with Clarence Fanto/
Eagle Editor Defends WAMC Apologia
by G. M. Heller
June 9, 2000
With an air of Yankee certitude, Berkshire
Eagle managing editor Clarence Fanto this past Monday (June 5)
defended his decision to publish what he labels a "Commentary" apologizing
for radio station WAMC
90.3 FM Northeast Public Radio's decision to cut back on classical
Mr. Fanto's column entitled "Lurtsema's Demise Not WAMC's Fault"
touts the station and the wisdom behind the recent format changes. (To
read Mr. Fanto's Apologia, Click
WAMC listeners have been flooding the newspaper with letters
about the recent cancellation of Morning Pro Musica, WAMC's
popular and longest-running classical music program aired weekends.
The Commentary, published in The Berkshire Eagle last
weekend (June 4-5), apparently to coincide with the return of summer residents
to the Berkshires, comes at a time when WAMC is just weeks away
from the latest of its thrice-annual fund-raising drives aimed in large
measure at those very same weekend homeowners.
The editorial endorsement given by Mr. Fanto's apologia is sure
to help WAMC towards its newest fund-raising goal despite the angry
stir created amongst listeners by the programming changes. If the letters
being published are any indicator, the bulk of mail being received by The
Eagle decry the lessening amount of air time being given to classical
music at WAMC.
"A self-styled Walter Winchell"
In a lengthy, and at times contentious telephone interview, Mr. Fanto
gave opinions on a wide range of topics of consequence to Berkshire folks.
Mr. Fanto is a long-time employee of The Berkshire Eagle. A source
within Mr. Fanto's organization, who asked not to be identified, described
him by saying, "He's a self-styled Walter Winchell for the 90's."
Appears frequently on WAMC
Mr. Fanto is also a personal friend and admirer of fellow Eagle
columnist Alan S. Chartock, WAMC's chairman and executive director,
and has long championed the publicly-subsidized station in his role as
an editor at The Eagle. Mr. Fanto appears frequently as a
guest on WAMC-produced programs, including many times with host
Mr. Chartock as a panelist on The Media Project as well as on other
Mr. Fanto defends his coverage of WAMC over the years saying
that he believes he has been quite balanced and that his columns have chided
the station just as often as they have been laudatory. He said it was unfair
to assert otherwise.
Attempts to verify Mr. Fanto's claims of impartiality towards WAMC
in past columns have been unsuccessful. The Eagle's website search
engine for past articles has been down for weeks, displaying: "Our Archive
Server is Out of Service."
Boosts station, but never asks questions
Mr. Fanto was asked why after all these years of writing columns boosting
Northeast Public Radio, publication of which columns have certainly
aided the station in meeting fund-raising goals, that The Eagle has
never bothered to investigate just how the public monies channeled into
coffers are actually being spent.
Mr. Fanto was quoted examples of WAMC's inflated expenditures,
such as the relatively high salaries being paid WAMC's senior management
out of a budget that presently exceeds $4 million per year.
Mr. Fanto replied, "Why look if there is nothing to look for?"
The circular logic behind this reply necessitated that this reporter
next ask Mr. Fanto how he knew there was nothing to look for if he had
never bothered to look, or never instructed his reporters to look.
Mr. Fanto repeated his answer, saying "There's nothing to find."
When asked if he had ever bothered to look at a copy of WAMC's
IRS Form 990, the federal Internal Revenue Service document required to
be filed by all organizations exempt from income tax, Mr. Fanto admitted
that he had not seen WAMC's in years.
WAMC's latest Form 990 filed for fiscal year ending 6/30/99,
shows that Mr. Chartock alone received a total of $97,257 which does not
include his travel expenses and a generous expense account and other perquisites---this
salary is separate from the one he already receives from SUNY as a full-time
tenured professor at the Albany campus.
WAMC's budget comes not only from listener pledges, but also
from government funding, private foundations, corporate underwriting grants,
and underwriting contributions from local small businesses.
Moving steadily to All-Talk format
While WAMC in years past favored listeners with a diet rich
in classical music programming, the past decade has seen the station move
steadily towards an all-talk format.
"All-talk" in this instance refers not only to National Public Radio-produced
programming such as the nightly All Things Considered and Fresh
Air, but also to WAMC's own in-house productions. Examples of
these WAMC-produced shows include listener call-in (Vox Pop),
one-on-one interviews (Me & Mario, Capitol Connection),
public affairs kitsch (Legislative Gazette), panel discussions (The
Media Project), as well as topical news and feature programming (The
Environment Show, 51%, The Law Show).
Where the money is
Private foundations and corporate underwriters will give hundreds of
thousands of dollars more in grant monies to a public broadcaster willing
to create this type of "educational"-- read "talk"-- programming
than were that same broadcaster merely to run musical programming all day.
This is one of the reasons that radio stations like Schenectady-based
which devotes valuable time slots to classical music programming, are,
in Mr. Fanto's words, "always hard-up for money."
