CPB: WHDD’s Marshall Miles Ethically Challenged

marshall_milesUpdate: Miles is lashing out at both me and the CPB ombudsman. He is clearly worried.

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One of our local radio stations, which brands itself as “the smallest NPR station in the nation,” has been slammed for poor ethics after its head decided to run for a regional school board seat that is often a subject of the station’s own news coverage.

Yes, you heard that right. Marshall Miles, who is the president and chief executive officer of Tri-State Public Communications, has been told by the Corporation For Public Broadcasting that his candidacy for Salisbury representative to the Region One Board of Education “is wrong; it is unfair; it is a conflict of interest and it should stop.” And what does he intend to do about the findings of CPB ombudsman Joel Kaplan? Nothing, according to a post Miles put up on his sloppy and artless blog on Friday.

Less shocking than the fact that Miles is ethically challenged — we who have followed his career have known that for years — is his absurdly flimsy defense of his actions and his attack on one of those who filed the complaint that prompted the ombudsman to weigh in.

Earlier this year, former Region One Chairman John Mauer of Kent, North Canaan Selectman and former Miles co-worker Susie Clayton, North Canaan Board of Education member Laurie Perotti and yours truly filed a complaint (PDF) to Kaplan over Miles’ multiple roles. We simply wanted to know whether NPR thought it was appropriate for a public radio station owner to exercise complete control over news coverage at his media empire, which by the way also includes local cable access channel CATV6, while attacking the regional school board and its employees and running for a seat on that same board.

In his blog post, Miles blasts the diminutive Clayton, “who, by the way I hired TWICE! And she was a miserable failure twice) and who by the way, ran for First Selectmen and Selectmen when she was employed by WQQQ!” Well now, that kind of statement takes a lot of testicular fortitude.

When Miles worked at WQQQ in the mid-to-late 1990s, he was fired by station owner Dennis Jackson. And Clayton, who worked in sales at the station, surely knows why. So do other objects of Miles’ abuse such as Mike Flint and anyone else who worked at WQQQ during Miles’ reign as king of the morning airwaves. They all know where the bones are buried.

In 1993, WKZE owners Stan Gurell and Ira Levy not only fired Miles but had him escorted out of the station under armed guard. One can only imagine the kind of chicanery Stan and Ira had uncovered that they felt compelled to hire private security to physically consummate an employee termination.

Now that we have dispensed with Miles’ attack-the-messenger posture, let’s look at the substance of his response. He points to the current candidacy of WZBG’s Dale Jones for selectman in Sharon as evidence of the selectivity of our complaint. But WZBG is a commercial venture. So too was the old WQQQ, where Miles worked with Clayton.

By contrast, WHDD is a public radio station and a division of a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The IRS considers donations to the station to be tax deductible and WHDD receives grants from the taxpayer-funded Corporation for Public Broadcasting — likely in the six figures per year, but it’s difficult to tell from Tri-State’s 2012 IRS 990 form (PDF), which does not itemize grant income.

Miles insists that he and his partner Jill Goodman aren’t journalists and so aren’t bound by NPR’s code of ethics. But the facts say otherwise. Miles and Goodman regularly read their own commentaries about Region One on-air and they interview officials and others connected with the school district on their morning show, The Breakfast Club (see links to sample podcasts below). If it hasn’t already, that practice will have to stop, unless Miles wants to allow his school-board opponent, Jennifer Weigel, three hours per day under the FCC’s equal-time rule.

Miles has painted himself into quite a corner. If he defies the ombudsman, whose opinion was rather emphatic,  he could jeopardize his relationship with NPR. And that relationship is about the only thing his radio station has going for it. If he backs down from his candidacy, he will look like a knucklehead. Clearly, he’s already earned the latter designation, so suspending his candidacy will do the least damage to both him and what I affectionately call “the smallest-minded NPR station in the nation.”

Clarification: Joel Kaplan is ombudsman for the Corporation For Public Broadcasting, not NPR. The CPB is funded largely by taxpayers and provides grants to NPR and its affiliates to enable them to meet operational expenses. This blog post has been revised to reflect that change.

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  • Allison

    A very simple “thank you”, Mr. Cowgill, for coming to the defense of my mother, whom I know better than anyone else thinks they may…*ahem*…and I’ll leave it at that. :-)

  • Patricia Mechare

    I rarely read and never respond to your blog, but a friend told me about this post and I think it only ethical and proper that the following be noted: This summer five of the six FIRST SELECTMAN in the Region #1 District signed a public letter regarding the budget situation. I was the exception because our Board of Selectmen thought it not appropriate for me to sign. While that letter was to be a collaborative effort with input from everyone sitting in the same room at the same time, it was the first selectmen from Cornwall, Kent and Salisbury who authored it without the presence of the other first selectmen and then presented it to the rest of us. After the letter was released First Selectmen Rand and Adams asked Marshall Miles for time on his morning show to speak to the letter and other other issues they regarded as pertinent. Miles, of course, was happy to to give them the time. In fairness, he called me and asked if I would like equal time to which I agreed. It’s unfortunate that your choice of examples above may lead someone to believe that I was the only one to speak to the issue when that of course is not true.

    • ctdevilsadvocate

      Pat, I used the word “sample” to describe the two links. They should in no way be construed to suggest that you were “the only one to speak to the issue.”

  • Francesca

    Geez! I unintentionally came to this site and read this screed and don’t know the players, but think that a diatribe against a thoughtful, engaged person who wants to volunteer his or her time on a school board – never a picnic – is a sorry consequence of small-town, small-mindedness.

    • ctdevilsadvocate

      Francesca, you hit the nail on the head. You “don’t know the players.” If you did, you might consider the post to be something other than “small-minded.”