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Media Notes

A Column With Support At Each End

By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 14, 2005; Page C01

The issue of pundit payola, it seems, is not limited to inside the Beltway.

Eric Wesson, a columnist for the Call, an African American newspaper in Kansas City, offered plenty of praise last year for the successful House bid of Democrat Emanuel Cleaver. "Rev. Cleaver," he wrote, "has the experience to get things done and getting people to work together, he unites people. . . . Rev. Cleaver is a master at getting others to see his vision and surrounding himself with role players to make the vision become a reality. . . . I admire his honesty."

Howard Stern's show on WJFK is being cut short weekday mornings, angering some listeners. (Jeff Zelevansky -- Reuters)

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More Discussions

Cleaver's campaign last summer paid $1,500 to a firm called One Goal Consultants. And the sole owner of One Goal Consultants, according to state records, is Wesson.

"I wrote out some phone scripts for his phone banks," Wesson says. "I think I did about 50 of them and some other miscellaneous things. It had nothing to do with the job I do for the Call. The Call has always written articles favorable to African American candidates. We're an advocacy newspaper."

Readers of the Call, however, were unaware that Wesson was getting cash from the campaign. "Should I have disclosed it in my articles? I don't know," says Wesson. "Would it have made any difference?"

Wesson, who wrote such stories as "Cleaver Shifts Campaign Into High Gear," defended the former Kansas City mayor against allegations that a state agency bent its guidelines in lending Cleaver $80,000 to help buy a car wash.

What does the newspaper think about this? "We don't have any comments," said Managing Editor Donna Stewart. She also declined to comment to Pitch Weekly, a local paper that ran an item last year on Wesson's moonlighting.

But that was only part of Wesson's work. Luther Washington, who managed Cleaver's campaign, said Wesson's firm was given a new contract after the congressman's election. "We used him for brainstorming for ideas for national news stories specifically targeted to the black press," Washington said. Meanwhile, Wesson, who will write the releases under the rubric "Congressman's Corner," has continued to cover Cleaver.

"It wasn't that we were trying to buy support," Washington says. Amber Moon, a spokeswoman for Cleaver, says the Call is a weekly that "goes to his base. I'm not sure he had a need to court favorable journalism with that paper."

Attention Young Liberals

College campuses are widely viewed as liberal bastions, with towns such as Berkeley, Cambridge and Madison used as shorthand for left-wing communities of faculty and students.

So why is a Washington think tank funneling money to universities to encourage liberal journalism? Isn't that a bit like pumping sand into the Mojave Desert?

"We're not winning the battle of ideas on campus," says David Halperin, who is running the project for the Center for American Progress. Conservatives "have this insurgency mentality, even though they run the world."

"We're being outhustled," says Halperin's colleague Ben Hubbard. "We want to cultivate the media stars, much like the right has done with Ann Coulter and Dinesh D'Souza."

Toward that end, the center will give $750,000 to nine liberal campus publications at such places as Princeton, Dartmouth and the University of Wisconsin, and help launch four at the universities of Michigan, Chicago, Kentucky and Ohio State. This is dwarfed by the more than $30 million a year that they estimate conservative campus organizations receive from such groups as the Young America's Foundation and Leadership Institute.

Leah Caldwell, editor of Issue at the University of Texas, says she and two friends broke away from the school's daily paper because they felt that racial issues were being "sanitized" and more national coverage was needed. She says the center's $3,000 grant will put the magazine on a regular monthly schedule rather than struggling to raise money for each edition.

The project, being launched this week, includes a Web site, CampusProgress.org, that will act as a clearinghouse for student journalism, along with contributions and interviews from the likes of Larry David, Al Franken and Margaret Cho. And the site will offer policy guidance. "We'll call them crib sheets, but they're talking points," says Halperin, a former Clinton White House speechwriter.

Also underway is a speakers' bureau (such as Al Sharpton and Armstrong Williams discussing the black vote this week at Howard University) and a training program, putting young journalists in touch with staffers for the Nation, Mother Jones, Washington Monthly and American Prospect.

The venture plans full-page newspaper ads that are anything but subtle. Featuring pictures and quotes from Coulter, Bill O'Reilly and James Dobson, the ads say: "Conservatives in Washington are attacking our personal freedoms. Young Americans fight and die in a war built on their deceptions. . . . Don't Just Sit Around. Connect. Engage. Speak Up."

Toeing the Line?

A Dallas Morning News editorial recently urged the Federal Communications Commission to require cable systems to carry local stations on multiple channels as digital technology becomes available.

This stance (which the FCC later rejected) happens to be the same one that the paper's parent firm, Belo Corp., has been lobbying for in Washington -- although Belo's role, as the owner of 19 television stations, wasn't mentioned.

"It was an error on our part for which I am responsible," says Editorial Page Editor Keven Ann Willey. While the paper "routinely" mentions Belo's interests, she says, her busy schedule and a staff shortage led to "a comedy of errors. I regret it."

But Belo executives asked for a copy of the editorial, and lo and behold, it ran the next day in another of the company's papers, the Providence Journal, although the fact that the proposal would affect Belo was mentioned. Journal Editorial Page Editor Robert Whitcomb -- who recently complained about op-ed pieces in which "the 'content' itself is often written by PR spinmeisters" -- says he cannot comment on "internal matters."

Early Exit

Howard Stern is being cut off in Washington.

Sometimes in mid-sentence.

WJFK-FM, which will lose Stern to Sirius Satellite Radio next January, has started dumping out of the show at 10 a.m., 30 to 45 minutes before it ends. The reason, says Infinity Broadcasting Corp. Senior Vice President Michael Hughes, is to "squeeze a bunch of great shows into a few hours," one of which might replace Stern in morning drive. He's now followed by the Junkies, four sports-minded guys who came over from another Infinity station, WHFS, when it switched to Spanish.

Stern groused about the early hook on the air last week and gave out Hughes's name and phone number. "It hasn't been pleasant," Hughes says.

Media Morsels

Miami Herald reporter Wanda DeMarzo had exposed how the Broward County sheriff's department allegedly falsified crime statistics. In retaliation, an aide to Sheriff Ken Jenne testified, the sheriff told him to leak the fact that DeMarzo had been arrested three times since 2000 on drunk-driving charges, and convicted once. The testimony came in a case against two of Jenne's deputies. The aide said he refused to spread the derogatory information . . . The Lexington, Ky., Herald-Leader, using online databases, helped track down an escaped murderer who had been on the loose since 1990. The police had been making little progress in the case. . . . With its ratings down by about half in the past four years, CNBC has named a new president, Mark Hoffman, who was running an NBC station in Connecticut. Pamela Thomas-Graham, who dropped the network's prime-time newscast and "Capital Report" while adding Conan O'Brien reruns and the since-canceled John McEnroe show, was bumped up to chairman.

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