Bob Bernick’s notebook: When is an endorsement not an endorsement?

Bernick Mug 01

KSL broadcasting, both TV and radio, are playing a dangerous public confidence game this year and next.

As reported this week by Managing Editor Bryan Schott, the LDS-Church-owned media outlet, which holds several FCC licenses, is continuing to allow Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox to have his podcast on the outlet’s website, even though Cox is an announced candidate for governor in 2020 and likely will become a filed, signature-gathering candidate come January.

You can read Schott’s story here.

KSL management’s decision comes on the heels of KUTV Channel 2 removing Salt Lake City mayoral candidate Jim Dabakis from their Take 2 political affairs/podcast show only after Schott grilled the TV station over Dabakis continued appearances, and even after Dabakis filed for office several weeks ago.

Strange times, indeed, for the so-called “neutrality” of TV and radio stations these days.

Of course, we all know that national FOX TV “news” shows have a love affair with President Donald Trump – who listens/watches such programming, often Tweeting or calling the shows to talk with “hosts” who completely agree with him politically about everything.

But local Utah TV and radio stations have not historically gone along with putting candidates – filed or not – on their “platforms” – thus giving the appearance of station-approved candidacies.

KSL execs are especially blind to the implications of continuing Cox & Friends on their podcast site.

The KSL logo appears prominently on the podcast’s site.

And, despite KSL explanations claiming otherwise, it is too much to expect that viewers/listeners will discern that the news station is not endorsing or otherwise producing the candidate’s podcast – where Cox has spoken about his gubernatorial candidacy often.

In part that’s because the radio station’s employees ARE helping produce the podcast – KSL lets Cox & Friends use their radio production facilities in Broadcast House on 300 West, and has KSL employees run the recording equipment during the podcast’s production.

And here is a real twist/conflict of interest:

Usually, when anyone provides in-kind aid to a candidate, that person or entity must be declared as doing so (with a dollar amount) on the candidate’s Utah Elections Office campaign finance filing.

But as lieutenant governor, Cox oversees the Utah Elections Office, whose officials tell that they’ve looked into this situation and KSL does NOT have to be listed as an in-kind contributor to Cox’s campaign.

What’s with that?

Of course, other candidates for governor can make a complaint against Cox/KSL not having to file as an in-kind contribution – but that complaint is made to – you guessed it – the Utah Elections Office.

As Schott was questioning the Utah Elections Office and Cox about the podcast and in-kind contributions, Cox issued a press release Wednesday afternoon announcing that former Lt. Gov. Gayle McKeachnie would become a “third party” arbiter on any issues before the office involving Cox’s or any other gubernatorial campaign. Apparently, that step-aside for Cox was in the works for several weeks, but the timing of the release certainly shows Cox et al. wanted to get out ahead of Schott’s story.

You can read the official release here.

This KSL stuff is the second time in a week that the normally squeaky-clean Cox has stepped in the political mud.

The Salt Lake Tribune’s Lee Davidson has doggedly reported that Cox’s elections office failed to take action against a former campaign manager for GOP Gov. Gary Herbert, who set up what appears to be a scam political action committee – which has raised more than $4 million from folks but donated no money to political candidates or political causes – the money going to execs of the PAC and for continued fund-raising.

Cox and Herbert slammed the PAC after Davidson’s story first appeared.

Cox said he told federal authorities about the PAC more than a year ago, but took no action to tell the public or shut it down (if possible) because the feds told him they were investigating the matter.

In explaining why KSL is keeping Cox & Friends on its podcast platform – with its KSL logo prominently displayed – one media exec said since Cox is lieutenant governor, and a public figure, he deserves “access” to the platform.

Time for former Utah House Speaker Greg Hughes, already on KUTV’s “Take 2” program, who will run for governor next year, to immediately declare himself a “public figure” and also get a KSL podcast for himself.

Hey, Schott and I have “Bernick and Schott on Politics,” a twice a week podcast. Are we public figures?

Cox and his chief of staff both have a KSL security card to get them past the tight security at Broadcast House on 300 West – where Cox & Friends is taped.

I’d like one of those, too – at least I could park for free downtown.