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Broadcast Attorney Steven A. Lerman Reminisces About Radio’s Heyday in New Memoir

“When I wrote the book, I was very mindful of both defamation and, even more problematic, attorney-client privilege.”

Andy Bloom

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A phot of Steven A. Lerman
(Photo: Lerman Senter)

If the name Steven A. Lerman doesn’t immediately ring a bell, you are forgiven. Steve served as the de facto General Counsel for Infinity Broadcasting and then for CBS Radio, among many other credits. Those who attended any of the legendary Infinity Managers Meetings saw Steve’s presentations on FCC regulatory issues and compliance.

Lerman wrote a book called, The Enchanted Path: My Unexpected Journey from Loss to Leadership, which is out now. I highly recommend it to broadcasters, and anyone interested in broadcasting or curious about the path to the top of any competitive field.

I first met Lerman in 1986, less than a year after joining Infinity Broadcasting as program director of WYSP in Philadelphia. After years of poor ratings, our first attempt to set the station on the right and good path was to dismiss most of the veteran airstaff over Labor Day Weekend 1985, something Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Gail Shister referred to as “The Labor Day Massacre” for years afterward.

I had information that at least one person might not accept termination gracefully. Indeed, one air staff member screamed that I couldn’t fire them before storming out of my office. Several months later, the station received a lawsuit over that termination.

A few weeks later, Infinity’s general counsel, Steven A. Lerman, came to Philly to strategize how to deal with the lawsuit. I was scared. I’d been there less than a year and had little to show for my efforts, I didn’t know the company’s appetite for a lawsuit, but I also knew the truth was on my side.

In that era, we let people go by calling them into our office without the aid of an HR person or, for that matter, anybody else.

I told Lerman that the claims were fiction and that nothing remotely similar to the allegations happened. Further, I could prove it.

I had recorded the entire episode, starting before the person entered my office through their storming out and slamming the door. Lerman listened to the recording. Then, a wry smile appeared on his face. 

I vividly remember Lerman saying: “I have good and bad news. The bad news is that you broke the law by recording them surreptitiously. Don’t do that again. The good news is that the lawsuit is over and done.”

Lerman pocketed the tape, and the meeting ended in less than 15 minutes. I never heard another word about the lawsuit.

I dealt with Lerman regularly over the years. Especially when the FCC began targeting Howard Stern, and the definitions of indecency and obscenity became moving targets.

Lerman explained indecency by telling us to imagine him reading a transcript of Stern in front of the Supreme Court. It was an amusing thought. Lerman’s delivery is dry and monotone. Think Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

The Enchanted Path: My Unexpected Journey from Loss to Leadership details the Stern FCC battles, including Lerman’s meetings with two FCC Chairmen (one which is particularly humorous) and when Stern signed with Sirius Satellite Radio, and the relationship became adversarial.

He writes short, crisp chapters that give readers a taste of his dealings with Stern, as well as Don Imus, O.J. Simpson, Oliver North (another project Lerman and I worked together on), Bob Kraft, G. Gordon Liddy, Donald Trump, Mel Karmazin, and the many important people in his life.

I asked Lerman if he considered sharing more stories and details about the many celebrities he encountered and the legal issues. He told me, “As a media/constitutional lawyer when I wrote the book, I was very mindful of both defamation and, even more problematic, attorney-client privilege, which limited what I could say and how I could say it.”

Several times in the book, he states that confidentiality clauses prevent him from sharing details of the outcome. Yet Steven A. Lerman provides enough insight into the legal situations, specifically who had leverage, that the reader gets a good idea of who walked away the winner in each case.

The greatest details and biggest surprises are about Lerman’s personal life, starting with the death of his father when he was 12 years old. His mother remarried twice, and both men died young. That is the “loss” referred to in the title.

There is a chapter devoted to his mother, each of the two men she remarried, his grandmothers, and many other people (as well as one dog) who were vital in forming who he is today.

He reveals a lot about himself, including an incident with an elementary school teacher, brushes with the law, drugs, his health issues, the end of his first marriage, the sad death of an associate, how he got into Penn, his first job out of law school, his love for Boston sports teams – especially the Red Sox, and much more. Although Lerman presents the topics with good humor, they are not all flattering, although he does make a good case for his golf game.

If Lerman’s primary goal were to sell the maximum number of books, he would have filled the pages with more colorful celebrity stories. But that wasn’t what he set out to do. “I wrote the book to explain the arc of my life; it’s more about how I turned a challenging start into a philanthropic, impactful, worthwhile finish,” Lerman told me. On that level, he succeeded spectacularly.

The book also explains how Steve Lerman became who he is – which is a genuinely decent, kind, intelligent, and giving person. In the book, somebody refers to him as a mensch. Steve Lerman is a mensch, and the book is a blueprint for becoming one.

I highly recommend The Enchanted Path: My Unexpected Journey from Loss to Leadership by Steven A. Lerman, which is available on Amazon now.

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BNM Writers

What to Do When Your Fear Your Media Career is Headed to the Graveyard

If you think about career death so much that it detracts from being in the moment, maybe it really is time to move on.

