Monday roundup: Idaho PTV’s strange debate, overstated “emergency” in CPBN fundraising email

By Andrew Lapin

• Idaho Public Television hosted a May 14 gubernatorial debate that will forever live in viral infamy, thanks to the participation of two eccentric fringe candidates: leather-jacket-wearing biker Harley Brown and white-bearded Bible quoter Walt Bayes. Debate moderator Melissa Davlin told Slate that Idaho PTV had invited Brown and Bayes, who are not actively campaigning in the race, at the insistence of incumbent Gov. Butch Otter, who refused to participate unless they attended. Video of the debate, which included lines like “I’m about as politically correct as your proverbial turd in a punchbowl,” has been picked up by The Today Show and by outlets including the Washington Post, CNN, the AP and Gawker.

Otter’s chief rival in the race, State Sen. Russ Fulcher, criticized his spirit of inclusiveness, saying it was a stunt intended to distract voters’ attentions away from the real issues, the Idaho Statesman reported.

• A fundraising email sent out by Connecticut Public Broadcasting Network declaring a  “FUNDING EMERGENCY” overstated the crisis, President Jerry Franklin told a columnist for the New Haven Register. “The headline was a phrase I would not have used — I don’t characterize this as an emergency,” Franklin told the paper, even though his name and signature appeared at the bottom of the letter. The network, which includes Connecticut Public Television and WNPR, is in the middle of its year-end funding drive, with a goal to raise $250,000 by June 30.

• St. Louis Public Radio and the Texas Tribune are among the University of Missouri’s first-ever class of “institutional fellows” within the Reynolds Journalism Institute. RJI announces a class of journalism fellows every school year, but 2014-15 will be the first year that journalism enterprises alongside individuals will work on innovation projects with RJI resources. St. Louis Public Radio “will study how news organizations can most effectively engage niche groups in a community,” with station engagement editor Kelsey Proud as project leader;  the Texas Tribune will pilot an experimental marketing technique called “growth hacking,” with publisher and COO Tim Griggs as project leader, according to the RJI release.

• Bill Buzenberg, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Public Integrity, is stepping down later this year after eight years at the helm. “My tenure here has been the most rewarding, demanding and invigorating time in my career,” said Buzenberg in the May 16 release announcing his plans to retire at the end of 2014. “I am extremely proud of the Center for Public Integrity’s many accomplishments.” Those accomplishments include a 2013 Pulitzer Prize for an investigative series on black lung disease benefits claims — an award that ABC News tried to claim shared credit for in a dispute with Buzenberg.

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