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Common Dreams reports: "US Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY) was seemingly displeased when he learned that a local television station in his district (the NY 22nd) was planning to air a debate he had refused to attend by allowing his challenger, Democrat Dan Lamb, to debate an empty chair."

Congressman Richard Hanna refuses to debate his opponent. (photo: Utica Observer Dispatch)
Congressman Richard Hanna refuses to debate his opponent. (photo: Utica Observer Dispatch)


GOP Congressman Threatens Local News Station for Covering Debate

By Common Dreams

06 October 12

 

'If the news media can be bought off, our entire democracy is at risk' says challenger

S Congressman Richard Hanna (R-NY) was seemingly displeased when he learned that a local television station in his district (the NY 22nd) was planning to air a debate he had refused to attend by allowing his challenger, Democrat Dan Lamb, to debate an empty chair.

So what did Hanna do to rectify the situation? He called up Steve Merren, the vice president and general manager of Nextstar Broadcasting and parent the local affiliate WUTR, and threatened to pull all his campaign's ad dollars from the station.

"He indicated to me that we would not be considered for his ad dollars and our level of cooperation in the future could be affected," wrote Merren an email to other station staff. Inadvertently, however, Merren also sent the email to members of Dan Lamb's campaign.

The email stated: "We are going to have to back out of this taping on Friday and deal with our relationship with Congressman Hanna on our own... However I do not want to offer Dan Lamb a forum to bash Hanna and call him out for an ‘empty chair.’"

It goes on to indicate that the station's decision to pull the debate was made following Merren's discussion with Tim Busch, the Chief Operating Officer of WUTR’s parent company Nexstar Broadcasting Group. Nexstar broadcasting conglomerate based in Irving, Texas and consists of 55 broadcast televisions stations throughout the US.

After WUTR canceled the debate and having seen the email from Merren, the Lamb campaign has now accused Hanna of using is influence as a congressman, and his campaign dollars specifically, to coerce the local station into decisions that would benefit him politically.

"Congressman Richard Hanna should be ashamed of himself for using his money to influence the journalistic decisions of a local news station," Lamb said in a statement. "If this isn’t a violation of FCC rules it should be. What Hanna did is the moral equivalent of bribing a cop."

"If the news media can be bought off, our entire democracy is at risk," he continued.

"All I have sought to do is provide the public with an opportunity to hear both sides of the debate so that they could base their vote on something other than a 30 second advertisement. Congressman Hanna has repeatedly tried to cover up his record of voting to privatize Medicare and cut college aid for middle class families while voting for a huge new tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. I’ve always believed that you can buy all the ads in the world, but you can’t buy the truth. Now Mr. Hanna is trying to buy that too."

SUNYIT Professor Steve Schneider told Utica Observer-Dispatch the accusations were troubling.

"I would hope that candidates don’t ever threaten to link ad spending with news coverage or their participation in debates," Schneider said. "It undermines the integrity of the journalists whose job it is to cover them and it threatens the ability of our press to function effectively."

For his part, Merren, says the letter does not reflect the tenor of the conversation and denies he felt bullied or coerced by the congressman.

The full email follows (see pdf of original here):

Mike, Robert, Theresa and Dan,

I got an angry call from Richard Hanna yesterday saying that Dan Lamb has intentionally baited him in his press release and that he will not agree to meet with us under this type of setup. He went on to tell me that we were being played by Lamb and the results would not be favorable for his continued abiltiy [sic] to deal with our news organizations.

He sited 7 other NY State Congressional races where the candidates have agreed to 3 or less debates. He told me that his team made their choices of his 6 debates in August and that the League of Women Voters in Utica met with him three times in his office in Utica and were told their request was not considered because it came in almost a month after they had made their decisions.

He indicated to me that we would not be considered for his ad dollars and our level of cooperation in the future could be affected. I have councelled [sic] with Tim Busch and we are going to have to back out of this taping on Friday and deal with our relationship with Congressman Hanna on our own. I regret making this decision so late for WSYR as we jointly announced this last week. However I do not want to offer Dan Lamb a forum to bash Hanna and call him out for an "Empty Chair". I have reached out to Richard to tell him of my decision.

Call me this morning at redacted and we can discuss further. I'm sure we can work through this as we make future pans to work on other projects. Thanks for all you have done to welcome WUTR into your family.

Sincerely, Steve
 

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+37 # NanFan 2012-10-06 07:13
So much for "checks-and-bal ances" from the media! This is an outright bribe from Hanna and so typical of the GOP and its candidates tactics. It's always ALL about the money and/or "taking their toys and going home" if they don't get their way.

Someone ought to fire "Steve," the manager who made this decision.

Unconscionable!

N.
 
