By Robert Price
If you caught Ralph Bailey's May 22 show on KERN-AM 1180 in which he ripped yours truly for having supposedly acquiesced to the unreasonable demands of a politician and ordered the removal of radio/webcast host Scott Cox from his own show, read this.
"Price threw Scott Cox under the bus," Bailey told listeners, and then he proceeded to spin a tale with little basis in reality.
After the fourth or fifth person told me I ought to listen in because Bailey was on the air targeting me with a rant significantly devoid of facts, I tuned in. Then I called the show's listener line. Bailey's producer, J.R., a good guy and straight shooter who also produces "First Look with Scott Cox," answered. J.R. immediately notified Bailey that I was waiting on hold, he later told me, but Bailey chose to filibuster with some vacuous nonsense while I waited. (I could hear him while I was on hold.) I had things to do, so I finally hung up.
This is what I would have told Bailey -- prior to the show, had he done the responsible thing and asked me about it beforehand, or during, had he taken my call or called me back.
After The Bakersfield Californian endorsed Republican Andy Vidak of Hanford for the state Senate's vacant 16th District seat on May 12, Democrat Letitica Perez pulled out of her scheduled May 17 appearance on The Californian's daily program, "First Look," a Monday through Friday web/radio simulcast hosted by Cox, a KERN-AM on-air personality. I thought Perez's cancellation was a bad move on her part, but more important I thought it damaged The Californian's goal of giving the candidates equal time on the webcast, or as close to equal time as we could manage. I met with Perez and talked her into reconsidering. By this time, she had already booked something else for the morning of May 17 but she agreed to come on the show May 20, the day before the special election. That was last Monday, which is the day I appear (usually with a guest) on "First Look" during the 9 a.m. hour.
I had already booked civil rights attorney Kathleen Faulkner, which would normally be enough to fill my time slot, but I accommodated Perez by arranging for Faulkner to appear from 9 to 9:30, with Perez following at 9:30.
I was in the studio interviewing Faulkner when, at about 9:20, I saw Perez walk in. Good, I thought, she's here on time. When Faulkner's segment was over, I escorted her down the elevator and out of the building, as I normally do. (We can't have lawyers just walking around freely, after all.) When I returned to the studio, I found Perez sitting there alone. I sat down next to her and looked around for Cox. I didn't see him, and now the segment was starting. Newscaster Jeff Lemucchi "threw" to me and I conducted the interview with Perez. After the segment I escorted her out of the building. (We can't have politicians just wandering around either.)
When I returned to the studio, Cox was back in his usual spot and I sat down in my usual spot. Nothing else was usual about this final segment, though: Cox lit in to Perez, suggesting she was a bad candidate, a crybaby, etc. I wasn't sure what to make of any of it. I tried to reel him in and change the subject, and finally succeeded, but only after Cox had excoriated her thoroughly.
After the show I returned to my office and started going about my real job, which is putting together the newspaper's Opinion page. Louis Amestoy, the company's manager of digital content and the executive producer of "First Look," walked in. He wanted to ask my reason for accepting Perez's demand that Cox leave the studio as a condition of granting an interview.
This was the first I'd heard of it.
Between interviewing Faulkner and running up and down the stairs between segments, I had completely missed the negotiations, or whatever you'd call it, between Perez and Amestoy and whomever else was involved. Amestoy had figured I'd OK'd it and went along with it -- reluctantly, I assume. He had no opportunity to ask me, and now the show was about to start.
I don't know why Perez said I had agreed to the stipulation that Cox would be banished from the studio. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt: She may well have asked me something like "You will be conducting the interview, right?" To which I would have said yes. I have interviewed her three or four times on radio and/or the webcast and it has always been just me or primarily me asking the questions. It never occurred to me that she might have been expecting Cox's outright banishment based on that seemingly innocuous question.
By Wednesday, I figured the whole incident was water under the bridge. Perez had lost the election to Vidak, I had an unusually full plate of must-do-this-week things, and I didn't care anymore. I talked to Cox; he laughed about it. He was clearly over it too.
Then colleague Lois Henry wrote a column criticizing Perez and Vidak for their demands upon local media (here it is: http://www.bakersfieldcalifornian.com/politics/local/x1891154838/Vidak-Perez-fail-to-impress-with-media-behavior). Bailey apparently read it and decided to extrapolate, based on ... well, I have no idea, except that maybe the truth was a tad too dull. I had irresponsibly demanded that Cox leave the studio! I had knuckled under to a politician! Except none of that was true. I have neither the right nor the power nor the inclination to demand that anybody be booted off his own show.
Friday marks our 50th "First Look" show. (We hosted a radio program for two years prior to that.) So we're newbies at this webcast business. Our fit into the radio/TV/webcast culture is still a bit awkward. And, until the past couple of weeks, we had no set policy on what to do when politicians, or guests of any sort, make demands that strike us as unfair or unworkable. (I include Vidak, who declined to appear on camera for an editorial board meeting, as the other four candidates for the 16th District seat had agreed to do. Again, see Lois' column for more on that.)
We are working toward developing an equitable policy that's fair to guests and readers/listeners and true to our mission.
So that's what's really goin' on, Ralph. I have a hunch you actually knew the truth before you trashed me on the air, but when "good radio" is a higher priority than honesty and fair play, I suppose this is what we get.
Email Editorial Page Editor Robert Price at firstname.lastname@example.org.