Policies vs. Politics

Now that Ralph Nader has come and gone, it seems that Democracy Rising and WUSF 89.7 FM have agreed to disagree.The two groups have been at odds since the WUSF’s Interim Station Manager JoAnn Urofsky decided not to allow Democracy Rising to advertise Nader’s People Have the Power rally, which was held Saturday in the Sun Dome.

The decision was made April 5 and then supported by USF President Judy Genshaft. Democracy Rising was immediately upset and marched in protest last Thursday, calling for a written set of policies from WUSF, which is a National Public Radio affiliate, to be delivered to its offices.

Bill Hamilton, a Democracy Rising volunteer who led the protest march at USF on Thursday, said a list of rules for advertising, including the one pertinent in this case, was sent on Friday. Hamilton said the rules state that Nader’s advertisement could not run because he is considered a controversial political figure.

Hamilton said he continues to disagree.

“How do you determine what’s controversial? What makes (Nader) controversial?” Hamilton asked. “If Henry Kissinger were to come to USF, would he be controversial? If Bush came, would that be controversial?”

Hamilton said he speculates that Nader is considered controversial because of his role in the last presidential election, which was the closest in history.

“The only reason Nader is controversial is that many democrats in Florida think that he’s the reason Bush is president,” Hamilton said.

Hamilton said WUSF should make free public service announcements about events such as the Nader rally. He said he still questions the station’s motivations.

“It’s so elitist,” he said.

Rick Stone, news director for WUSF, said since the controversy began, the station has gotten a few e-mails. He said people have been mostly concerned about the fact that WUSF news did not cover the Nader event Saturday at the Sun Dome.

“The primary reason is that we have no scheduled newscast on Sundays,” Stone said. “It would be old news by the time we would be able to get it on the air.”

Stone said the news department was disappointed that it was not able to talk to Nader or political author Michael Moore, who was also at the event. He said the station tried to schedule interviews with the two men during the two weeks leading up to the event but were unsuccessful.

Both Nader and Moore expressed harsh words toward WUSF on Saturday, criticizing the decision not to publicize their event. Stone said he was disappointed the men responded in that way.

“Neither one was in town when this was going on,” he said.

“I don’t think either one understood exactly what happened at the radio station, (including) the refusal to sell advertising. The fact is, we were just following our internal policies that had been in place for years and years.”

Much of Democracy Rising’s criticism was centered around the fact that an NPR station from Atlanta reportedly ran a similar ad for a Nader rally there. Still, Stone said WUSF followed its rules closely.

“I think our policy is pretty clear about who we get in a business relationship with,” he said.

As for Urofsky’s handling of the situation, Stone said he thought she did a good job.

“She was putting the integrity of the news station ahead of the monetary gains of the radio station,” Stone said.Urofsky could not be reached for comment.Part of her reasoning for the decision was that such an ad might create bias for the news department at WUSF. Because news reporters read the ads on the air, Urofsky said there was a danger for a conflict of interest.

Stone said he agreed fully with her in this situation.

“There is an appearance of conflict. We avoid not just the conflict of interests but the appearance of a conflict of interests,” Stone said. “She made a good call, she really did.”

Contact Rob Brannonat oraclerob@yahoo.com