Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Muzzling The Media-- Standard Operating Procedure For Corrupt Republican Incumbents Like Buck McKeon


This is the one of the ones we're running on the KHTS website

This is Free Speech Week and Buck McKeon (R-CA) has a peculiar way of celebrating; he has censorship in mind-- and it's another attack on the free functioning of democracy.

I met reporter Mark Archuleta in an odd way. He had just been fired by KHTS, the big radio station in Santa Clarita owned and run by a longtime Buck McKeon crony, Carl Goldman. "So you're Down With Tyranny," he said when we shook hands. He first got an inkling he was going to be fired-- and he's a family man with a son who just got into Yale-- when Buck McKeon staffers called him, his news director, Carol Rock, and the station owner into McKeon's office to complain. McKeon isn't used to unbiased political reporting-- and that's what KHTS was doing. McKeon wanted it stopped. His staffers accused Mark and Carol of working with DownWithTyranny. "What's that?" Carol asked.

A week later Goldman fired Mark and Carol (with no two weeks notice or anything like that-- and hired someone from The Signal). And that ended the unbiased political reporting at KHTS. Now it's just another cheerleading operation, like The Signal, for McKeon. McKeon isn't the only powerful incumbent interfering with press freedom. It really is standard procedure for small town Republicans. Even with David Dreier's status as a notorious closet case being widely discussed in the L.A. media, Dreier's crony who owned all the local newspapers in his district, adjacent to McKeon's, chose to ignore it and to never published one word critical of his pal the congressman.

Small town publishers and radio stations owners love cozying up with the local congressman. The prestige! The status! The business opportunities!

Today Lee Rogers reacted to the firing of Mark and Carol with a press release unlikely to see the light of day in the McKeon-controlled press.
Last Friday, the Capitol Hill newspaper, Roll Call, broke a story about McKeon’s staff on the House Armed Services Committee, which he serves as Chairman, threatening military sexual assault victims’ advocates and telling them that if they would receive no help from the Committee if they spoke to media in McKeon’s district.

Four days earlier, a local radio station, KHTS 1220 AM, fired the two journalists most closely following the campaign. The station cited budgetary reasons, but the journalists themselves were in no doubt they lost their jobs because they insisted on reporting stories that raised questions about Congressman McKeon’s job performance, and because of the personal relationship between McKeon and the station’s owner, who has endorsed McKeon.

“The media has a job to do and some politicians may not like it when the media does it, especially if the politician is not doing their own job,” Dr. Rogers said. “But, manipulation of the media-- or even the appearance of it-- poses a direct threat to freedom of speech and everything we hold most dear about our democracy.”

Part of a leaked memo from McKeon's office about manipulating the local media

“Congressman McKeon needs to provide a more convincing explanation of his behavior than he has so far, and he needs to let the media do its job of reporting stories that matter to his constituents. If the stories raise questions, he needs to answer them, not move to prevent the questions from being asked at all,” Rogers continued.

McKeon’s attitude has been a concern since a strategy memo leaked from his Congressional office in January outlining a plan to subvert local media. The subject of that memo was the Countrywide mortgage scandal investigation, which affected McKeon directly since he personally benefited from a preferential mortgage rate and failed to include it in his mandatory financial disclosure forms.

Multiple other instances have arisen since. On May 11, a story published on the KHTS website was critical of a land swap deal McKeon brokered for the Mammoth Mountain Ski Area (MMSA) right after the organization threw a fundraiser for him. The story questioned the timing of McKeon’s legislation so close to the fundraiser and drew a contrast between his success in arranging the Mammoth land swap deal and his failure to prevent the Cemex gravel pit mine in his district under a similar deal.

Screen save-- the article was removed when McKeon complained

Additionally, McKeon admitted he made no contribution to the costs of the fundraiser, which is illegal.

McKeon called Carl Goldman, the radio station owner, and ordered him to pull the story. Goldman deleted the story within minutes of it being placed.

On October 2, KHTS’s Mark Archuleta reported on an FEC fine imposed on McKeon and his wife Patricia, his Campaign Treasurer, for failing to file timely reports. Three days later, a meeting was called in McKeon’s district office in which McKeon’s district director and press secretary expressed their displeasure to Archuleta, his news director, Carol Rock, and Goldman, the station’s owner. Archuleta and Rock were immediately told they would no longer be covering McKeon, including the debate between McKeon and Rogers held five days later. Additionally, Goldman offered to issue a public endorsement of the Congressman’s re-election campaign, which he did the very next business day. Rock was also ordered to rewrite a story already published to feature McKeon more prominently.

On October 15, Rock and Archuleta were fired. Goldman said it was “an economic decision.” But four days later KHTS hired a new news director, Perry Smith, raising questions about what budget savings, if any, had been made by the firings.
Blue America is trying to even it out a little by running some TV and radio spots in the district. Here's one of the TV ads. If you'd like to help us get this up more widely, here's the page. Every dollar goes right up on TV. Undecided voters make their decisions in the last 5 days.


UPDATE: KHTS In The Pocket Of Corrupt Congressman

Santa Clarita blogger, Notes From Newhall published the full testimony of how KHTS fired journalist Mark Archuleta. "In a brutal three minutes during Public Comments tonight, former KHTS Political Reporter Mark Archuleta accused KHTS station owner Carl Goldman of systematically manipulating news coverage to benefit major SCV political figures, including Congressman Buck McKeon & at least one unidentified City Council Candidate... KCAL 9 news was there, making video of the speech, so we should probably see some real media coverage of Archuleta's comments in the days to come."
My name is Mark Archuleta and I am a resident of Canyon Country.

I wanted to bring to your attention an obituary that may not have caught your attention. The deceased, is the Free Press in the Santa Clarita Valley.