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A photo of a graveyard

“Do you guys ever think about dying?”

If you saw the Barbie movie, you know the line. Barbie is living the perfect and perfectly plastic life, perfectly choreographed and full of perfect smiles.

But the movie turns on that one line, basically shattering Barbie’s world with a concept no one there would ever have considered.

Death.

Why would you consider it when everything seemed in perfect order?

Well, when it comes to broadcasting and media, a lot of you think about dying … a lot. I do, too.

Of course, it’s not the stop breathing and get buried type of death but rather, the death of a career in media.

The truth is, when it comes to our business, very few people get to choose when it ends. Take a minute and consider a major media personality who truly “retired” after a multi-decade career.

It happens, but percentage-wise, it’s rare.

Take a minute and think. Name some. Name one. It’s not easy.

More often than not, you will get laid off or fired before you want to leave, and after a certain age, getting that next opportunity may be a bridge too far.

Then, you are done done.

That’s as much a music stopper as Barbie admitting she has considered her own mortality in the middle of the dance floor. Here on planet Earth, at least from the people in my orbit, the death of a media career often leads to even better professional options and more balanced lifestyle choices.

I have friends doing a million different things: Public relations, crisis management, content creation for large companies, political communications, fundraising, and teaching. Almost all of them tell me that it was such a stress relief to have a “normal” life, to not be worried about every pending contract or new boss.

Their work is appreciated. Their job is stable. And their schedule? Normal. Never has “normal” sounded so lovely than when they talk about watching shows with spouses, going out for a drink on a Tuesday, or having a regular pickleball game (or insert any middle-aged recreational sport).

I believe them.

Sort of.

The “sort of” comes from me not being able to actually envision that for myself. As enticing as it would be to see people on a more accessible schedule or play a weekly game with buddies, nothing beats talking and writing for a living. Nothing. And I am going to hang on until the lights are out, and we can’t pay to get them turned back on.

For me, I’m in too deep. I’m an indoor cat, incapable of survival outside.

Meetings. Deadlines. Reliant on other people. Meetings.

I’d be dead in a week. It’s beyond no, thank you. It’s, “I can’t”.

Sure, I have three teenagers and three college tuitions to pay. And two dogs. Two cars. And a mortgage.

Here’s where I am supposed to tell you that you should not only have thoughts about (career) death but also have a survival plan – a professional media-career living will if you would.

I should tell you that because you should.

But I don’t have one. And I don’t want one.

Why?

Because I don’t want to think about death anymore. I mean, I’ve already died twice. It wasn’t fun, and the third time most likely would be the charm in terms of getting me out of the business for good.

Why so stubborn? I don’t know.

Several times, I’ve said to myself, I need to make sure I have a backup plan … just in case. Each time, I find a reason not to get one.

Ultimately, what’s my point? Get a backup plan. Think about death. But it can’t take away from the essential joy of having the privilege of talking for a living. In that vein, don’t take it for granted. Ever. Even if the pay stinks and the schedule stinks. If you think about career death so much that it detracts from being in the moment, maybe it really is time to move on.

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BNM Writers

Is the Fairness Doctrine Even Possible in Today’s Media Landscape?

Is it right for media consumers to judge what is “fair” and what is “unfair” news?

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A photo of an equal scale

As many media outlets shutter their doors, some have clamored for the return of the Fairness Doctrine. Newsweek released the results of their new way to connect with readers, by asking if its reporting is “fair.” Since September 2023, readers were asked to judge stories on the site, 78% said the outlet is “fair.” Another 22% found at least one story they read to be “unfair.”

AllSides Media has judged Newsweek to be center. However, let’s not forget they are the same outlet that wrongly claimed President Donald Trump was golfing on Thanksgiving in 2019. As Sheryl Attkisson noted on Full Measure this week, on Thanksgiving in 2019 President Trump was visiting troops in Iraq and the Newsweek story was fabricated.

While the reader assessment of Newsweek’s content is on par with AllSides Media, is it right for readers to judge what is “fair” and what is “unfair” news? If outlets like The Daily Caller (Right) or Vox (Left) would ask the same of their readers, would their echo chamber subscribers find them “fair?” While historically print (and later digital) outlets could (and still can) embrace the political leanings of their owner(s), from 1949 till 1987 TV news had guidelines they must adhere to: The Fairness Doctrine.

Long before Americans argued about bias in news, every TV outlet (there were only three major ones at the time) would follow “The Fairness Doctrine.” The Reagan Library notes the doctrine was “enforced by the Federal Communications Council, [and] was rooted in the media world of 1949. Lawmakers became concerned that the monopoly audience control of the three main networks, NBC, ABC, and CBS, could misuse their broadcast licenses to set a biased public agenda.”

To put it simply, the Fairness Doctrine made it so all sides of any story were presented. In 1985, under the Reagan Administration, the FCC found “the doctrine hurt the public interest and violated free speech rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.” Two years later, a panel under FCC Chairman Dennis Patrick repealed the Fairness Doctrine unanimously.

