WISC Madison, Wis., tapped former state Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala, who was sentenced to nine months in jail in 2005 for misconduct in office, to host political talk segments on the station’s Channel3000.com site.
Co-hosting with former Wisconsin Republican Party executive director Brandon Scholz, Chvala (pronounced “Kwala”) made his debut on the Bottom Line Web program Wednesday, when two segments were posted.
Station manager Tom Bier said he had his concerns about hiring a felon, but he felt that Chvala, a Democrat, could offer a compelling insider’s look at the political landscape.
“I knew it would cause some problems for people, but he served his time,” Bier said. “He approached me in February and said, ‘I know how campaigns work, I know how politicians work. I know a lot and I think I have something unique to offer.’”
The goal of Bottom Line is to help viewers get past the spin to the heart of a political debate and to do it in a format that avoids the partisan shouting matches found on television and radio -- what Bier called the “dukes-up” approach to talk shows.
Bier said the station will run two or three segments per week through the presidential election, then assess whether the program is a success. He added that it’s possible that Chvala might at some point appear on-air.
Chvala pleaded guilty to two felony counts of misconduct in office and violating election laws. He did what’s known locally as Huber time -- a sentence in the state’s Huber facility, during which he was allowed to come and go for work. Besides working for WISC, Chvala is a consultant in the business community.
Others with serious criminal charges on their records have found success in broadcasting.
Earlier this summer, WRCB Chattanooga, Tenn., hired Neal Pascal as a meteorologist after Pascal pleaded guilty to federal mortgage-fraud charges.
Former Providence, R.I., Mayor Vincent “Buddy” Cianci was imprisoned for almost five years on conspiracy charges and currently has a successful radio program. He also was hired as a political analyst by WLNE Providence last fall.
Bier said reaction from the Madison community to his new hire has been mixed: Those who dabble in politics felt that Chvala was a good get for WISC, while a number of viewers offered a thumbs-down.
“A few were just flabbergasted, and I would’ve expected that,” he added. “I can be second-guessed.”
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