State Senator Frank Antenori refuses to appear on the Friday Roundtable portion of KUAT Channel 6's Arizona Illustrated.
The Friday Roundtable gathers members of the Southern Arizona media to speak directly with community leaders. Problem is, Antenori, a Republican, feels the panel is way too liberal.
"If (Arizona Illustrated host Bill Buckmaster is) going to have two panelists from the media, I said it would be nice if he had an alternative point of view, because there are two very liberal commentators with him, and then you're on with a Democrat. I want to put some balance on there: Put on a conservative for their point of view," Antenori said.
"What happens is the liberals play off the Democratic person ... and then it just seems lopsided. And if it's truly an informational show to get out both points of view, if you're going to have a Republican and Democrat to offer two points of view, you should have two points of view from the media side as well. That's all I've said.
"It really isn't worth my time to go in there and constantly be on defense when the Democrat gets to be on offense the whole time. I don't mind defending myself, and I'd be happy to go on, but just be fair. If they're true to their word of providing both points of view, then I would like to at least see some balance on the commentary side."
Panel regulars on the locally produced PBS-affiliate news program include the Tucson Weekly's Jim Nintzel, columnist Linda Valdez of The Arizona Republic and Arizona Daily Star columnist Sarah Garrecht Gassen. TucsonCitizen.com editor Mark Evans, KJLL AM 1330 talk-show host John C. Scott and Dan Shearer of the Green Valley News and Sun (which, like the Weekly, is a Wick Communications paper) make appearances on the forum as well.
"Why do they have to bring in Linda Valdez? There are guys who write conservative pieces for that newspaper," said Antenori. "I'm sure you can find other conservative columnists or journalists. John C. Scott is a radio talk-show host. Bring (KQTH FM 104.1 talk-show host) Jon Justice on. Bring (KVOI AM 690 talk-show hosts) Joe Higgins and Chris DeSimone on. If your mission is to fully provide opportunity for both viewpoints, then you should live up to that. If you're going to have a Republican and Democrat on one side, and then two commentators on the other side, wouldn't it stand to reason you'd have people with opposing viewpoints on the panel?"
Antenori's perspective is similar in tone—although it comes from the other side of the political spectrum—to the recent boycott of KGUN Channel 9 news by immigration activist Isabel Garcia of Derechos Humanos. (See "Dupnik, Garcia Unhappy With Jon Justice, KGUN," Media Watch, May 20.) In Tucson, immigration is often the coverage topic that leads to a perception of media bias, one way or the other.
"It's curious. I've been in the business since 1969, and I can't recall anything in my career like this ever happening before," Buckmaster said. "Normally, it's the other way around. People want the exposure. That's the way I thought it had always worked, and 99.9 percent of the time, that's still the case. People want to be on the program. We've been around a long time. We have a great reputation, and it's to their advantage to be on the Roundtable, regardless of who's asking the questions.
"When you call someone liberal or conservative, it's such a generalization. We've tried to put together this pool of media representatives. You have the major newspaper in Arizona, The Republic; you've got the major (daily) newspaper in Southern Arizona, the Star; the Citizen, which is trying to revive itself with its online presence; you have the Green Valley paper represented; and John C. Scott, who has been here forever. He knows where all the skeletons are buried. I think he's been a good addition."
Buckmaster says he won't close the door on including more media representatives, "but I will tell you I'm happy with the group I have right now."
Antenori believes that the group has become progressively antagonistic.
"They always haven't done this. I've seen a more strident tone in the way those interviews are going," Antenori said. "When you watch the commentary on the Roundtable after the guest leaves, I've seen an increasing degree of criticism in regards to the Legislature, and there's never that opposing viewpoint.
"Is it worth my time every time I go in there to always have to be on defense and always have to put up with that line of questioning, when I can get my alternative-viewpoint message on somewhere else, to control it a little bit better? That's the problem: If I want to get control of that interview process, I have to come back at someone really hard, and that's going to look negative on me if I do that on TV. If I really want to go on offense, I have to attack Jim Nintzel or Sarah Gassen. They're all liberals that go on that show. I would have to attack them to get my other point of view across. I'm always on defense. I've never seen the panel go after the Democrat the way they dig into the Republican.
"I've been on MSNBC. I've been on Air America. But that, again, is a format that says, 'This is a perspective from the left.' If you're going to do that, then sell it from a liberal point of view. Fine. (For Friday Roundtable organizers) to go in there and say you're offering both sides, and you're opening it to discussion, I think is inaccurate. If they're true to what they say they are, and they're not going to be another left-wing public-media type of show, then offer that alternative point of view from the commentary side."
Antenori has agreed to appear on Arizona Illustrated for debates with candidates regarding his election bid.
Fellow Republican state Sen. Al Melvin has also declined to appear on Arizona Illustrated, citing similar concerns.