You wouldn't call many talk-radio hosts "journalists." They're mostly entertainers. But, still, you'd think even the most partisan talk-show host would question a political candidate when he says he won't make his hs income-tax returns public because, if he did, he'd take a "beating."
I mean, if the host didn't want to be particularly aggressive about it, he could do it in a demur way, slipping out a gentle follow up question like, "But why do you think you'd take a beating?"
That's the situation Fox Radio News (KCOL in Loveland, CO) hosts Keith Weinman and Gail Fallen faced April 15 about half way through the fourth hour of their show.
Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Scott McInnis told them, "So I'm not going to invite myself to my own beating. I'm going to give what I think the people want, not what The Denver Post wants."
McInnis was on the conservative radio show after having apparently just read a Post editorial, published that morning, calling on him and fellow Republican Dan Maes to "follow Hickenlooper's lead and agree to make their returns public."
The Post argued that releasing income tax returns "shows that a leader who seeks the public trust is committed to transparency at all levels," adding that "[t]ax returns show sources of income, chronicle any charitable giving, and reveal potential conflicts of interest, use of tax shelters and other valuable information."
In a news story on the same day, The Post reported: "Since at least 1998, all but one Colorado major-party gubernatorial candidate - Republican Marc Holtzman - have released their tax forms to the media. And in the past 14 years, all major-party U.S. Senate candidates in Colorado have released their tax returns."
Against this backdrop, after listening to McInnis April 15 on Mornings with Keith and Gail, many questions spring to mind that the hosts should have asked, starting with: What, exactly, is in your tax returns that would result in the expected beating by The Post?
But instead, host Gail actually tells McInnis that it's a "healthy perspective" to have "no interest in being complicit in your own self destruction."
McInnis' KCOL interview April 15 is a case study in how talk radio hosts can let us down, apparently in the interest of soothing a public figure, even though talk radio hosts occupy a pseudo-journalistic position that could allow them to advance the public interest on daily basis.
On the day McInnis' was on the radio, McInnis' spokesperson, Sean Duffy, was cited in The Post indicating that McInnis might in fact release his tax returns on an unspecified date. But Duffy's boss, McInnis, is on the radio saying he's "not going to give what The Denver Post wants." What gives? This wasn't asked.
McInnis also told Keith and Gail, "So I have made more disclosures on my financial background than any other candidate in this race and probably more than any candidate for a long time simply because of length of service, number one." The missing follow-up: "Okay, those narrow disclosures were good, but now, what's in your tax returns that would invite the unwanted beating by The Post? Why can't we see the broad information in your returns?"
Elsewhere in the interview, McInnis says, "Keep in mind that it's their [The Denver Post's] job to make my job as uncomfortable as possible." In the interest of defending journalists, Keith and Gail should have pointed out to McInnis that making his job uncomfortable is a side effect of the basic job of The Denver Post, not the goal of the enterprise: The Post wants to report the facts about a candidate. If candidates or public officials are what they say they are and do their jobs right, a newspaper won't make them uncomfortable-or certainly won't give them a "beating" over typical income tax returns.
McInnis told Keith and Gail that he'd release his income, but, as The Post pointed out, income tax returns reveal much more than just income, but also stuff like board compensation for his recent spot on the board of equity firm KSL Capitol Partners. Keith and Gail clearly knew the difference between releasing only total income and releasing broader income-tax information, because they referred to The Post editorial explaining this at the beginning of their show. But neither Keith nor Gail pressed McInnis to explain why the release of his total income would be sufficient, when so much more information is contained in his income tax returns.
McInnis repeatedly said on the radio that releasing his returns would compromise the privacy of his family. But he wasn't asked about, at a minimum, releasing the portions of his returns that apply to his personal income.
At various points in the interview, McInnis stated that it's the press and Democrats who want to see his tax returns, not the people. At one point he said, "People don't really care about what my brother and sister made or what that says on my income tax returns," adding later: "It's rarely brought up by the average citizen on the street. Gee, Scott, I want to know some of that information." Here again, Keith and Gail missed the opportunity to defend journalism a bit, even though they rely on it so much for the content of their show, failing to point out to McInnis that The Denver Post is representing the people when it asks for the disclosure of information. That's what journalism is about, to represent the guy who doesn't have time to hound politicians like McInnis for this type of stuff.
Keith and Gail said they hoped to have McInnis on the show again next month. They've got a lot of material to go back over.
See a written transcript of the McInnis interview referenced above on www.bigmedia.org, the Rocky Mountain Media Watch website.
Follow Jason Salzman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/BigMediaBlog