When Rush Limbaugh was charged with doctor shopping and he paid his housekeeper to buy drugs for him behind the Denny’s Restaurant in West Palm Beach, he took some time off and voluntarily entered rehab. After several weeks, he was back on the air and about a year later copped a plea. Rush's punishment represented little more than a glorified slap on the wrist.
In December of 2004, Bernie Ward, host of the longest running and highest rated liberal talk show in the country, downloaded a few images of child pornography and talked about them in an internet chat room. A police investigation of the matter revealed nothing more. There were no images on Ward’s computer and no other complaints.
However, unlike Limbaugh, Ward, who has hosted a talk show on KGO/810 (owned by Citadel Broadcasting) in San Franciso for 22 years, will probably be off the air for a lot longer than a month and faces some very serious charges which could lead to a lengthy prison term.
Friends of Bernie Ward have created a website with information about the his legal dilemna. The site also provides a way to contribute to Ward's defense fund.
Ward's attorney Doron Weinberg told the San Francisco Chronicle that the talk show host "is not a sexual predator."
"He is just being prosecuted for a mistake he made (more than) three years ago."Federal authorities seized Ward's computer in early 2005, and there was no evidence of child pornography or any other impropriety, Weinberg said. "We have been trying to convince the government that this is not something they should proceed with. They said, 'He violated the law, sorry.' "
Ward told investigators at the time that he was doing research for a book on hypocrisy. Now federal authorities have chosen to prosecute. Clearly, the feds didn’t think that Ward was a sexual predator. If they did, he would have been arrested three years ago. They appear to responding to draconian rules regarding child pornography, contending that Ward violated the letter of law.
Before we get too far into this report, I should reveal some prejudicial information. Bernie Ward is my favorite liberal talk show host. I have frequently listened to recordings of his 10 PM to 1 AM weekday show. Unlike his better known syndicated lib talk counterparts, Bernie rarely does interviews and never uses sound bites or funny bits. However, his show is stimulating because he is so passionate, smart, and articulate. Also, despite the fact that the broadcast is limited to the Northern California region, his callers are generally knowlegable and interesting. It is not surprising that while even the best lib talkers max out with 2 to 3 shares, Bernie has consistently recorded double digit shares and is always number one in his time period.
Everyone who knows Bernie Ward finds it hard to believe that the charges against him are true. While Ward can be an aggressive, even combative talk show host he is also well-known for his kindness and charitability.
Over the past dozen years, he has led the KGO Thanksgiving Charities Drive that has raised over five million dollars for several Bay Area charities. He once sat on a billboard for 24 hours to raise $75,000 for a Leukemia fund drive. Ward also hosted the popular God Talk radio show on Sunday mornings for many years. (He's is a former Catholic Priest, Congressional aide, football coach, and investigative reporter.)
His fans adore him and many KGO staffers and community leaders are very supportive, despite the seriousness of the charges against him. Here are a few comments:
"Bernie Ward has been a valued, long-time employee of KGO Radio. We were just recently made aware of these serious charges and are surprised and concerned by their nature." -- Jack Swanson, KGO PD.
"Our heart goes out to Bernie and his family. (He is married and the father of four children.) Bernie has been an incredible leader. His approach is not only to talk about what is broken in society, but to inspire people to fix it."-- Poncho Guevara, executive director of Sacred Heart Community Service in San Jose.
"I think Bernie is one of a kind. He has a huge heart. He has never been cautious. Like many people he was ignorant of the law, he made a mistake and it is tragic. People who know him know that in no way is this Bernie Ward." -- Susan Prather, founder and executive director of Fresh Start, a Walnut Creek organization that helps the poor and homeless.
"I know Bernie as a dad, a talk-show guy and an investigative reporter. This is utterly inconsistent with those three facets of Bernie. It doesn't jibe with what I know." -- Stephanie Salter, former San Francisco Chronicle columnist.
Of course there have been the predictable cheap shots from right wing talkers and bloggers.
"Left wing bigmouth Bernie "Whored" of KGO (The "Lyin' of the Left") indicted on kiddie porn." -- Michael Savage
"We've since heard from broadcast professionals in California that signs of self- destructive behavior on Ward's part go back years and may be quite shocking in nature. Will some of this eventually come to light as well?" -- Brian Maloney, The Radioequalizer (Of course, no "broadcast professionals" were mentioned or quoted.)
Ward has not said much since his arrest last week. He told the San Francisco Chronicle "I'd like to say what this is not, It's not child abuse. It wasn't solicitation. I wasn't part of any ring. Most importantly, there was nothing on my computer. None of this was for titillation or entertainment."
Meanwhile, it’s going to be awhile before we hear the ‘lion of left" on the radio again. Ward’s next court date will be in January. In the meantime, he has been suspended, with pay, by KGO.