Conservative commentators usually attack liberals, not their own. So when radio host G. Gordon Liddy, of Watergate fame, recently duked it out with Fox News talkmeister Bill O'Reilly, it was a treat. The first volley was fired on MSNBC's Deborah Norville Tonight. Liddy called O'Reilly "an embarrassment to our side." The next day, on CNN's Crossfire, Liddy shot another round: "O'Reilly is no good at radio, and part of that reason is because his most nuanced response to a complex question is 'Shut Up'!"
O'Reilly is nonplussed. "Liddy is totally out of control," says cable's top-rated news host. Both men's shows are distributed by Westwood One Radio Network. Liddy should know "it's a blatant lie to say my radio show is a failure," says O'Reilly, "even if he is a senile old coot." (A source close to The Radio Factor says it's netting "north of $10 million" a year.)
Liddy was booked to appear on O'Reilly's show, but Liddy says producers reneged on the invitation unless he apologized. "Tell Bill to pound sand," he replied, "I'm not apologizing for anything."
He adds, "One of the things I learned when I was a little boy in school and the same thing holds in prison, if you confront the bully he'll back down." But G. Gordon shouldn't hold his breath for that to happen with the Fox News star.
O'Reilly says Westwood One sent a statement to both Crossfire
host Paul Begala and Norville that The Radio Factor
is a strong performer and that Liddy's comments "are totally inaccurate and in no way represent the views of Westwood One." It noted O'Reilly is heard on 405 affiliates.
O'Reilly doesn't believe that statement will be read. "Begala won't do it because he doesn't care, and Norville won't because she doesn't have a clue," he says. "You could go on [Norville's] show ... and say 'The Martians have just landed,' and Norville would say, 'Oh really, tell me more.'"
Conventional wisdom says news and sports are traditionally exempt from indecency concerns. But in a climate of fear, some station executives are discussing adding a tape delay. An incident at KRON raised a red flag: The newscast was fined by the FCC after a Puppetry of the Penis
troupe member exposed his marionette during a news segment.
Radio-Television News Directors Association has launched a preemptive strike: a seminar on news and indecency at April's convention. The topic was also broached between station execs and First Amendment attorney John Crigler. Job one: How to avoid fines. (See page 16.)
Power to the People
Public activists are taking it to the streets—and the suites.
They kicked off a drive this week to sign up tens of thousands of citizens demanding new TV election coverage and kids-programming quotas when stations go digital. MoveOn.org, Common Cause, and others hope to drown FCC Chairman Michael Powell in petitions at the NAB convention this month.
"This is the next front in the media-reform movement," says Tim Carr, executive director for Mediachannel.org.
Winning guaranteed slots on digital cable lineups is NAB's top priority at the FCC, but Democratic commissioners are blocking plans to move forward until public-interest obligations are added.
Stern und Drang
The FCC might blush at profanity, but they profit by it. B&C hears that its latest victim, Infinity Radio, will be socked with a six-figure fine for raunchy programming by favorite whipping boy Howard Stern (below). Not content with one fine when several will do, the agency is putting the final touches on a sanction that fines a station for each indecent "utterance" during a single program. Previously, it levied just one, regardless of how many verbal taboos were broken. That changed when another Infinity station, WKRK(FM) Detroit, was fined for the Deminski & Doyle Show last year. It's unclear which Stern episode was censured, since several—surprise!—are under review. The latest is a Feb. 24 broadcast chronicling the sexual escapades of decadent Paris Hilton, who proves there is always room for one more.