Huckabee, who started a new program through Cumulus Media Network on Monday, is trying to carve out listenership from a conservative base that listens to Limbaugh religiously from 12-3p every day. In other words, he's unashamedly going to war for the same listeners. But the conservative outlet The American Spectator was tipped off to something interesting on the first day of Huckabee's new show that might not help that cause: the first "listener" to call in was actually a radio executive involved in the show. And no one revealed that important detail.
Translation: as the Spectator says, it was a "planted call."
"The very first phone call, arriving some fifty minutes into the show. To anyone with an ear for talk radio it had a startling quality," the Spectator's Jeffrey Lord, former Reagan White House political director, writes. "Why?"
"No one seemed to remember to give the call-in number to the audience until the very last few seconds of those first fifty minutes. But yet… presto!... within seconds, Mike Huckabee did in fact have a caller on the line! Without ever questioning how that caller could have gotten on that line in less time than it takes Obama to blame Bush for anything!"
Curious indeed. The caller, "Mike from San Francisco," went on to praise Huckabee (while taking a veiled shot at Limbaugh and others):
"Well Governor, let me start by saying it's great to have a different opinion and a different person on the radio and I'm very, very happy that you're doing this radio show. One of the reasons why I want to listen to your program every day is because you ran for office and you've been a politician, you have a different perspective I think."
"Different opinion? Different person? Different from whom? Why, Rush Limbaugh, of course," Lord writes.
Being a respected writer, Lord wrote to Mike McVay, the senior vice president of programming for Cumulus Media Network, after he got a tip that McVay was "Mike from San Francisco." Here's what Lord asked:
This is Jeff Lord from The American Spectator.
I have been told that in the debut of Governor Huckabee's show today the first caller was "Mike from San Francisco." The caller thanked Huckabee for his new format etc.
I have information that you were that caller...and failed to identify yourself to the audience as a Cumulus executive, nor did Governor Huckabee identify you.
In other words, Mike, you were a "plant"....not a real caller who really wanted to call in and talk to Governor Huckabee.
A few questions for my column tomorrow:
1. Was this in fact you as I have been told? My source has made a 100% positive ID.
2. If so, why did you not openly identify yourself as a Cumulus executive who has a stake in the success of the Huckabee show?
3. I will be listening to the show tonight, but have already learned the fact that the call-in phone number wasn't given out until seconds before the call-in. Question: isn't it disingenuous to think that the listeners would believe that this was a real call?
4. Did Governor Huckabee know this was you -- and was he a participant in this?
5. Whose idea was this to have you call in? Yours? The Governor's? Someone else from Cumulus? John or Lou Dickey?
6. Governor Huckabee has a good reputation for honesty. Doesn't this kind of thing put both the Governor's reputation and consequently the new show's reputation at risk?
7. I understand the odds Cumulus is facing in launching this show, the involvement of investor cash and all the rest. Even so, was this a really good idea to do this? Will there be more calls of this nature from Cumulus executives disguised as regular folks interested in the Huckabee show -- when in fact they decidedly are something else?
Mike, I'm sure these are not comfortable questions, and I understand the pressure involved in going up against Rush Limbaugh. But under the circumstances, our conservative readers at The American Spectator and surely the larger Internet reading audience will want to know your side of the story.
Thanks. My deadline is 10 pm tonight... Monday... April 9th.
The American Spectator
McVay never responded, according to Lord.
So Lord sent an email to McVay's bosses. One of them, John Dickey, responded. And he admitted the caller was not just a regular ol' listener:
Thanks for listening to the show. To your question a colleague in the companywas excited about the new show and arranged to call in with the first questionwithout Governor Huckabee's knowledge. When I learned of this I began theprocess of reminding my colleagues in the company that we should reserveair-time for our listeners and refrain from calling in to our own shows.
That seems to absolve Huckabee to a certain extent. But Lord isn't content: "Mr. Dickey says Mike Huckabee did not know the call was incoming from McVay. But this leaves unanswered what seems to be obvious. Once McVay was on the phone, it seems extremely unlikely Mike Huckabee didn't recognize Mike McVay's voice. ... Was Mike Huckabee a participant in this charade? Whose idea was it if not Mike Huckabee's?"
The answers are important. But more important might be the fact that they have to be asked in the first place. And if you have to ask them, that means the show could already be experiencing 30,000-feet turbulence. If so, it's definitely not the best way to try and steal listeners away from "El Rushbo."
"Challenging Rush is seen by many conservatives as an attack on conservatism itself," Lord note. "This is a real problem for the Dickeys and Huckabee. And this botched business with a phony questioner could instantly cause a very predictable problem."
Especially, as Lord explained last week, if it's about "RINO" radio versus Rush radio.