"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Flagrant Foul 

I'm not much of a basketball fan myself - baseball and football (go Hawks!) are my preferred distractions - but I find it troubling that the Seattle Supersonics are severing their longstanding relationship with radio station KJR-AM and will henceforth be broadcast on KTTH-AM, the Seattle home of Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, Bill O'Reilly, and Michael Medved. David Neiwert has the scoop:
Notice that it was none other than Wally Walker, the Sonics CEO, who made the announcement -- fitting, because it's just about certain that it was Walker who engineered the change.

Now, I'm going to put aside the politesse that dominates most of the local press coverage of all this and talk a little about what's going on here just beneath the surface.

Y'see, it's well known in press circles that Wally Walker is a diehard Republican and conservative-movement ideologue. There was a lot of speculation -- privately, of course, since no one would say so in the press -- when Walker chased George Karl out of Seattle that a lot of it had to do with Karl's somewhat liberal politics. (The press referenced this obliquely by talking about how Karl was "outspoken" -- which he was; but his conflicts with Walker apparently had to do with the views he eespoused [sic], too.)

It didn't help, of course, that Walker replaced him with the blowdried right-winger Paul Westphal, whose tenure as Sonics coach was an unmitigated disaster. He was replaced with Nate McMillan, an extremely effective coach but not exactly a button-down conservative either. Likewise, there was quiet speculation that Walker's right-wing sensibilities -- and sensitivities, or lack thereof -- played a significant role in McMillan's eagerness to depart over the last offseason for Portland.

Now, Sonics fans like myself (that is, politically liberal sports fans) are being forced into a decision: Do we continue to support a team that is now in partnership with a right-wing political entity like KTTH? When supporting the Sonics translates into helping drive listeners to a station whose politics are anathema to us? When listening to Sonics games meaning driving up the ratings for an openly right-wing station?

Now, in fairness, I will note that our local Air America affiliate, KPTK-AM, has the local broadcast rights for Washington State University sporting events - a fact which may not sit well with some fans (WSU is located in the conservative, Eastern half of our fair state). On the other hand, that contract is almost certainly a holdover from the days of the station's previous country music format; furthermore, while KPTK is unabashedly liberal, it has never done something so hateful as applaud the Boxing Day tsunami because it killed a lot of Muslims, as Michael Savage did in a program broadcast on KTTH.

In any event, here's the thing I don't understand - Sonics CEO Wally Walker is an artifact of the team's previous ownership by Barry Ackerley. I don't know what Ackerley's personal political views may be, but I would not be surprised to learn that he is fairly conservative (after all, he sold Ackerley Communications to Clear Channel). Now, however, the Sonics are owned by Howard Schultz, whose day job is as owner of Starbucks. Again, I don't know Schultz's personal political views, but Starbucks has cultivated a fairly progressive corporate image. It has been aggressive in providing health care and stock options for employees, and has presented liberal (in particular, gay-friendly) messages printed on the cups in which it serves its bean juice. According to one critic, it has given campaign contributions exclusively to Democratic candidates (including John Kerry). Curious.

Basketball fans of a certain political stripe should feel free to act on this news, or not, as their consciences dictate. As I said, I'm not a big fan myself, so it makes little difference to me personally. Besides, as an NFL fan, I long ago learned to segregate my political beliefs from my interest in sports - for instance, I could never quite bring myself to dislike Hall of Fame receiver Steve Largent, even after he became a wingnut congressman. (It should be noted that Largent remained a largely honorable, if misguided, man by my standards - as when he stood in opposition to his own party leadership in favor of serious ethics reform.) Still, one can remain a Sonics fan - watching the games on TV, buying tickets and schwag - but forego listening to the radio broadcasts. Either way, you've been warned.




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