U.S. Rep. Richard Hanna, a Republican, told WUTR-TV in Utica he would not run ads with the station unless it dropped plans to co-host a debate in which Hanna refused to participate, according to an email written by the station’s general manager.
WUTR’s Stephen Merren said Thursday he accidentally sent the email recounting the conversation to the spokesman for Democratic candidate Dan Lamb, reports Brian Tumulty of Gannett’s Washington bureau.
Lamb is running against Hanna, of Barneveld, Oneida County, in the redrawn 22nd Congressional District covering most of Broome County, southeast Tioga County, all of Chenango and Cortland counties and areas north to Oswego.
“He (Hanna) indicated to me that we would not be considered for his ad dollars and our level of cooperation in the future could be affected,” Merren said in his email.
The email was sent to Lamb campaign spokesman Mike Morosi, three staffers at WSYR-TV in Syracuse and an executive at Nexstar Broadcasting, which operates WUTR.
Hanna’s spokeswoman Gamela said Hanna has not yet purchased any ads to run on WUTR.
WUTR, an ABC affiliate, had planned to co-host a debate with WSYR, also an ABC affiliate, that would be taped Friday and broadcast later in the month. The new district covers three TV media markets—Binghamton, Utica and Syracuse.
Hanna declined to participate in the one-hour event, which the stations then shortened to a half-hour session with Lamb only. WUTR pulled out of the debate after Hanna’s phone call to Merren on Tuesday. On Thursday, WSYR also canceled plans for the debate.
“We are going to have to back out of this taping on Friday and deal with our relationship with Congressman Hanna on our own,” Merren said in his Wednesday email, which described Hanna as “angry.”
Merren said in an interview Thursday he didn’t know Morosi worked for Lamb when he sent the email. Morosi’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Merren also said the email was poorly worded and denied that Hanna had threatened him with pulling future campaign ads.
“He did not threaten me with not advertising or anything like that,” Merren said.
Instead of a debate between Hanna and Lamb, WUTR will arrange to have each candidate come in for half-hour interviews, Merren said.
Lamb said he believes Merren’s email accurately reflects his conversation with Hanna.
“Congressman Richard Hanna should be ashamed of himself for using his money to influence the journalistic decisions of a local news station,” Lamb said in a press statement. “If this isn’t a violation of FCC rules, it should be. What Hanna did is the moral equivalent of bribing a cop. If the news media can be bought off, our entire democracy is at risk.”
Hanna’s spokeswoman, Renee Gamela, described Hanna’s phone call to Merren as “nothing more than a courtesy call.”
In the email, Merren said Hanna told him Lamb had “intentionally baited him” in a press release about the debate, “and that he will not agree to meet with us under this type of setup. He went on to tell me that we were being played by Lamb and the results would not be favorable for his continued abiltiy (sic) to deal with our news organizations.”
The five remaining scheduled debates are:
— Oct. 21 at 11 a.m. in Binghamton, hosted by Temple Concorde.
— Oct. 23 at 5:30 p.m. in Utica, hosted by WKTV Channel 2.
— Oct. 25 at 7:30 a.m. at a forum hosted by the Rome Area Chamber of Commerce.
— Oct. 30 at 8:30 a.m. at a forum hosted by the Binghamton Chamber of Commerce.
— Nov. 4 at 10 a.m. at a forum hosted by Temple Beth El in Utica.