Tuesday, 06 September 2011 19:44

WWL Radio, Garland Robinette Become Story Instead Of Trusted Newscaster

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robinetteDave Cohen, the news director for WWL radio is in an unenviable spot.

Today, he wrote a news article involving that same station under which he is employed, the person who supervises him--Garland Robinette and about a matter that has become public debate in the New Orleans area.

 According to the Times Picayune, “From 2006 until at least May 2007, Robinette frequently raised environmental concerns on his show about disposing of hurricane debris at Old Gentilly, a former city dump in eastern New Orleans that reopened two months after Katrina". 

In the article, the TP raised questions about $250,000 Robinette got from businessman Fred Heebe owner of River Birch.

Old Gentilly was a competitor of River Birch. Robinette is a good friend of Heebe’s.

River Birch has had various records seized by the federal government and has been in the center of a legal controversy which appears to involve public bribery.   

Robinnete never disclosed any information regarding the loan over the past four years.

According to Cohen’s article today: (excerpts)

WWL radio Talk Show Host Garland Robinette today told his audience, "I have done absolutely nothing wrong."

Robinette delivered a statement on the issue to open his program.

"I am not the target of any investigation," he said.  "I can look my wife and my daughter in the eye and tell you the public that I have done absolutely nothing wrong."

In his statement Robinette explained, "Believe me, I would like nothing more than to respond to each and every allegation, because I have answers for each and every allegation, But I've been asked to refrain from discussing these matters."

He did not say exactly who has asked him to refrain from discussing it.  His lawyer indicated that the feds asked Robinette not to speak publicly about the matter.  

A statement from the owner of WWL Radio, Entercom Communications, said that the money Robinette and his wife received from Hebee was "a loan."

The statement said, "In December 2010, Garland Robinette informed WWL about a loan he and his wife Nancy received in 2007 relating to a piece of property they owned, which Garland confirms is due and will be satisfied in October of this year." 

The company indicated that Robinette's employment would not be impacted by the questions raised in the Times Picayune. 

Cohen also reported:  "We do not intend to comment on it publicly any further and do not expect this matter to affect Garland's status with WWL," the Entercom statement said.  "We expect him to continue his unique and vital role addressing on WWL the important issues facing New Orleans and the Gulf South."  The company added that Robinette informed WWL about the loan in December of 2010.

The article in the Times Picayune pointed out that Heebe owns River Birch Landfill, and that Robinette was "repeatedly criticizing the reopening of the rival Old Gentilly landfill to dispose of Hurricane Katrina debris."   The paper also said that Heebe "is under federal investigation for allegedly bribing a former state official to lobby for closure of Old Gentilly." 

"From 2006 until at least May 2007, Robinette frequently raised environmental concerns on his show about disposing of hurricane debris at Old Gentilly, a former city dump in eastern New Orleans that reopened two months after Katrina," the Times Picayune said.

Ciolino added that federal authorities told Robinette that he is not a target of the investigation.  He acknowledged that Robinette was questioned several times by investigators late last year. 

Ciolino also said that the $250,000 interest-free loan from Heebe is linked to a vacant lot Robinette's wife, Nancy Rhett, owns in St. Tammany Parish.

He said terms of the loan said it was to be repaid within four years.  The deadline for repayment is next month.  Ciolino said the loan from Heebe would be paid back once the property was sold.

In his statement, Robinette said, "The loan is due and will be satisfied in October of this year."   

However, many callers on radio talk shows and bloggers on internet sites have taken a totally different position on the controversy.  Many seem to believe that the transaction was a payoff or payola.

On Jeff Crouere’s radio show this morning, when questioned about this controversy, I said that we should wait until we know more about the facts before we judge this matter and that Robinette would be talking about it during his morning show.

I also said we need to know more details about the transaction such as if there is a paper trail.  We also must know the time relationship between the comments and actions taken by Robinette against Gentilly and the communications regarding the loan and the consummation of the loan itself.

Numerous callers on the WGSO radio show criticized me and opined that Robinette had engaged in payola or some sort of payback.  That appears to be the overwhelming comments after the NOLA article.

Other Crouere’s radio callers said whether it was unlawful or unethical or not, it was very suspicious that Robinette would obtain that type of loan from the very person who had a direct interest in Robinette’s crusade of denouncing River Birch’s competitor.

Based upon Cohen’s article, attorney Ciolino said there was a six month time difference. 

Robinette also said “I've been asked to refrain from discussing these matters."

Other than the statement in the beginning of the show, he said nothing else about the issue up to the noon hour. One of the callers who tried to bring up the controversy was immediately cut off by the station.

It is hard to tell if the apparent anger towards Robinette or WWL will be tempered any time soon.  It is also difficult to predict how long Robinette can “man the 50,000 watt mike” with callers wanting to question him as Robinette has questioned so many about so many scandals for so long.

Still, when Dave Cohen signed off of his article, he noted this disclaimer: “NOTE:  Dave Cohen is the News Director at WWL and employed by Entercom Communication, as is Garland Robinette.  Robinette, his supervisor nor any other employees at WWL (aside from Cohen himself) had any input into the writing of this article.”

To that extent, it will be interesting to see how Cohen handles this sticky story  in the future  as his supervisor and his employer is now the subject of a growing “angry” news story rather than simply being the "trusted" newscasters and media messengers.  

(Photo above by Blake Nelson Boyd) 

stephen sabludowskyby Stephen Sabludowsky, Publisher of Bayoubuzz.com


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