Media Matters: Do Media Outlets Bend to External Pressure

BOSTON – In  a surprising announcement, controversial radio host Kirk Minihane stepped away from his role on a Boston radio station.

Entercom, the parent company of WEEI, issued a press release on Wednesday night stating that Minihane would be leaving the station to host his own show on the app, which Entercom also owns.

While the breakup seems mutual, many are left to wonder what caused the sudden and abrupt departure. 

The issue has raised the question among some as to whether media outlets are becoming influenced in their editorial and programming decisions by outside sources.

The nine weeks of Minihane’s absence paired with the actions taken by the station and the rest of the on-air talent during that time frame qualifies as circumstantial evidence that this breakup may have been influenced by sources outside of the station.

“For the past five years, Kirk has been co-host of the “Kirk and Callahan” morning show on WEEI, Boston’s #1 sports radio station. The new platform will expand Kirk’s reach to a national audience and explore wide-ranging topics in addition to sports. Kirk’s podcast and column are expected to launch in January 2019 and his new, daily, weekday radio show, which will include a co-host to be named at a later date,” Entercom, the parent company of WEEI, announced in the press release.

In a series of tweets following the news, Minihane answered questions from his Twitter fan base regarding his departure.

When asked by a fan when he realized he would not be returning, Minihane tweeted in response, “About two weeks ago.”

“We had a meeting and what they wanted the “new” morning show to be. Just wasn’t a fit for me. But I really feel good about this new show. It’s a great opportunity. Hope people give it a shot,” he explained.

Just in Boston, Minihane has developed a list of enemies that most notably include other station on-air personalities and management, the Boston Red Sox, the Boston Globe, and various radio and television personalities across the city.

On August 3, Minihane missed his regularly scheduled appearance on the show, later explaining that the day before he had driven himself to the hospital because he was having suicidal thoughts.

On August 9, he tweeted “I’ve talked a lot about my issues with depression, and I’ve battled it the last three months or so. Last Thursday night I checked into the ER at Winchester Hospital with suicidal thoughts. I was then moved to McLean, where I was treated and released earlier this week.”

Minihane took a week off the airwaves and returned on August 10 and explained his situation in-depth on the show that day.

Minihane’s return was only brief, when on September 6, he admitted through another tweet that he was taking an indefinite leave from the show to better address his mental health.

“I’m going on an indefinite leave from the show. Still battling more mental health issues. Truth is I came back to work too fast. Wish I could be there with @GerryCallahan, @_ChrisCurtis and @KenLairdWEEI – I love those guys very much. I’ll be OK and sorry for leaving you all with Mut,” said Minihane in the September 6 tweet.

Minihane had not been back on the air since, and not by his own power. Minihane tweeted on October 24 that he had been ready to return to work for over a week, and that management had been forcibly keeping him off the air.

“Pretty simple. I’ve been ready to work for the last week or so and have been kept off the air. You build a show, take it to number one, step aside to get healthy and expect to be welcomed back. Hasn’t happened,” Minihane tweeted on October 24.

With Minihane’s extended absence from his show, on top of the apparent embargo imposed on all WEEI staff from discussing the situation, it’s obvious that this was the intent of station management.

The question remains, however, of who influenced this decision. The Boston Globe? The Boston Red Sox? A collection of radio personalities from across the city? 

The Boston Globe and Boston Red Sox are a two-in-one rival of Kirk Minihane’s, and the most likely organizations to lobby for his departure from the air. The newspaper and baseball team are also both owned by John Henry, leaving them inextricably tied. 

Both Callahan and Minihane have been extremely vocal in their discontent for the Globe over the years, as well as multiple writers and staffers formerly and currently working for the paper. 

Tensions between the Globe and Kirk & Callahan, as well as WEEI, in effect, reached a boiling point in May of 2017. This is when the Red Sox also began to apparently grow weary of the morning show’s antics.

It all happened during the infamous “Adam Jones situation” at Fenway Park when the Red Sox were matched up against the Baltimore Orioles. Jones, an outfielder for the Orioles, witnessed a Red Sox fan throw peanuts at him while running into the dugout at the end of an inning. Jones also claimed he heard a fan or multiple fans direct a barrage of racial slurs at him.