As you may have heard News Director Carol Rock and I were fired last week by K-H-T-S. There has been lots of speculation as to why and I am here tonight to end my silence.

For six months we’ve worked under the pressure from K-H-T-S owner Carl Goldman that at anytime our news stories could be pulled or we’d be forced to alter them to fit a political agenda that would keep facts from the public. We resisted and were fired.

Make no mistake, this move by Goldman is in response to building complaints by supporters and staff of Congressman Howard Buck McKeon.

You may wonder how media suppression works. It begins with a simple phone call, includes threats, and ends in firings of those who will not comply. Two examples:

On May 11th Goldman called me to say he was pulling down from the K-H-T-S website my article on the Mammoth Mountain land swap deal. He said McKeon had called him and demanded it be removed or he would leave a business junket, arranged by Goldman, stranded in DC without his support.

The story disappeared.

Prior to the City Council election, I conducted an interview with one of the candidates. It was a tough, but fair interview. That candidate called Goldman and complained. Goldman came to me and Carol and said the story had to be changed to protect the candidate.

As Goldman explained it was important to prevent a three-person voting bloc on the council and to accomplish that it was necessary to protect the person I’d interviewed and to keep two people from winning. Look at your council tonight and you will see Goldman’s plans worked part way.

Carl and Jeri Goldman have done a lot of good for Santa Clarita through charity. But a lot of good does not balance out a lot of harm. Altering stories to influence elections is harmful and not the business of a reputable news organization.

It is also cynical to hope that the public will believe Carol and I were “laid off for budget cuts,” and then hire our replacements by the end of the week, before our bodies were even cold.

Our firing came days after an October 5th meeting in McKeon’s district office where Carol, Goldman, and myself met with McKeon staffers (District Director) Morris Thomas and (Communications Director) Alissa McCurley.

Because they’d complained about my writing, Goldman promised McKeon’s staff that Carol and I would both be barred from covering McKeon any more until after the election-- including reporting on the upcoming debate with Dr. Lee Rogers.

If muzzling us wasn’t enough, Goldman appeased them further by promising to personally endorse McKeon through K-H-T-S. He also promised to have Rock rewrite a story about the Habitat for Humanity Veteran’s Village project to feature McKeon as a more prominent figure. Goldman even touted his relationship with Buck on this pet project as reason for his endorsement.

Five days after the debate Rock and I were fired.

Goldman made an interesting statement on their website regarding the future of the news coming out of K-H-T-S. He said, “It will be an opportunity for you to judge if our Santa Clarita news continues to be stellar.”

First, let me point out that they didn’t even spell my name right in their statement. What’s that tell you?

Second, it’s not the stories you see online that should concern you. It’s the ones that will never appear because they’ve been silenced by a phone call from Buck McKeon or some other politician or advertiser.

Carol and I have been forced from our jobs, but our heads are held high knowing we served the public trust.

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At 2:18 PM, Blogger Sue Wilson Reports said...

Radio management legally cannot do this, but they get away with it because nobody knows the rules. (Except me, maybe... We have filed a formal complaint with the FCC, standing against radio licensees' illegal political use of our publicly owned airwaves.

See full complaint here: http://www.mediaactioncenter.net/2012/05/formal-complaint-to-fcc-filed-on-behalf.html

People in KHTS' market should start contacting station management immediately demanding comparable time any time a guest is supporting McKeon. (The FCC rules give us only seven days to request comparable time.)

If they don't give it to you, contact me at Media Action Center and we will add you to our complaint, (which is likely to go the Supreme Court. First Amendment case, their rights v ours.)

At 12:10 AM, Anonymous Enlightenment said...

nice work

At 5:51 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This stuff is egregious and needs to stop. (Boycott the station's sponsors, anyone? Do we even know how to say the "B-word" in the SCV?) But if you've been paying attention and have a decent memory you have to admit it's hardly new. Local media has been muzzling those not in the right "circles" for years ... it's only more recently that those same circles have become brazen enough to take on the local media itself. Perhaps it's good it's become this brazen -- let the backlash begin.

At 10:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It looks to me like KHTS and its owners have violated two California Labor Code sections, the consequences of which are (1) the potential to be charged with a midemeanor (except that won't happen because Buck-the-Cowboy-Boot-Salesman is a fellow Republican with the LA County DA) and (2) the ability of the two reporters to sue their employer for damages:

Cal. Labor Code Sec. 1101. No employer shall make, adopt, or enforce any rule,
regulation, or policy:
(a) Forbidding or preventing employees from engaging or
participating in politics or from becoming candidates for public
(b) Controlling or directing, or tending to control or direct the
political activities or affiliations of employees.

Cal. Labor Code Sec. 1102. No employer shall coerce or influence or attempt to coerce or
influence his employees through or by means of threat of discharge
or loss of employment to adopt or follow or refrain from adopting or
following any particular course or line of political action or
political activity.

The penalties for violations of those Labor Code Sections:

Cal. Labor Code Sec.1103. Any employer who violates this chapter is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable, in the case of an individual, by imprisonment
in the county jail not to exceed one year or a fine of not to exceed
$1,000 or both and, in the case of a corporation, by a fine of not
to exceed $5,000.

Cal. Labor Code Sec.1104. In all prosecutions under this chapter, the employer is responsible for the acts of his managers, officers, agents, and employees.

Cal. Labor Code Sec.1105. Nothing in this chapter shall prevent the injured employee from recovering damages from his employer for injury suffered through a violation of this chapter.

It sure would be pleasing to see a lawsuit filed by some competent labor lawyer on this obvious violation of law. Even more pleasing would be seeing the plaintiffs sue Buck-the-Boot-Salesman and his minions for intentional interference with economic advantage, which is fancy talk for convincing an employer to fire an employee for political purposes.


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