In the wake of a controversy surrounding the political activity of co-host Kristy Mazurek, Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner has pulled this Sunday’s edition of the public affairs program “2 Sides.”
In a text message, Toellner wrote the program “was pulled this week until we get it all sorted out.”
He added that an NBC fall preview show that the station is required to carry will air at noon Sunday – two days before Tuesday’s primary elections – instead of “2 Sides.”
I am of two minds about the controversy, but at the end of the day I would cancel it until I found a less politically active co-host who isn’t open to criticism that she is using the program to boost an agenda.
On one side, the complaints by two Erie County legislators showed a lack of understanding about Mazurek’s role. On the other, the show attracts so little viewership you wonder why Channel 2 thinks it is worth the political headache and the stench it has created.
To its credit, Channel 2 News addressed the news conference held at its station Tuesday by Erie County Legislature Chairwoman Betty Jean Grant and Legislator Timothy R. Hogues. As reported in Thursday’s Buffalo News, they have claimed they are being unfairly maligned in anonymous mass mailings put out by Mazurek’s Political Action Committee. She is treasurer of the Western New York Progressive Caucus.
In answering the complaints, Channel 2 anchor Maryalice Demler read a statement on the 5:30 p.m. Tuesday newscast noting that the two Democratic Erie County legislators running for re-election claimed “they were the subjects of what they called slanderous mailings sent throughout their districts.”
“They claim that Kristy Mazurek … co-host of the weekly political debate show ‘2 Sides’… is connected to the mailings,” added Demler.
She added they complained to station management that Mazurek’s participation on the show is a conflict of interest.
“There is a disclaimer that airs before every episode of ‘2 Sides’… that states ‘the views expressed on the show do not necessarily reflect those of the station,’” Demler said. “The disclaimer also states the station may not be held liable for the views expressed on the show.”
“The hosts of ‘2 Sides’ are not Channel 2 employees; they are local political activists – from both major parties – who are paid a stipend for their appearances as hosts. Their views do not represent the views of Channel 2.”
Those remarks were an answer to some erroneous statements that Grant made in a release to the media before the news conference. She stated that she believes “that newscaster and reporter represent the policies of their employers and since Ms. Mazurek is employed by both WGRZ-TV and as political consultant to Mayor Byron Brown, we are not sure which entities she is representing when she purchased political postal permits that have been used to send out slanderous and libelous campaign literature demonizing” the two legislators.
With the statement that Demler read, Channel 2 covered itself journalistically. Mazurek is not a reporter or a newscaster and isn’t technically employed by Channel 2. But viewers most likely don’t understand the distinctions the station is drawing.
Mazurek originally was teamed with Bill O’Loughlin, who emailed me Thursday to make a statement that called into question her role in the program.
“I have always admired Jim Toellner’s ethical and broadcast standards,” wrote O’Loughlin. “Mazurek’s on-air behavior and personal agenda were the reasons behind my decision to voluntarily resign in 2012.”Toellner, who was out-of-town during Tuesday’s protest, seemed to concede Thursday that the situation is less than ideal.
“I would only add that in a perfect world I would love to have politically experienced insiders to do both sides of a local opinion and debate, public affairs program that are not involved in any local political races at any time,” he wrote in an email. “Since that is an extremely small and as yet unmotivated candidate pool, we have decided to be as transparent as possible and as balanced as possible. … It is admittedly not perfect but it is very, very transparent and we make every stride possible for balance.”
Toellner’s candid explanation aside, “2 Sides” with Mazurek needs to go on a hiatus at least through the November elections.