Tuesday, March 4, 2008

On the air

Somebody who heard me on WGHQ this morning called to ask why I hadn't lit into Assemblyman Kevin Cahill the way he lit into me last week. I let him off easy, the caller said.

I told him I hadn't heard Cahill's radio rant, although others had told me about it. It wouldn't have mattered. Regardless of what he may think is going through our minds at the Freeman, we have nothing personal against Cahill. I certainly don't (although I must say I've lost some respect for him in the wake of this on-going tempest). We don't dislike him and we aren't out to get him.

We don't think much of the state Legislature, however, and he is its most prominent representative in our circulation area, so he embodies most of our criticism. But as for responding in kind, I wasn't about to go on the radio to make the kind of personal attacks all-too-common to the political psyche.

Yes, I know, a critical editorial some months ago used a colorful 50-cent word Cahill felt was demeaning. On top of that, I'm told he connected the dots -- incorrectly, I hasten to add -- between that editorial, and a couple of news stories published within the same time span, at least one of which had incorrect factual information (which was corrected in short order), and he had concluded the anti-Cahill brigade was in control of our news and opinion operation.

Indeed, while I was on the air this morning, Cahill called the studio and offered off-air to engage in some sort of radio face off with me. Nice try. I'm not running for office, I don't need to win a debate and I'm not looking to prevail in a popularity contest vs. Cahill. If Cahill -- who hasn't spoken on the record with Freeman reporters or editors for months -- wants to clear the air and/or show us the errors of our ways, we're more than willing to hear him out, just as we've done in the past when others have thought we had dealt them a bad hand. But with all due respect to WGHQ's small, but loyal morning audience, a daily newspaper doesn't have to seek a broadcast forum to do its business when it has a larger audience of its own. (And make no mistake, even though most daily newspapers like ours are experiencing declines in paid circulation, we've never had more people reading us than we do today, when you combine our print and on-line operations. Put another way, if you want to reach the most people in Ulster County on a daily basis, like it or not, the Freeman is how you do it.)

So, no, I wasn't about to say all sorts of nasty things about Cahill this morning, as I'm told he did about me and at least one of our editors last week. I imagine some listeners cheered Cahill's personal knocks against us. The Freeman certainly has stepped on enough toes over the years that a fair percentage of people view this as comeuppance. But I rather think most were uncomfortable and maybe even a little embarrassed listening to their assemblyman.

Like any good lawyer and political incumbent -- and Cahill is both -- I'm confident enough in his debating skills and knowledge of the inner workings of Albany that he could have staged an admirable defense of the institution and his position without distracting listeners with nonsense. That the assemblyman took the low road is at best disappointing.

I think Cahill's making a professional mistake by not turning the page the way who knows how many politicians, large and small, have done after they've had scraps with the media. (Wasn't it Hillary Clinton who never wanted to cooperate with NBC again after an MSNBC correspondent made an ill-considered remark about Chelsea Clinton? Well, last week Hillary debated Barack Obama on MSNBC, and several days later, there she was, "Live from New York," on NBC's Saturday Night Live.) Maybe he's just getting bad advice. Whatever, if he changes his mind, he knows where to find us. I really do hope someone in his camp points him toward a more civilized path.
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