Blowhard, interrupted

By ADAM REILLY  |  September 11, 2009

If Schilling does jump into the race, though, he seems destined to lose the sports-media perch that he's been using — to masterful effect — to drum up interest in his possible candidacy. The problem, from Schilling's point of view, is the Federal Communications Commission–enforced equal-time rule (ETR), which requires broadcast stations to give all declared candidates for a particular office an equal opportunity to use their airwaves — even if, as in this case, one of those candidates happens to be a paid employee. (If, for example, John Dennis and Gerry Callahan gave Candidate Schilling X number of minutes to talk up his candidacy — and hammer his rivals — on their hugely successful morning show, WEEI-AM would need to give Schilling's opponents a comparable amount of time, at a comparably fertile hour of the day, to do the same.)

While the principle is simple, applying the ETR can be trickier than you'd think. Before the December 8 Senate primary, for example, a Schilling appearance on WEEI-AM would only have implications for his fellow independent candidates, since the Democratic and Republican candidates for the general election still wouldn't have been selected. But after the primary, five minutes for Schilling would mean five minutes for the Republican nominee, and the Democrat, and every other independent — including any write-in candidates — who was targeting Kennedy's seat.

A station spokesman declined comment on the implications of Schilling's situation last week. But if he becomes a candidate, the attendant hassle would likely convince WEEI-AM's management to nix Schilling's regular guest spots, at least for the duration of the campaign. And while Schilling's weei.com blog falls outside of FCC jurisdiction — the commission only regulates the broadcast airwaves, not the Internet — the symbiotic relationship between WEEI-AM and weei.com might lead management to ask Schilling to steer clear of politics on 38 Pitches, or even to take a full sabbatical from blogging.

There is, it should be noted, one scenario in which Schilling might be able to stay on WEEI-AM if he runs. The ETR offers a handful of exemptions, including one for "news interview" programs, which aren't required to give equal time to all candidates. The "news interview" exemption is primarily useful to buttoned-down shows like NBC's Meet the Press and CBS's Face the Nation. In 2003, though, the Howard Stern Show (!) got an exemption before interviewing Arnold Schwarzenegger, who at the time was one of a hundred-plus candidates for governor of California.

But here's the catch. In his declaratory ruling in that case, the FCC's W. Kenneth Ferree cited, among other things, a conviction that politicians appearing on the Howard Stern Show "are not selected to advance their candidacies." WEEI-AM, however, already seems intent on propping up Schilling's embryonic campaign. Here's Callahan on Schilling's prospects last week: "The seven or eight dwarfs who run on the Democratic side will cannibalize each other. They'll eat each other alive. And then Schilling will just pick at the leftovers in the general election. I'm looking forward to it." Um, that should make the FCC's job easier.

To read the "Don't Quote Me" blog, go tothePhoenix.com/medialog. Adam Reilly can be reached at areilly@phx.com.

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