On Media: Lamb’s points of view are anything but meek

Bill Lamb says he’s got skin like a rhinoceros, so he’s not too bothered when criticized for speaking his mind during Fox 41’s on-air editorials. After spending an hour with Lamb, I believe he’s a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of guy who genuinely enjoys debate. The concept of the editorials is to get people thinking about, and talking about, substantive local issues.

Here’s a guy unafraid to take a stand. Don’t like what he’s saying? Bring it on — and you can go on the air and say so. Lamb makes his case forcefully. Last month he made the call that his Fox affiliate, WDRB-TV, wouldn’t carry the Fox network’s O.J. Simpson special. He announced his decision on the air well before the network canceled plans to air the program.

Last fall he told viewers he rejected a Kentucky Democratic Party ad when he found the spot was untrue. He’s called out the Rev. Louis Coleman.

Lamb’s take on things could be considered conservative, but it’s usually common sense. In his fifth year of delivering editorials here, he avoids no issues. He urges us to quit delaying building bridges, supports a law requiring driver training for teens, and hates campaign ads. He bitches about cell phone users in movie theaters and how people drive.

Lamb has done more than 400 75-second editorials since he got to Louisville. He touches nerves but usually takes positions popular with the public — like his Dec. 14 message to Mel Ignatow, that the city “… detests you with every fiber of its being.”

“That was a nasty one, for a nasty guy,” he told me the next day.

When I asked which of the hundreds of editorials has elicited the most response, Lamb has a ready answer. He took a tough stance when he said a black man shot by a police officer in New Albany last year might have deserved it. Reaction was immediate. Both the officer and shooting victim were black.

“I said if you’re a bad guy and have a gun, you deserve what happens to you. I was accused of being a racist, but I don’t care. I would have felt the same way if he had been white. You got shot — tough.”
Of 721 responses to that editorial, Lamb says, 719 were positive. Many were from law enforcement officers around the country.

When he arrived here in 2002, Lamb set up an editorial advisory board to help him come up with ideas. He’d done editorials at stations in Miami and Peoria, and knew the segments would not only help the station but help him learn the city.

The board meets quarterly, but often hears from Lamb via e-mail on specific topics. He lives for feedback. Pressed for an example, he said he was unsure about criticizing The Courier-Journal in 2004. He called the paper “slanted and biased.” His board, with just one exception, said he was on the money.
“But they’re not sticking their neck out like I am,” he says.

The board, with about 20 members, includes some of the most influential and powerful folks in the city, among them Junior Bridgeman, Ed Glasscock, Steve Sexton and Bill Samuels. Anne Northup at one time served on it.

“I ask them what’s coming up that I should know about, because they know everything that’s going on in the city,” Lamb says.

Earlier this year, Lamb blasted competitors in TV news for using the term “breaking news” for stuff that is neither breaking nor news. He says he got disgusted, as a viewer, when his own station started doing it.
“‘Breaking news’ is a marketing gimmick. The media has a credibility crisis. Television used to be the most believable media, but now all of us are suffering. I won’t be painted with the same brush,” he says.

Another reason Lamb stands out is his competition — or lack thereof. WHAS-TV and WLKY-TV don’t bother with editorials, despite devoting hours and hours of programming to news. At WAVE-TV, “Hot Button” editorials by general manager Steve Langford are less frequent and less edgy.

Don’t get me wrong — it’s gutsy and commendable for Langford and WAVE to do editorials, and I don’t know why other stations don’t. Lamb is reluctant to point fingers and says there are good reasons stations don’t do them, including the fear of getting sued or offending some segment of the audience or being wrong.
Like a politician who refuses to debate an opponent, maybe WHAS and WLKY don’t want to participate in a game they can’t win. At least, that’s my point of view.

Rick Redding’s blog, The ’Ville Voice (www.thevillevoice.wordpress.com) covers local media and politics, among other things. Contact him at [email protected]