State Rep. Barbara Cooper has written a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting an investigation into why popular talk show host Thaddeus Matthews has been taken off the air.
by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender
State Rep. Barbara Cooper has written a letter to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) requesting an investigation into why popular talk show host Thaddeus Matthews has been taken off the air by Pollack Broadcasting, which owns the signal that Matthews’ station, WPLX, broadcasts on.
In her letter, Rep. Cooper asks the FCC to ascertain whether “FCC Rules and Regulations, First Amendment Laws and or Rev. Matthews’ Civil Rights have been violated.”
Copies have been provided to Congressman Steve Cohen, U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder and U.S. Atty. for the Western District, Edward Stanton III.
Matthews was first shut down on Feb. 2nd, instantly turning WPLX 1180 AM into dead air, but Matthews obtained a restraining order against Pollack Broadcasting Co. owner William Pollack and was back on the air at his usual 3 p.m. time.
Pollack returned the next week with his own order, shutting the station down. He says his action is final and permanent. At last check, the station was running a syndicated ESPN feed.
For now, Matthews is doing his show on the Internet every day (at his regular slot) via UStream.
J. Bailey, Matthews’ attorney, added more detail by email
“On February 15, 2012 the Chancery Court ruled that the actions taken by Pollack were not a restraint on speech, but purely a business decision. So the Chancellor lifted the restraining order and sent the matter to arbitration. Without the restraining order (injunction) Matthews has no protection from those persons who want to shut him up,” Bailey offered.
“They might not like how he engages in interviews or his use of tough language, however any attack on free speech should be viewed with suspicion.”
No official court date has been set, but interviews The New Tri-State Defender conducted with both Matthews and Pollack indicate that a highly emotional courtroom battle may be looming. Both are claiming breach of contract, with Matthews staking claim to the constitutional right to free speech, while Pollack emphasizes that the situation is a matter of showing him the money. They both cite a figure of $87,000 owed by Matthews to Pollack, and that a payment system had been worked out.
“I had just paid him $3,000 the very same day he cut me off,” Matthews said. “So what right does he have to cut me off when I am steadily making my payments on time and according to our written agreement?
“He testified in open court that he pulled me off because my show was ‘the vilest’ show on the airwaves and he took objection to it, saying that I cursed and used the N word. But I did nothing differently on the day I threw Charlotte Bergman out than any other day. I’ve thrown many of these so-called politicians off my show. I get so tired of them coming to me and they have no ideas and no plans of how to help the black community and I tell them point blank what I think about them.”
Bergman, a Republican, challenged U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen in the last Ninth District election and is at it again.
“She sat here with me for 30 minutes and could not answer one question of why people should vote for her except she had some stupid billboard on the highway saying Dr. King was a Republican and she was too. Yeah, I threw her out and I would do it all over again.”
“And that’s when the Tea Party people got involved,” Matthews said. “I mean the video jumped off and I was getting calls from all over the country, and I was interviewed by shows in other cities. There were Tea Party people calling me from all over the country saying they were going to file a complaint with the FCC. I’ve been doing this 26 years and I have never been sanctioned by the FCC. The First Amendment gives me the right to say what I please on the air.”
Matthews provided a copy of an FCC response to a listener who had written to complain about Matthews’ treatment of Bergman. Mark Berlin, from the FCC Policy Division Media Office wrote that,“…we have virtually no control over the content of what is aired. That is because stations enjoy freedom of speech under the First Amendment. Further, a section of the Communications Act (which established the FCC in 1934) specifically prohibits the FCC from censoring or dictating program content.”
The result, Berlin added, is that broadcast stations can air pretty much whatever they want (short of obscenity or indecency) – even if the material is false, slanted or misleading.
“Further, the courts have defined obscenity or indecency only in terms of sexual or excretory matters – not hateful programming,” Berlin further explained. “That does not mean that a station can put vicious and slanderous programming on the air and not suffer the consequences, but the FCC cannot be involved. Rather, a person slandered can file suit against a station in the courts.”
Berlin counseled the complainer that the listening public is not without recourse. “Stations are sensitive to public opinion, and you should express your concerns to them, because this could influence future programming,” he added.
Matthews feels the real smoking gun is a letter Pollack wrote to Bergman.
“I may assure you we will do all we can to assist your campaign. I personally supported you in the last election and am enthusiastically doing so today.”
Pollack said, yes, he wrote the letter, but said, “That’s the best thing about America. Whatever my political affiliation is, I am free to follow my own opinion, so I don’t have to answer any question about my political beliefs, but I will say that, no, I am not a member of the Tea Party, and if I was it would have no bearing on the lease agreement.”
Again, it’s simply a zero sum decision, he said. The two had been working on a payment plan “for many, many months,” Pollack said, “The approximate figure that is owed is approximately $87,000 and I just don’t see how he can catch it up. He defaulted on the lease, it’s that simple.”
Pollack said the Bergman incident was the tipping point of a long held frustration with Matthews.
“In our contract is an agreement for ethical conduct under the standards of the National Association of Broadcasters. The Charlotte Bergman interview was completely unacceptable and we won’t allow that as broadcasters. That was the last straw. I don’t think we’re interested in broadcasting with him in the future.”
But had he not been aware of Matthews’ style? And why so suddenly after two years of real growth and success?
“We knew he was controversial,” said Pollack. “It even said in the lease agreement exactly what would be unacceptable.”