In Defense of Joel Heitkamp

Radio host Joel Heitkamp and his sister U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp

It’s obvious to any honest observer that talk radio host Joel Heitkamp operates the radio station he manages as a de facto media arm for his sister Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s re-electon campaign. This includes the male Heitkamp acting as a surrogate for the Senator and attacking her critics.

Including, most recently, me. The Washington Free Beacon had a story yesterday about that situation.

It’s more than a bit chilling to have the brother of a United States Senator ardently trying to silence media critics with personal attacks. I say that as the person in the cross hair.

Now the Senate Leadership Fund, a political action committee affiliated with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, is weighing in on the situation. They’re wondering if Joel Heitkamp’s political machinations put his FCC license at risk:

Now that it’s been determined that Joel Heitkamp, host of KFGO’s News & Views with Joel Heitkampis using his position to advocate on behalf of his sister Heidi Heitkamp’s political campaign, what does it mean for KFGO’s FCC license?

Is KFGO comfortable with Joel digging through divorce records of one of Heidi’s critics and tweeting it out from his @JoelKFGO twitter handle in attempt to silence the critic?  How about Joel advocating for Heidi’s candidacy in her paid television commercials?

Call me old fashioned, but I’m going to come down on the side of free speech on this one.

Joel Heitkamp uses the radio station he manages as a political weapon for Democrats, including his sister. Almost the entirety of the day time lineup at the station is made up of former Democratic staffers and politicians. It’s not uncommon to hear rants on that station about the supposed biases of others – including me and my employers at Forum Communications Company – but there is pretty much zero viewpoint diversity in their own programming.

Which is what you expect from an enterprise that is less media outlet than political campaign headquarters.

I would argue that this choice has had a deleterious impact on the station’s ratings. The 33 percent decline in KFGO’s ratings in the 12+ demographic over the last 12 ratings periods speaks for itself:

But programming choices and the resulting ratings are something which should be between Heitkamp and his bosses. If they’re all comfortable losing audience for the sake of boosting certain political interests, that’s their business.

The FCC really has no grounds for getting involved. And if there is some arcane FCC content policy being violated here – I have no idea if there is or isn’t – that policy probably needs to be brought into line with the 1st amendment. The Senate Leadership Fund is wrong to pursue this line of attack.

Free people should be allowed to speak freely, I think. Even if it’s craven diatribes and scurrilous conjecture about me.

The Heitkamps may not hold those values, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us are obligated to stoop to their level.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and the host of the Rob (Re)Port on Fargo-based WDAY AM970 from noon-2pm weekdays.

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