As financial scandal was breaking at the left-wing radio network Air America (in the blogosphere at least) this summer, the Times could spare just one weak Metro-section story on the network "borrowing" $875,000 from a Bronx Boys and Girls Club, despite the easily exploitable hypocrisy angle (liberals taking money from poor kids!).
Times Public Editor Barney Calame even made the unusual step (online, anyway) of actually chiding his paper for being slow on the uptake.
Well, at last the Times has another Air America story -- but it's a puff piece on the network's female "rising star" hosts Randi Rhodes and Rachel Maddow.
Susan Brenna's story for Sunday's Arts & Leisure is headlined: "They Look Nothing Like Rush Limbaugh -- As women and lefties, Air America's rising stars are rarities in talk radio. But perhaps not for long."
One point for the Times for getting "lefties" straight -- but where are the features on conservative television and radio hosts like Laura Ingraham and Monica Crowley, who've been doing the same thing longer and with more success, judging by ratings? Well, Ingraham and Crowley are relegated to one sentence on "popular conservative radio personalities."
Brenna gushes: "In their own small way, over at the far end of the AM dial where Air America is broadcast in most of its 72 cities, Ms. Maddow and Ms. Rhodes are changing the world of talk radio. Michael Harrison, editor of the trade magazine Talkers, said that, 'For the most part, political talk radio is male,' dominated by conservative broadcasters like Rush Limbaugh and Michael Savage. 'But in the next 5 to 10 years we're going to see an invasion of talk radio by women of all political and subject stripes. Rachel and Randi are part of a natural evolution,' Mr. Harrison said, along with popular conservative radio personalities like Laura Ingraham, Monica Crowley and Janet Parshall."
Brenna hints obliquely at the network's financial woes that may sidetrack the inclined paths of these "rising stars": "If the Air America network hangs on long enough to reach the next presidential campaign, Ms. Maddow and Ms. Rhodes can claim some of the credit."
Not until the seventh paragraph does the Times briefly dip into the scandal: "Since then the network has added and lost stations, dipped in the ratings, then slightly risen again, while lagging far behind conservative talk radio in popularity. Its New York station, WLIB, was ranked 24th in the city in the most recent Arbitron ratings report, compared with WABC, the conservative talk home, at No. 8. Air America's reputation was also shaken by revelations that a founder, now departed, had borrowed $875,000 from a Bronx Boys and Girls Club to finance the network. In a statement, the network's current management said that it had repaid the loan into an escrow account, 'where the money will remain until the city has completed its investigation of the club.'"
A photo caption in the Times quotes AA's chief executive Danny Goldberg calling Rhodes and Maddow "two people who have emerged in dramatic fashion."
The Times didn't bring up a less sunny tale about another former female host of Air America, who quit the network abruptly and filed suit against the network in May for $300,000 for failing to pay wages, promotional fees, accrued holiday compensation and severance. Brenna notes in passing Winstead "was replaced" but doesn't go into the dirty details.
Strangely enough, the Times was happy to promote Winstead when Air America launched in the spring of 2004, suggesting its readers tune in. The paper has yet to report on Winstead's lawsuit.
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