Nov 5, 2007

WJR's Beckmann balks at being rated among most-biased

WJR-AM radio commentator Frank Beckmann is not happy with the results of a Michigan Messenger reader survey.

Readers ranked Beckmann in second place among the most biased reporters, columnists and commentators in Michigan.

Beckmann tried to laugh the poll off, but it bothered him enough to email me six times.

Detroit News editorial page editor Nolan Finley was picked as the most biased. But the impression I got from him was basically an amused “so what.”

Beckmann was a little different. Those who have watched Bill O’Reilly on his Fox News show "The O’Reilly Factor” constantly describe the national blog Media Matters as a “left-wing smear site” know how some people react when you hold a mirror up to them. What is Media Matters' great sin and how is it smearing O’Reilly? Simply by posting actual video of some of the stuff he says on his show.

“I addressed this on the air this morning," Beckmann wrote of the survey, "and stressed my disappointment at finishing second.....clearly, I failed to energiize (sic) my base and plan to get a better turnout next must be pleased with your truly massive response of 43 votes in a week....that's impressive.....I also adopted you as my official liberal website.”

I explained to Beckmann that although I too was disappointed at the small number of votes cast, Michigan Messenger has only been around for some six weeks, and that any startup venture in any medium begins slowly. I also explained that an online newspaper is a completely new medium, and obviously more people owned radios than computers. Also, to vote you had to register with a screen name and password, and like talk radio, many people may listen or read but they do not all call in or comment; I guess that’s where the term “long-time listener, first-time caller” came from. But the 43 votes was a constant theme with Beckmann, and he pointed it out in almost every email.

“You act as if your vote with 43 ballots is somehow significant,” he wrote. “By all measures, my show has been a success.....The Michigan Association of Broadcasters afforded me two major awards last year, for 'News Coverage' and for 'Personality of the Year.' ”

I pointed out to him, again, that although the 43 votes were fewer than I had hoped for, still it was the readers and not me who chose him as one of the most biased commentators. Perhaps the question I should have asked was if he thought a mere 43 votes was so insignificant, why was he wasting his time emailing me. He offered to let me appear on his show, but it wasn't clear he was serious.

I listened to his show last Wednesday and Thursday while working and a small portion of the show on Friday while driving. I discovered Beckmann was correct when he said he regularly has liberals and progressives on. But after listening I have little doubt that those who voted for him made a good decision. He clearly treats non-conservative guests he disagrees with much more differently than conservatives.

On the first show, on Halloween morning, just a few hours after the Michigan House had met until 4 a.m. to approve the final budget bills and avoid a second state government shutdown, he had a lot to say about the budget. He told his audience that the budget just passed actually was an increase from the previous year’s budget, but then failed to say why or point out that many payments made in this budget were payments that were delayed from last year’s one-time fixes that were due.

It was very telling who his first guest was. Tricia Kinley, the director of tax policy for the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, was there to push the chamber's attempt to kill the recently approved sales tax on some services. There was no one from the other side as a guest, and as always, there was no one to talk about how the budget would be balanced without the tax increase.

Beckmann did have former Democratic Gov. Jim Blanchard on the show, but Blanchard had to call him out on trying to pass off White House talking points on the Iraq occupation as his own opinions.

The next day, Thursday, Beckmann had the House Republican leader, Rep. Craig DeRoche, R-Novi, on to talk about the budget, despite the fact that every published report pointed out DeRoche had absolutely nothing to do with the budget negotiations that avoided a government shutdown. Beckmann let everything DeRoche said go by unchallenged, including the misleading claim that House Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford, has grown government and the number of state employees.

The truth is that there are fewer state employees now than there were in 1973, as there were more state employees under Republican governors Bill Milliken and John Engler than there are now. After Dillon’s segment, Beckmann chose to comment on what Dillon had to say but not DeRoche, and DeRoche's comments went unchallenged again.

On Friday, he had the Senate Majority leader, Sen. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, on to talk about the budget, and he got more softball questions than DeRoche. Beckmann did not bother to ask him how he actually planned to balance the budget without the revenue increases. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Mark Schauer, D-Battle Creek, should have been on to counter Bishop’s claims -- following the pattern of the day before, when the leaders of both parties in the House were on the show. But that did not happen.

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