 
+18 # tswhiskers 2012-10-06 07:42
One of the safeguards of freedom is (or should be) a free and courageous press willing to call out politicians and corporate leaders for undemocratic or underhanded behavior. Our media have not been either free or courageous at least since the late 1990's. I suspect corporate ownership and jacked up salaries have shriveled journalistic backbones and contributed to the self-censorship of editors and reporters. Journalism used to be a middle class profession and reporters were often fearless when it came to covering important stories. This is no longer so. Link TV ran a documentary a few years ago about the state of the media in the U.S. Every one of the journalists they interviewed was retired or had left journalism for another line of work. Dan Rather, now an advocate for free speech journalism, was as closemouthed as any reporter until he retired from his multimillion dollar job at CBS. American journalists are now overpaid and chary of taking on stories that might offend their corporate bosses. They have something to lose thanks to their increased salaries. I suspect that Woodward and Bernstein could not exist in the media climate of today.
 
 
+17 # genierae 2012-10-06 08:08
It was interesting to hear Chris Hayes, on his MSNBC show this morning, admit that the Jack Welch/Chris Matthews conversation yesterday could only happen now that Comcast owns NBC. Even MSNBC, which is much more progressive now, is restricted by its corporate owners.
 
 
+3 # readerz 2012-10-06 13:18
The press must at least admit it if they are biased, but their facts must be true. What facts? They gather no facts now, but make up fairy tales. Back in the 1970s, the big news media all fired their on-the-ground reporters in favor of highly-paid celebrity anchors. My uncle, Ed Hale, worked for ABC news in New York, and he and those staff reporters went to every county in the country before the Presidential election to do polls, and really visit Americans where they lived. He knew every county seat in America. He and most of the others in the election staff were fired when Baba Wawa became such a big name. There was no deserving anchor at that point; no Edward R. Morrow. My uncle died a couple years later; it was a bellyache that turned out to be pancreatic cancer.
 
 
+2 # genierae 2012-10-07 14:53
Reporters such as your uncle are exactly what we need today, they are the true patriots of this democracy. What an interesting life he must have led!
 
 
+24 # Archie1954 2012-10-06 08:56
I put all blame for this situation on the station involved. It is their duty as the fourth estate to see that such coersion does not work and yet here it did. I think their FCC licence should be reviewed.
 
 
+3 # ericlipps 2012-10-06 11:36
Quoting Archie1954:
I put all blame for this situation on the station involved. It is their duty as the fourth estate to see that such coersion does not work and yet here it did. I think their FCC licence should be reviewed.

I see. So the congresman should get away scot-free and the people he bullied she be punished. Yes, that makes sense.
 
 
+16 # Regina 2012-10-06 09:48
This is blackmail. There are laws against blackmail -- why aren't they being applied?
 
 
+2 # readerz 2012-10-06 13:22
Face it; to cut government spending, civil cases have been cut back in many states. It is not easy to sue. Criminal charges might be brought, if one is lucky. Just think: corporations that murder people, such as the unsterile steroids in the news now, do not have criminal charges brought against them under the RICOH organized crime statutes. Murder is much worse than blackmail. Without the rule of law, we will turn into a feudal society.
 
 
+18 # Hank 2012-10-06 10:12
Actually, this is how the new and improved GOP conducts politics.
 
 
+6 # Kootenay Coyote 2012-10-06 12:06
This election is rapidly descending into notable hateful lawlessness, & that especially on one side....
 
 
0 # Third_stone 2012-10-06 16:44
I have a plan to solve this sort of issue. First, everybody debates for every office, with a required number of debates to be able to run.
Second, all publicity is over the public broadcast network, run as a public service. No money changes hands, and only the candidate speaks.
Third, no campaign money is allowed except for staff and travel, proportionate to the scale of the office, and rent money for speaking venues. as we would expect candidates to travel throughout their region.
 
 
0 # The Voice of Reason 2012-10-06 19:24
We should take all the people running for office in every state, local, and federal election across the US, put them in a giant arena, and they can mass debate in front of everyone at the same time.

I mean, mass debating in public is what these pols do best, isn't it?
 
 
0 # fdawei 2012-10-06 21:52
Quick, call Dirty Harry for advice on how to deal with the (Man) Chair With No Name.
 
 
+1 # Marianne 2012-10-07 09:05
Is this Richard Hanna by any chance related to Mark Hanna, the notorious turn of the century (19th to 20th) Republican political boss?
 
 
+1 # Nell H 2012-10-08 12:42
Many politicians will not debate. Even fewer will respond to questions from organizations such as the League of Women Voters. The League asks questions that they don't want to answer.

My solution: I pledge to vote against any candidate that turns down a League of Women Voters debate.
 

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