David Zurawik

What's next for Bob and Kendel Ehrlich, a cable access show from their basement?

Talk about two political careers going in opposite directions.

Last Sunday, I wrote about the top Sunday morning public affairs shows like "Meet the Press"  falling in love with Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley and booking him every chance they get.


I missed the debut that day of a sorry little 30-minute piece of political propaganda called "Politics Unplugged" -- the product of former governor Bob Ehrlich and his wife, Kendel, buying time Sunday mornings on Baltimore's WMAR.

In media terms, this is a step down from the Saturday-morning perch they enjoyed through 2010 on WBAL radio. The only place left to go is a cable access show from their basement, "Bob and Kendel's Fantasy World of Politics and Self-importance."


Here's the disclaimer WMAR runs at the start of the Show: "This is a paid political program. The opinions presented in it do not represent WMAR or E.W. Scripps. Former Governor Bob Ehrlich is the Maryland Campaign Chair for Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney."

It's like an infomercial for a knife that never needs sharpening or a hearing device for $19.95 that will let you hear people talking 10 miles away.

Only those productions are just selling questionable products -- and there's no doubt about what they are up to. This one is peddling an ideology -- and a fairly steady stream of criticism of President Obama 100 days out from an election. And it is doing so in a format dressed to look like a Sunday-morning public-affairs show, one of the most important realms of democratic discourse left in this nation. I suppose fronting such a show is better than being a failed candidate whose last campaign became infamous for election-night robocalls.

If readers want me to take the show apart brick by brick, post a comment asking me do so, and I will try to oblige. I don't have time for that extensive a post today with the Olympics on TV.

But as I wrote during one of the TV debates between O'Malley and Ehrlich in 2010, there are few politicians who have less of a sense as to what makes for a winning TV persona than Ehrlich. If this were 1952 instead of 2012, he would already be behind the curve of what it takes in the TV Age to be a successful politician.

Honest, President Dwight Eisenhower had a far better TV presence. In fact, the only politician I can think of with a worse TV presence than Ehrlich is Dick Cheney, who by the way, was also on TV Sunday morning doing an interview in a blue blazer and cowboy hat. (Maybe Bob should try a cowboy hat next week on his 30-minute paid political informercial. I know he definitely needs to lose the deep scowl he showed Sunday. It is as dark as black and white pictures of Richard Nixon's.)

The show opened with the Ehrlichs standing behind a drum table like two sticks. First up, Bob delivering a 2 minute and 10 second (yes, I recorded and clocked) editorial defending Romney against charges by the Obama campaign that the company the GOP candidate ran, Bain Capital, sent American jobs overseas. I'll spare you the high school debate argument.

But let me say this: Having Bob Ehrlich talk into a camera for two minutes is not exactly the path to a compelling broadcast.


And after he finished, Kendel said, "I agree." What a shock.

And then she asked, "How many jobs has Barack Obama created?" Can we say "rhetorical question," boys and girls?

You get the idea as to what's going on here. It's the same goal that ministers of information in Iron Curtain countries had for television in the 1950s and '60s. I think they did it with more pizazz in East Germany and Rumania, though. I can't imagine they did it any worse.

Kendel Ehrlich, trying to play an anchorwoman on TV, followed the exchange with the transition, "Our second story ..."

Excuse me? Second story?

What preceded it wasn't a story by any definition of that word. It was Bob bloviating and her agreeing -- and then trying to trash the president some more. Either they don't know or they are trying to confuse polemics with news and non-partisan analysis.


The highlight (I use the word recklessly, I know) was  a Skype interview with another failed GOP candidate, Rick Lazio of New York.

There is a reason you don't see Skype used a lot on TV. With its dark images and audio that sounds like someone shouting from the bottom of a well, Skype is not yet ready for TV sensibilities. The guest looked and sounded like he was being held hostage in some faraway place.

Lazio told his friends the Ehrlichs that voting for Obama will send America "down the road of southern Europe ... where you have more and more support systems for people who don't work."

And that, my friends, is as a hardcore a GOP talking point as you can find these days.

The last segment, which the Ehrlichs dubbed a "round-table discussion" featured the couple with State Delegate Tony O'Donnell, sitting in front of a little round glass table that looked to be about 18 inches high and large enough to put maybe three cups of a coffee and a notebook on. Excuse me again. You add one person to the Ehrlichs and you've got a round table?

I'll spare you the details of this conversation, but what seriously troubled me is the fact that WMAR used the station's "abc2" logo for the backdrop behind the Ehrlichs on this segment.


Last week, Bill Hooper, general manager at WMAR, stressed in an phone interview with me that the station had nothing to do with producing the show -- that the Ehrlichs were buying time as an independent advertiser like anyone else might. (On-air, Kendel Ehrlich identified Donahoo Collison, a Baltimore automobile repair operation, as the primary sponsor of the show.)

But visually, viewers see no separation between the station and the couple when they are shown in front of the station's logo. The visual language of the medium is more powerful than any disclaimer sounded 25 minutes earlier at the start of the show.

Putting that logo behind these ideologues is a mistake that has the potential to seriously damage the station's credibility as a provider of non-partisan news and information. As much as every dollar counts these days to stations like WMAR, I don't think there is anyone who would say the small-potato rates charged for Sunday morning local TV are worth risking your station's credibility.

And I wonder how the folks at ABC, particularly ABC News, are going to feel when they see their brand compromised this way.

Last week, when I heard the Ehrlichs were baaaaaaaaack, I thought it couldn't be worse than most infomercials.

I was wrong.