WTIC-AM Radio’s Big Ethical Dilemma: Keep Rowland On the Air or a ‘Summer Hiatus?’ What About the News Operation’s Credibility?

News that a federal criminal grand jury is allegedly investigating former Gov. John Rowland’s political and business dealings presents a huge problem for Rowland’s current employer, WTIC-AM radio, where Rowland is the afternoon drive time host. Even more at stake is the credibility of the fine, award-winning news operation at the station. Both the station and the news department are in no-win situations.

WTIC management has stood by Rowland as news broke that he was “advising” fifth district congressional candidate Lisa Wilson-Foley, while on the air he was slapping around her main opponent in the primary, state Sen. Andrew Roraback even to the point of giving out Roraback’s cell phone number to his listeners. Things got worse when it was revealed that at the same time he was doling out his “advice,” he was being paid $30,000 as a consultant for a company owned by the candidate’s husband Brian Foley. He owns Apple Rehab, a series of nursing facilities.

The revelation that really hit Rowland was that another congressional candidate, Mark Greenberg, alleged that in 2010 when Greenberg also ran, Rowland came to him with a scheme very similar to the alleged arrangement with the Foleys. Greenberg said Rowland offered to be a volunteer advisor to Greenberg’s campaign and then be paid through Greenberg’s animal shelter. Nursing homes? Animal shelters? Please. Yet WTIC still stood by him. Rowland denies the Greenberg charges.

Rich Hanley, associate professor of journalism and director of the graduate journalism program at Quinnipiac University, says the station, Rowland and the station’s news operation are in a big jam. “By right, Rowland should stay on the air because the investigation has not even been confirmed. However, in practice, the station might want to think about something like a summer hiatus [for Rowland],” Hanley said. “Any opinions aired by Rowland and in fact, the other hosts on the station, become suspect,” he said.

Facing an even a bigger decision is the WTIC newsroom and director Dana Whalen. Do they ignore the story that is grabbing headlines nearly everywhere in the state? (They’ve done so thus far.) If they report it, will it include a response from Rowland? Hanley agrees with The Hanging Shad that the station’s journalistic credibility is at stake. “If the grand jury—assuming there is one—indicts, the station’s credibility would suffer greatly.” UPDATE: News anchor Angela Dias reported the grand jury – Rowland story Tuesday morning.  It was the second story at 6:30 am and mentioned Rowland by name.  She did not include the fact Rowland is the station’s afternoon host.