• 52°

Editorial: Station’s content is disservice to public

During a national emergency such as the coronavirus pandemic, it is imperative that the media provide their audience with accurate information to protect them during the crisis.

And most local outlets have done a great job in serving the public. However, an egregious exception appears on local radio airwaves and goes out of its way to misinform its audience.

On WVHU, a station airing from Huntington and owned by the iHeart radio conglomerate, early drive time is taken up by “The Tom Roten Morning Show.”

For two decades, Roten has served up a mixture of screaming commentary, conspiracy theories and fringe guests, operating as sort of a poor man’s Alex Jones.

The program is a clearinghouse for everything from the nether regions of politics, promoting falsities like the junk science of the anti-vaccine movement, the debunked “birther” smears of former President Barack Obama or hosting strange conspiracy theorists like Jerome Corsi, known for pushing endless crackpottery about the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, as regular guests.

And Roten is hardly some low level host on the station. iHeart makes him the face of WVHU, having him voice on-air ads, using him as a sportscaster for local sports games and sending to host local events.

Even more troubling are the number of local politicians, such as U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, state Rep. Jason Stephens, Huntington Mayor Steve Williams and Ironton Mayor Sam Cramblit who, despite the show’s bizarre and hysterical content, appear as guests, allowing the station to try to legitimize Roten as a commentator.

In a state of emergency, one would think iHeart and WVHU might use their platform to aid efforts to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Sadly, and expectedly, that is not the case.

Instead, Roten has taken to the air to berate governors, such as Ohio’s Mike DeWine and Kentucky’s Andy Beshear, for their efforts to limit public gatherings, measures which have been proven effective and are strongly supported by the vast majority of the public.

He regularly tries to incite rage among the public over the subject of church services, falsely insinuating limits on public gatherings are singling out churches.

“They’re emptying the prisons to make room for the churchgoers,” Roten said, misrepresenting the efforts of officials like DeWine, who released only a select number of nonviolent offenders, carefully screened, in order to limit the spread of the virus in such an environment, protecting not only the prisoners, but the staff, their families and the public.

He should look into Hopkins County, Kentucky, where a church decided to defy social distancing and held a two-day revival anyway. As a result, 54 cases of the virus and six deaths have been linked to the event. Roten may attack pastors who comply as not “standing up for the church,” but these clergy are doing the right thing and protecting their congregations from a highly infectious disease.

Roten has been no less kooky with guests during the pandemic, hosting Stephen Hotze, a quack Texas doctor of the fringe Qanon movement who once claimed the virus may have been “orchestrated” by the U.S. government as part of a “war” against its citizens.

The host hung on Hotze’s every word, as his guest called efforts curb the spread of the virus the “biggest massive delusion ever” and mocked the most basic precautions such as people not touching their face.

Roten has engaged in constant irresponsible rhetoric, routinely championing those who would defy health and safety orders and cheering on deliberate violations of health and safety measures put in place.

He bizarrely told a follower on Twitter that he may be shot if he doesn’t accept a vaccine for the virus once it is developed, while he has used his page on iHeart’s website to post the crackpot, tinfoil hat film “Plandemic,” a video screed claiming a government conspiracy behind the virus. The fake “documentary” was so riddled with lies and ripped apart by fact checkers that Youtube pulled the video from its platform last week.

And it’s not like iHeart doesn’t know any better.

Throughout Roten’s show, the company runs public service announcements in commercial breaks, urging listeners to practice social distancing and follow guidelines during the pandemic.

It defeats the purpose to run those spots under the guise of good corporate citizenship, then, at the same time, have, as the voice of their station, a host hellbent on undermining efforts to flatten the curve, even going so far as to advise his audience not to wear face masks and outlandishly claiming a quicker spread of the virus is ideal.

According to the Radio Act of 1927, stations broadcasting on public airwaves are supposed to operate in the public interest. It appears iHeart has no interest in that by continuing to air Roten’s dangerous misinformation.

At the least, iHeart owes the region an explanation as to why they feel this content is worth airing, though, ideally and more responsibly, they should replace this ignorant prattle with a broadcaster who actually works for the health and safety of the Tri-State.