The circumstances of the story caused a division of opinion amongst certain members of the media.

The Globe immediately called for discipline from the Red Sox and began to question if the City of Boston was racist in feature stories. This ignited a national media firestorm in which the city, and those inhabiting it, were repeatedly labeled as racist. 

The Kirk & Callahan Show led the charge for those who felt that the repeated charges of Boston as racist were not only inaccurate, but unfair. Minihane and Callahan, natives of the Greater Boston Area, also admittedly took offense to the claims sparked by the Globe. The two also spearheaded another argument believed by many, that Adam Jones potentially made up the claims of hearing racial slurs during the May 1 game.

This division of thought caused Minihane and Callahan too attack the credibility of the Boston Globe and its writers, based on the circumstances of the Jones situation and the fact that the newspaper is owned by Red Sox owner John Henry.

With the already deteriorated relationship between the Globe and WEEI getting worse over the remainder of 2017 and into 2018, the breaking point in the relationship came in February when Minihane exposed Globe columnist Kevin Cullen for falsifying his account of the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings in columns written for the paper and in various radio and television interviews.

The story forced the newspaper to publicly acknowledge the situation, conduct an investigation, and eventually suspend Cullen.

In addition to the Cullen situation, another mishap increased negative publicity of the station, which seemingly resulted in a dramatic shift in the way WEEI management handled their on-air talent. 

General Manager of Entercom Boston Mark Hannon called for mandatory sensitivity training for all on-air personalities after Christian Fauria impersonated Tom Brady’s agent Don Yee, an Asian-American man.

Fauria’s act came just one week after another WEEI public relations mis-step in the week leading up to Super Bowl 52, this time caused by Alex Remier, who called Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s daughter a “pissant” on the air.

To ensure all of his employees would be present for the training, Hannon issued a press release the day before stating the regularly scheduled original programming would not air during the day of sensitivity training.

Hannon’s response was criticized by some on the station’s airwaves, most notably Minihane, as being a response to Globe columnist and current interim editorial page editor Shirley Leung blasting the station’s on-air persona as offensive in a lengthy editorial piece about the incident.

On Friday, just one day following Minihane’s brief return to the air to explain his departure, Leung published a column entitled “Entercom made the right call with Kirk Minihane.” 

In the column, Leung immediately jumps to criticize Minihane as “racist” and fails to acknowledge the fact that the Globe is owned by the Boston Red Sox – a major business partner of WEEI. Leung’s column makes one wonder if the Boston Red Sox and the Boston Globe were heavily influential, if not a direct impact, in the decision by Entercom to take Minihane off the airwaves. 

The official stance that Entercom has taken for the move is that “the WEEI morning show is being re-envisioned,” away from the format that made Minihane a star and catapulted WEEI’s morning drive ratings back to first place for the first time since rival sports-talk station “The Sports Hub” launched in 2009.

“The WEEI morning show is being re-envisioned as a more sports-centric show consistent with the station’s brand and position as Boston’s sports leader. For more than 25 years, WEEI has entertained and informed Boston sports fans with engaging, must-listen sports content and analysis in the country’s greatest sports city. Going forward, the morning show will focus predominantly on sports and be led by hosts Gerry Callahan and Mike “Mut” Mutnansky, along with a rotating cast of Boston’s most charismatic and intriguing sports personalities,” Entercom said in the press release.

While it remains an understandable stance for a sports-talk station to take, the statement in itself lends credibility towards the theory that the decision to part ways with Minihane was influenced by an outside source.

The press release even included a quote apparently signed off by Minihane, stating, “I’m extremely excited to return to the air and reach a national audience with greater autonomy to focus on a variety of topics, and even more digital platforms to connect with my fans.”

“It’s been awesome to be part of WEEI and I know Gerry and Mut will continue to put on a great show. I want to thank the listeners for their patience and loyalty over the past several weeks, and I can’t wait to get started on”

On Thursday, Minihane returned to morning drive airwaves to officially deliver the news about his move to Minihane indicated on the air that his quote in the press release was created by management. 

Entercom did not return a request for comment.

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