This story has been updated to include reaction from Ben Shapiro.
According to a CNN report, executives at Salem Radio pressured their hosts to support Donald Trump during the 2016 election and even fired one for failing to do so.
Given the fact that media bias is a frequent show topic for most conservative talk show hosts, the idea that a conservative radio company like Salem had some sort of “speech code” for their talent where if they didn’t support Trump they’d be canned fits into a perfect “gotcha” moment for CNN, a favorite target of many talk shows.
But some parts of this story don’t quite add up.
Elisha Krauss (who is a very talented radio host whom I consider a friend) was one of three hosts on The Morning Answer on KRLA in Los Angeles. Her co-hosts were liberal radio veteran Brian Whitman (a staunch opponent of Trump) and conservative wunderkind Ben Shapiro (also a friend) who after leaving KRLA went on to digital super-stardom with his very popular podcast and The Daily Wire website. Krauss went on the record with CNN telling the details of her dismissal at the hands of Salem execs which she believes was due to her criticisms of Trump.
The one remaining member of the Shapiro/Krauss/Whitman morning show is Whitman, the liberal who was the loudest, most vociferous critic of Trump. If Salem was looking to do some sort of purge in the name of ideological purity, what’s the liberal Trump-hater doing with the plum gig doing mornings in LA?
Phil Boyce, Senior Vice President in charge of Talk Programming for Salem says it had nothing to do with ideology and all to do with good radio.
“Elisha was let go because she failed to develop chemistry with Brian Whitman,” Boyce told me. “Brian was a keeper, very talented and also against Trump.”
The CNN report features leaked emails, including an excerpt of one from Boyce to Shapiro:
One of the emails CNNMoney obtained was sent by Boyce in June of 2016, responding to what he said was Shapiro’s request for guidance on the company’s position on Trump.
Boyce wrote that “Salem has not taken an official position,” but noted that the company’s chief executive officer, Edward Atsinger, had made the case that supporting Trump was necessary to beat Hillary Clinton.
“So for you I would say the same,” Boyce wrote to Shapiro. “While your show is wildly entertaining and your positions make so much sense I have to salute. I do worry about the long term implications of where this is all going.”
Boyce added, “For YOU I suggest that you become a trial lawyer. You suspect your client is guilty, but you are paid to get him off. The jurors will ultimately decide his fate.”
On the face of it, this doesn’t seem so extraordinarily out of line. A host asks advice from a seasoned talk radio executive (Boyce helped develop the careers of Sean Hannity and Mark Levin) in navigating the brave new world of conservative commentary in the Trump era. And, as a radio host, I’d grade Boyce’s advice as pretty damn good.
So why is it treated as some sort of “smoking gun” in the CNN report?
“Ben Shapiro leaked an email that he asked me to write,” Boyce says. “He wanted some guidance on how to handle Trump. This was in June 2016 right after the nomination. I gave him some pointers. I had no idea he would save it and leak it to CNN of all people.”
Shapiro denies having anything to do with the CNN report or the leak of the internal Salem emails. “It is utterly untrue that I leaked this story to CNN,” Shapiro told me. “End of story.”
The CNN report does not specifically contend that Shapiro was let go for ideological purposes and in my many conversations with him, Ben has never made that claim. However, Boyce believes the article suggests that was the case.
“Ben ultimately asked out of his deal 6 months early and we granted it. His agent said we were very ‘gracious,’” Boyce said. Adding, “So why is he now leaving the impression that he was fired for being a never-Trumper?”
In the end, this radio drama has a happy ending for all involved. Shapiro has gone on to the aforementioned success in podcasting and recently began syndicating his show on Westwood One (he appears on my station in Washington, WMAL.) Krauss works with Shapiro at The Daily Wire and Whitman, still liberal and still anti-Trump remains doing mornings for Salem in Los Angeles.
So why is this a story? It dovetails off a recent report that also came from CNN claiming that Salem-owned Townhall “purged” never-Trump writers from one of their websites, RedState. This despite several writers continuing at the site who are avowed never-Trumpers and notorious never-Trump blogger Allahpundit continuing his daily observations at Salem-owned HotAir.
The common thread here is not Salem, it’s CNN.
The fact that CNN ran with this story is rather ironic. This is a news network that has made a programming choice to be the tip of the spear attacking President Trump at every possible turn, yet they still pretend to be an objective, journalistic endeavor. Meanwhile, Salem makes no attempt to disguise their perspective. They are a mission-based company with a point of view that leans decidedly to the right.
As Boyce put it, “CNN HATES Trump so they do a story on Salem liking him.Talk about the pot calling the kettle black.”