Monday, December 10, 2007

The 'Lion of Left' De-clawed by Feds

When Rush Limbaugh was charged with doctor shopping and he paid his housekeeper to buy drugs for him behind the Denny’s Restaurant in West Palm Beach, he took some time off and voluntarily entered rehab. After several weeks, he was back on the air and about a year later copped a plea. Rush's punishment represented little more than a glorified slap on the wrist.

In December of 2004, Bernie Ward, host of the longest running and highest rated liberal talk show in the country, downloaded a few images of child pornography and talked about them in an internet chat room. A police investigation of the matter revealed nothing more. There were no images on Ward’s computer and no other complaints.

However, unlike Limbaugh, Ward, who has hosted a talk show on KGO/810 (owned by Citadel Broadcasting) in San Franciso for 22 years, will probably be off the air for a lot longer than a month and faces some very serious charges which could lead to a lengthy prison term.

Friends of Bernie Ward have created a website with information about the his legal dilemna. The site also provides a way to contribute to Ward's defense fund.

Ward's attorney Doron Weinberg told the San Francisco Chronicle that the talk show host "is not a sexual predator."

"He is just being prosecuted for a mistake he made (more than) three years ago."Federal authorities seized Ward's computer in early 2005, and there was no evidence of child pornography or any other impropriety, Weinberg said. "We have been trying to convince the government that this is not something they should proceed with. They said, 'He violated the law, sorry.' "

Ward told investigators at the time that he was doing research for a book on hypocrisy. Now federal authorities have chosen to prosecute. Clearly, the feds didn’t think that Ward was a sexual predator. If they did, he would have been arrested three years ago. They appear to responding to draconian rules regarding child pornography, contending that Ward violated the letter of law.

Before we get too far into this report, I should reveal some prejudicial information. Bernie Ward is my favorite liberal talk show host. I have frequently listened to recordings of his 10 PM to 1 AM weekday show. Unlike his better known syndicated lib talk counterparts, Bernie rarely does interviews and never uses sound bites or funny bits. However, his show is stimulating because he is so passionate, smart, and articulate. Also, despite the fact that the broadcast is limited to the Northern California region, his callers are generally knowlegable and interesting. It is not surprising that while even the best lib talkers max out with 2 to 3 shares, Bernie has consistently recorded double digit shares and is always number one in his time period.

Everyone who knows Bernie Ward finds it hard to believe that the charges against him are true. While Ward can be an aggressive, even combative talk show host he is also well-known for his kindness and charitability.

Over the past dozen years, he has led the KGO Thanksgiving Charities Drive that has raised over five million dollars for several Bay Area charities. He once sat on a billboard for 24 hours to raise $75,000 for a Leukemia fund drive. Ward also hosted the popular God Talk radio show on Sunday mornings for many years. (He's is a former Catholic Priest, Congressional aide, football coach, and investigative reporter.)

His fans adore him and many KGO staffers and community leaders are very supportive, despite the seriousness of the charges against him. Here are a few comments:

"He's always been a wonderful person to work with. And he is such a wonderful father. During commercial breaks, his kids would call him. Bernie would drop everything to solve whatever crisis came up, whether it was a homework problem or somebody locking themselves in the bathroom. Then he went back on air without missing a beat." -- Margo Magowan, former producer of the Bernie Ward Show.

"Bernie Ward has been a valued, long-time employee of KGO Radio. We were just recently made aware of these serious charges and are surprised and concerned by their nature." -- Jack Swanson, KGO PD.

"Our heart goes out to Bernie and his family. (He is married and the father of four children.) Bernie has been an incredible leader. His approach is not only to talk about what is broken in society, but to inspire people to fix it."-- Poncho Guevara, executive director of Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose.

"I think Bernie is one of a kind. He has a huge heart. He has never been cautious. Like many people he was ignorant of the law, he made a mistake and it is tragic. People who know him know that in no way is this Bernie Ward." -- Susan Prather, founder and executive director of Fresh Start, a Walnut Creek organization that helps the poor and homeless.

