By Alan Pergament
The management of WBEN-AM should be embarrrassed, and ashamed of itself for its handling of talk show host Tom Bauerle.
According to Sunday's story in The Buffalo News about Bauerle's recent behavior, the station put him back on the air two days after he consented to a voluntary psychiatric evaluation at Erie County Medical Center.
If WBEN management was aware of the psychiatric evaluation, its decision to put him back on the air so quickly was almost as bizarre as Bauerle's claims that operatives of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo had him under surveillance.
And it is hard to see how WBEN couldn't have been aware of what was going on with Bauerle since the Buffalo News and other media outlets were aware of it and investigating it.
The deletion of one hour of Bauerle's bizarre Dec. 30 show from the station's website certainly suggests management was aware of the host's behavior at least a week earlier. (Station management did not return repeated calls for comment.)
What was WBEN thinking when it allowed Bauerle back on the air Friday to proclaim he had missed Wednesday and Thursday's programs because of exhaustion?
That ignoring the problem and refusing to answer the newspaper's telephone calls would make it go away? It is a news station that relies on people to talk and explain things. Did it think it could just stonewall?
Did it think that Bauerle was going to be perfectly fine a few days after Amherst officers reportedly took a licensed, loaded semi-automatic handgun from him in his backyard after he claimed that a suspicious person was spying on him?
That he was going to be OK after supposedly mistaking a tree for a human being?
It would have been better to take the newspaper's calls and perhaps explain if it was getting Bauerle some help - if the station was legally allowed to explain what it was doing.
At the very least, the station should have given him a few weeks to be completely checked out and deal with whatever is going on in his mind and body.
The station also had to be aware of Bauerle's odd behavior because it had been on display for weeks to listeners.
One listener told me that he sent WBEN's Operations Manager Tim Wenger a message a month ago about threats the host was making on the air and never heard back from Wenger.
One radio insider told me some station staffers were concerned about Bauerle and worried about their own safety because of his behavior.
It appears that station management or someone higher up in the Entercom Radio chain decided to avoid the caution flags to protect one of its money-making brands by acting like everything is fine and allowing the show to go on.
Radio executives have frequently defended bizarre statements from their talk hosts by saying they are "entertainers" and not journalists and don't have to rely on facts.
But at a certain point, there is line between what is supposedly entertaining and what is just too far out there. Bauerle constantly crosses that line and management has to know it.
There has been some social network conversation questioning why the News thought the story was newsworthy enough to trump privacy concerns when there was no arrest.
I sympathize with Bauerle and hope he gets help.
But anyone who doesn't think this story has journalistic merit needs to go back to Journalism 101.
The Bauerle story fits several textbook criteria of what makes news - including prominence, conflict, timeliness, proximity and novelty.
Additionally, Bauerle is an influential voice in the community and should be held to a higher standard. He has constantly used his daily show to oppose Gov. Cuomo's NY SAFE Act.
However, politics is a secondary issue of this story. The primary issues are the safety of the community and how a radio station can keep a guy on the air who has exhibited such bizarre behavior without giving him enough time to recover.
Shame on WBEN management for apparently failing to realize that it crossed the line of worrying more about the bottom line than of the health and safety of its own employee, its staff and the community.