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Waves of anxiety (continued)

In addition, the Boston Globe recently unearthed an internal WBUR memo from last June recommending that the financially troubled Rhode Island stations be sold, just six years after ’BUR bought them for $2.4 million. Which is why few believe Christo’s contention — voiced at meetings in both Providence and Boston — that her goal all along had been to nurse the two Rhode Island stations to health and then return them to the community. "I think it’s bullshit. I can tell you that no one down here would have put money in," says Gene Mihaly, president of the Foundation for Ocean State Public Radio, which raised an estimated $2.5 million to support the stations. Mihaly adds, "Can you imagine yourself as a donor putting in money under those circumstances? It just makes no sense."

From an outsider’s perspective, it would appear that the Rhode Island situation may prove the most troublesome for Christo. Mike Healey, spokesman for Attorney General Lynch, says Boston University has agreed to provide a number of documents pertaining to the internal operations of WRNI and WBUR. Asked whether those documents would be made public once Lynch has received them, Healey replied that has not yet been determined. But he made it clear that Lynch’s focus will be on what happened to the money donated by Rhode Islanders — estimated by Mihaly at $3 million to $4 million overall — and whether those donors ended up subsidizing operations in Boston.

"We want to try to clarify whether there were any legally binding guarantees as to where the Rhode Island donors’ money was going to go, and whether there were any misrepresentations about where that money would go," says Healey. One intriguing hint: those tax records that the Journal found showed that On Point host Tom Ashbrook’s $135,000 salary had been charged to WRNI in fiscal 2002, even though Ashbrook has never broadcast from Rhode Island. Keyser’s explanation is that the program actually began at WRNI, and was moved to ’BUR after 9/11 to focus on issues related to terrorism.

As for the rest — the Albanians, the family members, the vehicles — well, if nothing else, these long-simmering matters finally have been laid on the table. Perhaps they will sink Christo — or perhaps not. Though current and former staff members understandably resent the hiring of immigrants even as newsroom employees have been let go, it’s not yet clear whether those hires violate university policy or public-broadcasting guidelines. (BU spokeswoman Sterling says that some of ¹BUR¹s hires might be in conflict with an employment policy currently being considered by the university's board of trustees. But other sources say that BU must sign off on all Christo¹s hires, which makes the university complicit in some of the very matters it is investigating.) The same holds true with the accusations of nepotism and Christo’s reputed personal use of station-owned vehicles. It doesn’t look good, and it certainly speaks to an air of arrogance and entitlement on the part of Christo — who depends on listener donations and the goodwill of the community — to indulge herself in that manner. But even if the charges are true, that doesn’t mean she broke any rule, policy, or guideline. There’s plenty of smoke, but it’s too early to say whether there’s any fire.

And at WBUR, people are wondering what’s going to happen next. "I want the questions to be answered, and I want any problems to be resolved, because we have an important job to do," says Here and Now host Robin Young. "We have too much work to do for this. We’ve got to get on with it."

IF YOU WERE flipping through the New York Times on September 28, you would have come across an unusual full-page attack ad. Placed by the liberal group MoveOn.org at a reported cost of $68,000, the ad — headlined GALLUP-ING TO THE RIGHT — criticized the venerable Gallup Organization for a supposedly flawed polling methodology that had given George W. Bush a "phantom 14-point lead" over John Kerry.

Gallup’s polls, given wide play through the company’s partnerships with USA Today and CNN, "profoundly affect a campaign’s news coverage as well as the public’s perception of the candidates," the ad continued. And it closed by taking aim at George Gallup Jr., son of the company’s founder, calling him "a devout evangelical Christian" who’s been quoted as saying "the most profound purpose of polls is to see how people are responding to God."

By no means was the ad a shot in the dark. Rather, it reflected widespread resentment among liberal bloggers and a debate among professional pollsters. The problem, as critics see it, is that Gallup’s recent polls have included more self-identified Republicans than Democrats, even though exit polls in the last two presidential elections showed that more Democrats than Republicans had actually cast votes. Between the Republican National Convention and last Thursday’s presidential debate, few polls have showed Bush with as wide a lead as Gallup’s did.

Among the most vociferous critics of Gallup is Steve Soto, a California state-government employee who writes a weblog called TheLeftCoaster.com. Typical is his post of September 28, written in reaction to a Gallup poll released the previous day that showed Bush leading Kerry among likely voters by 54 percent to 41 percent. Soto obtained numbers from Gallup that showed its nationwide sample of approximately 1000 voters consisted of 40 percent Republicans, 31 percent Democrats, and 28 percent independents. Most other polls, Soto observed, gave Bush a considerably more modest lead. "Does anyone in their right mind think that the GOP will have a 9% advantage amongst registered voters this year ...?" asked Soto. "This is utter garbage, and Gallup has no credibility. It is that simple."

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Issue Date: October 8 - 14, 2004
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