Unfortunately though, judging by the tone of letters published in The
Eagle in the weeks since WAMC canceled Morning Pro Musica,
this expanding talk format has done little to soothe the ears of those
who like their listener-subsidized radio to include more Brahms and Saint-Saens
than Blah-Blah and Yadda-Yadda. This is especially true given the scarcity
of broadcast classical music anywhere but on the public broadcasting end
of the FM dial.
Never looks at indy websites
Mr. Fanto gave his opinions about a number of other Berkshire topics
as well. When asked if he had been reading any of the independent,
alternative Internet websites lately sprouting up around the Berkshires
and dealing with local issues, websites such as the controversial NorthAdamsFree.com,
or this reporter's own BerkshireEagleDotNetwork
and its sister sites -- WAMC Northeast Pirate Network and
Mr. Fanto claimed that he "never bothers to look at" any of those sites.
He accused each of the sites of having a "hidden agenda", but when asked
to be more specific, Mr. Fanto was at a loss to offer concrete details
as to what those agendas might be.
NorthAdamsFree.com - vast tracts of words
The NorthAdamsFree.com website is operated by two North Adams
residents, William Davis, a retired North Adams police detective,
and John Choquette, a local landlord. Using the site as their soapbox,
the two men have written extensively and apparently without limit -- vast
tracts of words that seem to go on forever -- accusing North Adams Mayor
John S. Barrett III of all manner of behavior both in and out of office.
This landscape also features piles of verbal abuse heaped upon the Mayor
and various of his cronies in city government.
A few nuggets of 24k gold
Yet, buried in this Great Plains of text, are a few nuggets of what
appear to be 24 karat gold, certain very specific allegations of wrongdoing
which, according to one local criminal attorney who requested anonymity,
"if true, would appear to violate a number of state laws, and possibly
some federal laws including anti-racketeering statutes."
There are also documents displayed on the NorthAdamsFree.com
website, which documents the site operators say provide evidence that backs
up certain of their allegations. Many of the documents have been obtained
via requests made under the Freedom of Information Act.
So far, Mayor Barrett has steadfastly denied all the allegations, and
he has filed a complaint against the two site operators in state Superior
Court alleging libel and slander. The case is scheduled for trial in the
fall and the defendants have publicized their intention to produce witnesses
and evidence not only to defend themselves, but to prove their allegations
against the Mayor.
Those allegations include misuse of public funds, misuse of office,
selective enforcement, extortion, and even abuse of children at a time
when Mr. Barrett was 4th grade teacher at the local Johnson elementary
See no evil
Mr. Fanto was asked whether he thought there was any factual information
or documentation contained within the NorthAdamsFree.com website
which would warrant an investigation by Eagle reporters into the
allegations of wrongdoing being made against the Mayor. Mr. Fanto replied,
"Nothing! Not a one."
Hear no evil
Mr. Fanto was then asked whether reporters for The Berkshire Eagle
had actually looked into any of the allegations being made against the
Mayor by Mr. Davis and Mr. Choquette, especially given the seriousness
of those allegations. Mr. Fanto replied no. He said that The Eagle
was not going to give "credence" to unproven allegations by having its
reporters look into rumors circulated by people "with an agenda."
Contradicting Mr. Fanto's statement, sources within New England Newspapers,
Inc., parent company of both The Berkshire Eagle and North
Adams Transcript, have told BerkshireEagleDotNetwork that NENI
employees have indeed investigated certain of the allegations made on the
website against the city's mayor.
Speak no evil
But, according to these same NENI sources, who requested anonymity,
editors at both The Berkshire Eagle and North Adams Transcript
have purposely refrained from publishing stories that might be harmful
or embarrassing to the mayor and, of greater significance, have decided
not to pursue fertile leads. The editors have let it be known in no uncertain
terms that if any of their reporters file stories about political skullduggery
in North Adams, they will soon find themselves reassigned to quieter beats.
Don't mention it
Mr. Fanto was next asked to comment about statements made off-the-record
by NENI employees to BerkshireEagleDotNetwork to the effect
that senior editors within both The Berkshire Eagle and North
Adams Transcript had instructed reporters to make no mention whatsoever
in news stories about the existence of the independent BerkshireEagleDotNetwork
website. Mr. Fanto denied that such an order was ever given to Berkshire
Mr. Fanto was explicitly frank on his view of the Internet medium and
about the type of people who not only create websites, but also those who
view them and rely upon them for information. At one point he stated that
"Nobody looks at (BerkshireEagleDotNetwork, WAMC Northeast Pirate
Network and BerkshireRecordDotCom)."
When asked whether he was sure of his facts, and his source as to the
number of visitors to those websites, Mr. Fanto backtracked and imperiously
intoned, "Well, nobody significant looks at them."
Mr. Fanto then questioned the veracity of any information that could
be gotten off independent or alternative websites, websites not owned or
operated by recognized media companies.
Mr. Fanto questioned the motives of those operating alternative websites
and alluded to the personal agendas of site operators, even going so far
as to question the mental fitness of those who would operate such sites.