and decide for yourself.) It is quite possible that the decision to let Barnett go was made a while ago. But if you expect to be a news talk radio station that has credibility, appearing to cave in to pressure from the DFL and competing media outlets is counterproductive.
I hope the station has a plan to maintain itself as the news talk station that has served the city well as balancing its media ideological spectrum for the last several years.
UPDATE (11/5): Based on additional conversations at the station, I want to clarify that when I said "it had received a complaint from a city council candidate", I do not necessarily mean that the city council candidate ever went to the manager's office or even spoke to him. The only person who says she did was not a witness but says "others tell me." Meanwhile, the candidate and one other person says they saw her leave after a discussion outside the studio. More than this we cannot say with any confidence. I will emphasize again that Barnett's firing may involve more than this one incident but outsiders will be left with that impression, much to the detriment of the station.