Before we begin, a Who’s Who in this twisted tale…
- David Shuster: Talk radio host of Take Action News
- Daniel Marans: Producer of Take Action News
- Gerry Connolly: Democratic representative of Virginia
- George Burke: Press secretary to Rep. Connolly
- Chris Perkins: Republican challenger to Connolly
The final result of booking two congressional candidates on David Shuster Take Action News radio program this weekend: Both guests backing out and one pissed off Shuster.
Last week Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) and his opponent Chris Perkins (R) were scheduled for back-to-back segments on Shuster’s Saturday show. Emails between Shuster’s production team and the candidates obtained by FishbowlDC suggest all parties agreed to the appearances. But once Connolly’s press secretary George Burke learned that Perkins would be preceding Connolly, things got seriously nasty.
Burke emailed Shuster’s producer Daniel Marans on Friday to complain. “This was supposed to be a show talking about President Obama and Virginia. Now you are making it a show about our congressional race with an unknown candidate,” Burke wrote. (Marans initial email to book Connolly did say Shuster was interested in “any elected officials from Virginia willing to speak about the Obama campaign on our show.” Marans told FBDC that it is Take Action News‘ policy to invite any candidate’s opponent on the program during elections.)
Burke continued in his email, calling it a “waste of time” for Connolly to appear on Shuster’s show if his opponent would be on as well. “Frankly, you hoodwinked me,” he wrote. “I’m not sure why I should still have Connolly do this phoner.”
Marans responded to the email, warning that if Connolly cancels, the reason would be stated on air. He also passed on a word from Shuster: “Shuster told me: ‘If Rep. Connolly is so fragile he can’t handle a 10 minute interview following an interview with his opponent, he can go fuck himself.’”
Burke fired off another email to explain that Connolly’s appearance was still on schedule. He also said he wasn’t “reassured” by Marans’ “aggressive and insulting” tone in the email.
Marans called Burke to smooth things over. “[H]e kept me on the phone for two hours talking about how Connolly could not trust Shuster,” Marans told FBDC. “He asked for a clarification from Shuster before he made a decision about how to advise Connolly. I told him that if he came on he’d be treated fairly, and that this was just a matter of his campaign not setting the agenda for the interview. I was probably much more apologetic initially than Shuster would have been.”
Burke told us by phone that the Obama campaign got in touch with him to set up the interview, leading him to believe he would be discussing President Obama‘s standing in Virginia. He called the email he received from Marans with Shuster’s “go fuck himself” comment a “nastygram” and said it was “almost threatening.” Burke said Marans’ call to him after lasted about 45 minutes during which Marans was apologetic for having “screwed up” on the booking.
On Saturday morning Shuster sent his own email to Burke to set things straight. He reiterated his show’s equal-time policy and said he has “mutually respectful relationships on both sides of the aisle.” But Burke didn’t receive the email because Shuster sent it to the wrong address.
Because Burke hadn’t heard back, he emailed Marans to pull the plug on Connolly’s call-in at the last minute. “My reasons are many, but they all emanate from the unprofessional way that you handled this matter and, quite frankly, some ugly email comments by you and Mr. Shuster,” Burke wrote. Then he went on to rattle about his “award-winning” career as a journalist and explain that he felt misled on the terms of the interview.
Long story short: Shuster was left without his main guest. And unfortunately, he couldn’t fall back on the other, Chris Perkins, who simply stood him up. Multiple emails from Marans to Perkins’ communications director were not returned. We called the campaign headquarters to see if there was an official reason Perkins agreed to and then pulled out of the interview without notice. “We’re not going to comment on that,” a campaign official told us.
Meanwhile, on Saturday Shuster butchered Connolly, Burke and Perkins. Burke called in to rebuke Shuster’s comments, but Shuster wouldn’t allow it. “We asked for Connolly—not Burke,” Shuster said on air. “We’re interested in talking to your Congressman. The invitation stands for the next 2 hours and 20 minutes. We will be polite. We’ve made our point about you being fragile and wanting to control the media.”
On his program, Shuster explained that his “go fuck yourself” comment was directed at Burke, not the congressman. Burke told us that was Shuster trying to “cover his ass.”