Among the dozen or so signs protesters hoisted above their heads yesterday, one stood out.
"This attack on WEAA Radio (Dr. Powers Show) is a preemptive strike!!! Does O'Malley have an administration or a Regime!!!"
The O'Malley in question is Maryland's most famous one, newly inaugurated Gov. Martin O'Malley. "Dr. Powers" would be one Tyrone Powers, host of the former weekly radio show The Powers Report on WEAA, Morgan State University's radio station.
The Powers Report used to air every Tuesday from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. But on Jan. 23, WEAA managers yanked Powers' show -- Powers calls it "the people's show" -- from the air. Powers, a Ph.D. who teaches at Anne Arundel Community College, blames the governor for that. And yesterday, just after 4 p.m., about 40 to 50 sign-carrying protesters gathered at Cold Spring Lane and Hillen Road to express their displeasure with O'Malley, whom they accuse of wielding the heavy blade of censorship that got The Powers Report axed.
For the record, O'Malley has denied having anything to do with the show's being "preempted" -- the term Morgan folks prefer -- or suspended, which is the preferred word if you're feeling Powers' version of events.
Daren Muhammad, who identified himself as part of a group called the Community Forum Think Tank, helped organize the protest. Muhammad is a young black man with a small build. He stood in stark contrast to Ed Norris, well-known white guy and the stocky former Baltimore police commissioner, who also attended the rally to express support for Powers. Norris served time in federal prison in 2004 for conspiring to misuse money from a supplemental city police fund and now is a radio talk show host.
Whoever said politics makes strange bedfellows would have loved being at this protest.
Muhammad, addressing television and newspaper reporters, demanded that Morgan officials reinstate Powers' show. Last week, when the flap began, O'Malley spokesman Steve Kearney said O'Malley "wasn't sure" who Powers was. Muhammad's retort was sharp and harsh.
"That was a straight lie," Muhammad said.
Norris agreed with Muhammad. He said that O'Malley knows exactly who Powers is.
"When I was in the process of being confirmed as police chief," Norris recalled of then-Mayor O'Malley and himself attending various community meetings at several city high schools, "there was a cadre of people who went to all the hearings, asking questions, coming up with issues. Tyrone Powers was one of them. He was one of my tormenters. He used to follow me all over the city. O'Malley was sitting on stage next to me. He told me, 'That's Tyrone Powers.' They [O'Malley and his staff] knew him really well. They knew almost everything about him. They gave me the entire rundown on this guy's career."
Rick Abbruzzese, an O'Malley spokesman, responded.
"The governor meets a lot of people," Abbruzzese said. "He said [on Monday] that he did not remember who Tyrone Powers was. Since then he's been reminded who Tyrone Powers is."
Morgan officials are probably wishing they could forget who Powers is. They had no comment about yesterday's protest. They won't be having any comments on any other matters related to the Powers controversy either. But Powers isn't being as taciturn.
Powers' lawyer, Jimmy Bell, has sent a "notice of intent to file a claim under the Maryland Tort Claims Act" to state Treasurer Nancy K. Kopp. The letter alleges that WEAA news director Kortni Alston called Leslie Parker Blyther, the executive producer of The Powers Report, on Jan. 9 and asked for tapes of all those shows that made reference to O'Malley. According to the letter, Zachary Coleman, a WEAA production engineer, gave those tapes to Alston and Donald Lockett, the station's general manager.
"Dr. Powers is alleging," the letter says, "that Governor O'Malley used his government position, under the color of state law, to abridge the freedom of speech of Dr. Powers and force him off the airways at Morgan State University's WEAA Radio because Powers Report Public Radio News program was critical of Governor O'Malley. For these reasons, on behalf of my client I now send you this notice of intent to file claim for $88.9 Million Dollars, for violation of my clients' rights secured to them by the Constitution of the United States and the State of Maryland, Maryland Declaration of Rights, and other common law torts."
WEAA is located at 88.9 on the FM dial. Nice touch on the part of either Powers or his lawyer in asking for $88.9 million. Powers stressed that his targets are neither Lockett nor Morgan President Earl Richardson, who he feels have always treated him fairly, until now. And he doesn't care whether he gets $88.9 million or $88.90.
"The only reason I'm filing this lawsuit," Powers said, "is to get people under oath and make it clear I have no incentive to lie about a show I'm not getting paid to do."
Let's get those depositions going. The only thing we know for sure about why Powers' show was "pre-empted" is that at least one of the parties involved has an adversarial relationship with the truth.