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August 21, 2005

NY Times Goes Back to Ignoring Unfolding Air America Scandals

Posted by Dave Blount at August 21, 2005 1:12 PM

It looks like the short piece that the NY Times finally coughed up in Section B, Page 3, Column 4 a week ago last Friday acknowledging that even they know something's rotten at Air America is their last word on the subject (other than an erratum, where they admitted to watering down Al Franken's statements on the topic).

Meanwhile, more curious journalists have discovered that stealing $875,000 from a charity that helps the inner-city poor is just the tip of the iceberg of Air Un-American's rottenness. Via Michelle Malkin (link from V the K), the New York Sun reports that the network's transfer of ownership was apparently an illegal scam known as "fraudulent conveyance," intended to evade creditors. MultiCultural Radio Broadcasting (among the largest minority-owned broadcasting companies in the country) has been stiffed for $1.5 million — and they are taking "The Limbaugh of the Left" and his friends to court over it.

Hopefully no one is missing the irony that the people Air America has been screwing are minorities — in stark contrast to the sanctimonious race-based rhetoric that constantly emanates from the sort of liberal elitists who are running this slimy operation.

I waited until after the Sunday paper came out to give the NY Times an opportunity to present their take on all this. But they acknowledge none of it, not even in Section B, Page 3, Column 4. It looks like the complaints of NY Times ombudsman and normally loyal company man Barney Calame have been in vain. From Calame's Public Editor's Web Journal (hat tip: Times Watch), dated August 17:

Readers of The Times were poorly served by the paper's slowness to cover official investigations into questionable financial transactions involving Air America, the liberal radio network. The Times's first article on the investigations finally appeared last Friday after weeks of articles by other newspapers in New York and elsewhere.
The Times's recent slowness stands in contrast to its flurry of articles about Air America in the spring of 2004, when the network was launched. "Liberal Voices (Some Sharp) Get New Home on Radio Dial," read the headline on The Times's article the morning of March 31 when the network went on the air. The article noted that the network had a staff headlined by comedian Al Franken and hopes of establishing a counterpoint to conservative radio personalities such as Rush Limbaugh.
Two months later, The Times reported that the network had come close to running out of money in April but had received an infusion of an undisclosed amount of cash from sources that weren't identified. The article noted that Evan M. Cohen, a primary early backer and the chairman of the network, had resigned.
Yet The Times was silent as other publications reported that city and state investigators were looking into whether the Gloria Wise Boys and Girls Club in the Bronx had made improper loans of as much as $875,000 to Air America. Mr. Cohen, it turned out, had served simultaneously as a top executive at Air America and as the club's development director. And since the club operated largely with grants from government sources, any money passed to Air America may have come from the public till.
It has become clearer in the past week or so that Air America hasn't yet fully repaid the "loans" from the club, and its financial condition remains murky even in The Times's article Friday. So the future of the radio network seems to be a key question for The Times to answer.
"We were slow in the first place and need to do more," Rick Berke, an associate managing editor at The Times, told me Monday. While it's no excuse for such a belated response to the brewing scandal, it's true that pieces of the unfolding story fell in the domains of three different parts of the newsroom: the metropolitan desk, the business desk and the culture desk. There was, my inquiries suggest, a lack of coordination and awareness of what the paper's competitors across town were writing.
But it seems to me that this story is still unfolding, and The Times, for the sake of all its readers, needs to get to the bottom of any improper conduct and assess Air America's future.
There's another reason to get to the bottom of the scandal. It's the perception problem — a perception of liberal bias for which I haven't found any evidence after checking with editors at the paper.
Failing to cover the story until late last week has led numerous readers, especially those who seemed inspired by conservative bloggers, to write in saying that a liberal bias in the newsroom caused the paper to downplay the budding scandal. One reader put it this way: "If a conservative radio network had been started with money improperly 'borrowed' from a charity like a boys and girls club, it would be front page news for weeks in your paper. Once more, your left-wing bias is showing."

Maybe the Gray Lady isn't totally oblivious to the outside world after all. But I'm not going to hold my breath waiting for them to report on Air America again.