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Huffington gives up talk spot

Special to The Times

KCRW-FM (89.9) loses a talking head, but California may gain a head of state -- or at least another accent on the ballot.

Arianna Huffington announced Wednesday that she plans to run in the election to recall Gov. Gray Davis, thus ending her seven-year stint as a commentator on the public radio station’s program of political volleyball, “Left, Right & Center.”

For the record:

12:00 AM, Aug. 13, 2003 For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday August 13, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 42 words Type of Material: Correction
Huffington endorsement -- An article in Friday’s Calendar said that KPFK-FM (90.7) commentator Marc Cooper has championed the candidacy of Arianna Huffington in the recall election of Gov. Gray Davis. Although Cooper supports Huffington, he has not expressed it on the air.

The half-hour show, a current events round table syndicated to 20 stations nationwide, airs Fridays on KCRW at 2:30 p.m. and again at 7 p.m. Station General Manager Ruth Seymour said Huffington would be on hiatus at least until the election, scheduled for Oct. 7, by which time she will have won, lost or dropped out of the race.

“You can’t have somebody who’s running for office having a platform every week, without having every other candidate -- and God knows how many there will be,” Seymour said. (Huffington’s syndicated newspaper column, which appears in The Times and other outlets, also has been suspended during her candidacy.)

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In addition, the Federal Communications Commission’s “equal time” rule states that “if a political candidate obtains time on a broadcast station, other candidates for the same office ... may obtain an ‘equal opportunity’ on that station,” meaning a forum in the same time slot, or one with an equivalent audience.

“Left, Right & Center” debuted in April 1996 with Los Angeles Times columnist Robert Scheer, Huffington and syndicated columnist and author Matt Miller representing the political left, right and center, respectively. By 2000, though, Huffington’s politics had migrated toward the left as she became more outspoken in her populism, and the show’s producers brought on American Enterprise Institute fellow David Frum to balance the marquee.

On a recent show, Miller said Huffington now operates “in the fourth dimension of political time and space,” while Seymour said she’s “beyond political characterizations,” with her criticism of corporations and institutions throughout the political spectrum. For instance, she has decried the recall as a “Republican power-grab” but said the Democratic Party’s plan to back Davis without offering an alternative is “playing Russian roulette with the state.” She’s running as an independent on the ballot.

Although conservative talk radio has fanned the flames of the recall, only the left side of the dial has provided a candidate so far. Huffington and her progressive politics were championed by Marc Cooper, commentator on the left-leaning KPFK-FM (90.7) and Nation magazine contributing editor, who has been touting her as a recall candidate for a month.

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Huffington, a Cambridge-educated native of Greece, played a major role in her now ex-husband Michael Huffington’s congressional election in 1992, and his expensive, failed bid for Dianne Feinstein’s Senate seat two years later. She drew fire last fall when she sponsored a series of ads parodying the Bush administration’s drug-control messages by suggesting that owners of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles indirectly were helping to fund terrorists.

Seymour suggested that Huffington get into politics after seeing her interact with the crowd at an October 2002 taping of the show in Orange County. “She is absolutely appealing to audiences,” Seymour said. “They love her. They respond to her with great enthusiasm and great warmth.

“When we first debuted the program and Arianna was on the right, I got a lot of mail from liberals who said they would no longer listen, they would no longer subscribe, unless we got rid of her,” she said. “I think it’s amazing we’ve gone from that to Arianna being the latest flavor of the month. She won people over when she was a conservative as well.”

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Talk radio has plenty to say

Kobe Bryant uttered only two words during his brief court appearance Wednesday, but talk radio had plenty to say.

Even before the L.A. Laker guard entered the Eagle County, Colo., courtroom for a seven-minute hearing, sports and news/talk radio stations staked out air time to handicap the case, and hosts spent hours afterward dissecting it with their callers.

When Bryant arrived at the courthouse, the quartet of commentators on sports station KSPN-AM (710) joked about their fascination with his expression and dress, as they pondered the significance of his choice of a cream-colored suit, open-collar shirt and lack of tie.

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“Listen to us, we sound like Mr. ... Blackwell,” said Joe McDonnell, invoking the author of the celebrity best- and worst-dressed lists.

He also said Bryant’s grim expression should be no surprise. “The guy obviously is very upset to be in this situation, and it’s showing on his face. He’s not putting on a game face.”

On the other hand, McDonnell, co-host of KSPN’s afternoon sports talk show, suggested that Judge Frederick Gannett, Dist. Atty. Mark D. Hurlbert and Sheriff Joseph Hoy “are relishing this. They’re probably sitting in their office eating Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.”

On news/talk station KFI-AM (640), afternoon hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou turned their usual scorn and righteous indignation on the circus of media and spectators. “He’s going back into the SUV, ladies and gentlemen!” Kobylt said, narrating TV coverage in mock exuberance, later anticipating “the breathless announcements on television all afternoon.”

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And, referring to fans outside the courthouse wearing copies of Bryant’s Laker jersey and bearing “Free Kobe” signs, Kobylt said, “Those people ought to be rounded up and jailed.”

On KABC-AM (790), afternoon host Larry Elder repeated a theme he’s stressed since Bryant was first charged, and dismissed as “very, very disturbing” suggestions that Bryant’s alleged victim made up the incident in a search for publicity and money.

“If she’s sane, I just can’t buy that,” he said. “She’s holed up in her house. Every move she makes will be scrutinized. She will be loathed by a lot of people no matter what happens. This is what her life is going to be from now on.”

But Rich, a caller to Lee Hamilton’s afternoon show on the simulcasting sports stations KXTA-AM (1150) and XTRA-AM (690), repeated a view, pervasive among many fans, of Bryant as the victim. He said the case would make people “understand more what it’s like to be a professional athlete, and have the pressures of women throwing themselves at you every single day.

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“Athletes and other people of means who have something to lose can actually benefit from this,” he said. “If it was Mike Tyson or Allen Iverson, everybody would say, ‘Oh, they’re thugs anyway,’ ” he said, referring to the boxer and basketball player notorious for their scrapes with the law. “This is Kobe Bryant, heir apparent to Michael Jordan’s throne; everybody says great things about him. Every woman I talked to said, ‘Poor Kobe, poor Kobe. There’s this woman doing this to him.’ ”

Hamilton spent most of his show asking callers whether they though Bryant had a shot at a fair trial. Caller John from Irvine said he thought publicity prevented it.

“I don’t think there are 12 jurors in the state of Colorado, or in the entire country for that matter, who have an impartial view on this,” he said. “The media has saturated us all, the Internet has bombarded us with information. I just don’t think the guy is going to get a fair trial.”

Another caller, Justin, cited different reasons: “I grew up in a small town. And I believe many small towns are close-minded. He’s going to have a hard time because everyone’s going to stand by that girl.”

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Kids’ show marks Nagasaki bombing

“Halfway Down the Stairs,” the long-running children’s radio show hosted by Uncle Ruthie Buell on KPFK-FM (90.6), will observe the anniversary of the 1945 bombing of Nagasaki with a “Peace Party” program Saturday at 10 a.m., featuring stories, music, poems and songs performed by guest artists Dan Crow, Ross Altman, JP Nightingale, Suni Paz, Bonnie Phipps, Fred and Zak Sokolow and Lou Varoujean.


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