Rep. Richard Hanna told WUTR-TV in Utica he would stop running campaign ads with the station unless it dropped plans to co-host a debate in which Hanna refused to participate, according to an e-mail written by the station’s general manager. WUTR’s Stephen Merren said Thursday he accidentally sent the e-mail recounting the conversation to the spokesman for Democratic candidate Dan Lamb.From the Journal News' "Politics on the Hudson" blog:
WUTR, an ABC affiliate, had planned to co-host a debate with WSYR, also an ABC affiliate, that would be taped Friday and broadcast later in the month. The new district covers three TV media markets—Binghamton, Utica and Syracuse. Hanna declined to participate in the one-hour event, which the stations then shortened to a half-hour session with Lamb only. WUTR pulled out of the debate after Hanna’s phone call to Merren on Tuesday. On Thursday, WSYR also canceled plans for the debate. “We are going to have to back out of this taping on Friday and deal with our relationship with Congressman Hanna on our own,” Merren said in his Wednesday email, which described Hanna as “angry.”Initial reaction to these stories may be outrage. This certainly will give some pause for pulling the lever for Mr. Hanna. Debates have become an American tradition. Not participating in them could signal fear of not doing well . . . or smugness that one doesn't have to be bothered because polling suggests one is ahead. Whatever the interpretation, non-participation deprives voters of a side-by-side comparison. Avoidance of scrutiny by a public servant will be taken by many as arrogance.
But something else may be afoot here . . .
WKTV is already hosting a debate (10/23/12 @ 5:30p). WUTR recently established a news organization that directly competes with WKTV. It would be natural for WUTR to want to be able to offer its viewers a debate like its competitor. But the Hanna-Lamb debate schedule is rather intensive (see the Lo-Hud article). How many debates can the candidates be expected to engage in? Could some of them have been combined? Did the new guy on the block, WUTR, simply insist on a debate that Mr. Hanna had no time for ... and then threaten to give Mr. Lamb an "empty chair" to debate with when WUTR didn't get its way -- to bully Mr. Hanna into acquiescing? If you are a candidate and were pressured like that, wouldn't you threaten to pull yours ads? The media where these stories are running would not be aware of the media competition going on in Utica -- and would be sympathetic to local-candidate Mr. Lamb.
The Binghamton article leaves out the fact that the contestants are already scheduled to do a debate in the same market on WKTV.
Mr. Lamb seems awfully quick to accuse Mr. Hanna (in both articles) of "using his money to influence the journalistic decisions of a local news station."
We can only speculate on what really happened, but the "accidental" nature of the e-mail from Mr. Merren of WUTR to Mr. Lamb's campaign seems suspicious -- as does Mr. Lamb's quickly jumping on the situation.
Regardless, these stories require Mr. Hanna to clarify what happened . . . otherwise his constituents will speculate whether his actions represent fear, smugness, arrogance ... or the product of a dirty trick.