"I know Bernie as a dad, a talk-show guy and an investigative reporter. This is utterly inconsistent with those three facets of Bernie. It doesn't jibe with what I know." -- Stephanie Salter, former San Francisco Chronicle columnist.

Of course there have been the predictable cheap shots from right wing talkers and bloggers.

"Left wing bigmouth Bernie "Whored" of KGO (The "Lyin' of the Left") indicted on kiddie porn." -- Michael Savage

"We've since heard from broadcast professionals in California that signs of self- destructive behavior on Ward's part go back years and may be quite shocking in nature. Will some of this eventually come to light as well?" -- Brian Maloney, The Radioequalizer (Of course, no "broadcast professionals" were mentioned or quoted.)

One has to wonder, why the feds waited three years to pursue this matter. Despite the virtual zero tolerance policy that has characterized enforcement of child pornography law enforcement, there have been exceptions provided to journalists. Writing in Counterpuch, Debbie Nathan cites the case of Kurt Eichenwald, a former New York Times reporter, who was not prosecuted after downloading more child pornography than what Ward is being accused of doing.

Ward has not said much since his arrest last week. He told the San Francisco Chronicle "I'd like to say what this is not, It's not child abuse. It wasn't solicitation. I wasn't part of any ring. Most importantly, there was nothing on my computer. None of this was for titillation or entertainment."

Meanwhile, it’s going to be awhile before we hear the ‘lion of left" on the radio again. Ward’s next court date will be in January. In the meantime, he has been suspended, with pay, by KGO.


Anonymous said...

The guy was a moron for downloading child porn but with no evidence, there is no way the government can go after him. If he wants to admit he did but the govt. can prove it, then it's their fault for not going after him. Having a pound of coke and flushing it down the toilet after a raid happens, no evidence no crime. Rush was convicted for having possession of said drugs. But what do Rush and bernie have in common? The Bush administration violated both their rights. I wonder if Rush will defend this guy?

fandango said...

I like Bernie Ward for the same reasons you do.

I think a charge like this chills free speech; limits Journalists' ability to investigate stories; shows how an inflammatory unproven charge can ruin a career (and a life); is an abuse of legal power, and reveals how unaccountable our Legal System is for its own mistakes.

Has anyone set up a Bernie Ward defense fund?


Anna said...

I'd sent Bernie a supportive e-mail to the old Yahoo address he'd give out on the air, and got this response yesterday:

"You can help Bernie by donating to the Bernie Ward Legal Defense Fund. At this time, donations can be sent to the following address:

The Bernie Ward Legal Defense Fund
P.O. Box 681
El Cerrito, CA 94530

Next week an account will be set up at the Fireman's Fund bank in San Francisco. All donations received at the above address will be
forwarded to that account. Once that account is in place, we will ask that all donations be sent directly to the Bernie Ward Legal Defense Fund bank account. We will keep you updated as that happens.

You can also leave messages of support that will be sent to Bernie to cheer him on.

A website is in process and we will send you the website information once it is up and running.

Thank you for your support for Bernie Ward and his family. It is greatly appreciated."

and they sent an e-mail today with the URL for the website:

Anonymous said...

If it’s true, I don’t have much sympathy for a guy who downloads child porn. Let’s let the courts decide based upon the facts. This is what progressive liberals do best. We follow the law unlike filthy Republican neo-cons. If the government is lying, then we go after them.

Anonymous said...

The blog leaves out the most important charge against Bernie: he didn't just "download" child porn images. He forwarded them to a woman who called the police upon seeing them. Read the indictment (available as a PDF all over the web; see Bernie's Wikipedia entry).

That's called "distribution", boys and girls. Ain't no "journalist research" or "First Amendment" defence against distributing child porn. All that's left is the plea bargaining. Instead of defending the indefensible, I say "Let him be judged".

Maine Nursing Degree said...

I also agree to the point if she was not able to attend the shift she could have called up.