Keep in mind, at this point in time, CNN was the first and only 24-hour news network in the United States (it launched on June 1, 1980). Fox News wouldn’t be launched until almost 10 years after the Fairness Doctrine was repealed, on October 7, 1996.

Also happening at this time, large corporations (with lobbying power) were buying media outlets. General Electric purchased NBC in 1986. Westinghouse acquired CBS in 1995. One year later, ABC was bought by Disney. These purchases did not go unnoticed. Saturday Night Live even mocked the acquisitions in a now-banned short called “Conspiracy Theory Rock!: Media-opoly.”

The unwillingness of news organizations to cover both sides of a story has led to the creation of biased outlets including: CNN, Fox News, MSNBC, OAN, Newsmax, and others. None of these would be able to exist in their current form if the Fairness Doctrine wasn’t repealed.

News outlets that aren’t overtly biased use another trick to manipulate their viewers/readers, using emotionally charged verbiage. AllSides Media defines sensationalist words as presenting information in a way that gives a shock or makes a deep impression. This includes words like “shocking”, “heart-breaking”, “explosive”, “scathing”, “chaotic”, “desperate”, and “remarkable”… this list goes on but you’ve seen and heard these words from the news outlets daily. This is the media telling you how to react to a story instead of letting you determine how you actually feel after they present the facts of the story.

Today, what’s most concerning are outlets saying ‘fair and balanced’ news is a disservice to the public. An August 2023 NPR article explored just this, saying “Objectivity actually comes from an accurate examination of facts (actions, documentation, and even educated opinions) presented in transparent reports. Often, that coverage should also encourage audiences to examine supporting evidence for themselves.”

The problem with this is three-fold:

  • Selective fact presentation develops a one-sided narrative
  • An “educated opinion” is not a fact. It’s an opinion that is neither right nor wrong.
  • It is impossible for human beings to be completely unbiased (see January 31st column)

While it’s great Newsweek is asking readers if their reporting is ‘fair’ is the reader’s judgment neutral, or just as biased as the outlet they prefer to read? Sometimes when we are clicking to satisfy our own confirmation bias it’s hard to tell.

What the media and all Americans need to start recognizing is their own echo chamber. Knowing we all have some sort of bias is not a flaw but what makes us human. Our flaw is the inability to recognize our bias yet call out others for being biased just because they are on the other side of an issue.

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CNN Sees Biggest Viewership Jump During Super Bowl Parade Shooting Coverage

All news outlets spiked upon live breaking news coverage with Fox News — already the weekday afternoon leader in cable news — leading in total viewers.

Doug Pucci

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A photo of the CNN logo
(Photo: Getty Images)

The cable news outlets got increased viewership from two different news events during the week of Feb. 12, namely the shooting at the Super Bowl parade in Kansas City.

On Wednesday, Feb. 14, of the mass shooting at the Super Bowl celebration parade in Kansas City for the Chiefs football team. One person died and roughly two dozen others were injured.

All news outlets spiked upon live breaking news coverage with Fox News — already the weekday afternoon leader in cable news — leading in total viewers.

The following are what each network drew as the story unfolded on that Feb. 14 afternoon from Kansas City and how it grew from the same Wednesday time slots from Jan. 3 thru Feb. 7:

Fox News Channel

  • 3-4 p.m.: 1.656 million viewers (+18 percent)
  • 4-5 p.m.: 1.873 million viewers (+34 percent)
  • 5-6 p.m.: 3.175 million viewers (+7 percent)
  • 6-7 p.m.: 2.441 million viewers (+12 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 2.250 million viewers (+4 percent)

MSNBC

  • 3-4 p.m.: 1.008 million viewers (+10 percent)
  • 4-6 p.m.: 1.504 million viewers (+7 percent)
  • 6-7 p.m.: 1.763 million viewers (+17 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 1.474 million viewers (+13 percent)

CNN

  • 3-4 p.m.: 0.762 million viewers (+27 percent)
  • 4-5 p.m.: 0.913 million viewers (+35 percent)
  • 5-6 p.m.: 1.007 million viewers (+28 percent)
  • 6-7 p.m.: 0.985 million viewers (+43 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 0.960 million viewers (+29 percent)

Newsmax

  • 4-5 p.m.: 0.343 million viewers (+23 percent)
  • 5-6 p.m.: 0.354 million viewers (+16 percent)
  • 7-8 p.m.: 0.547 million viewers (+13 percent)

Earlier in the week, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, the results were announced for the special election race for New York’s third congressional district between its former representative Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican challenger Mazi Pilip. Suozzi left office in 2022 to run in the New York gubernatorial election but lost out to incumbent Kathy Hochul. Suozzi’s successor in Congress was the infamous George Santos who was officially expelled from office on Dec. 1, 2023 over charges of federal criminal laws including campaign finance fraud.

MSNBC and CNN were the only major national news outlets that provided live coverage of the special election results, stressing the significance of Suozzi’s eight-point win over Pilip as it reduced the GOP’s advantage in the House of Representatives by one.

From when the voting polls closed in New York at 9 p.m. ET, MSNBC easily topped CNN in total viewers at 9 p.m. (1.616 million viewers vs. CNN’s 0.847 million), 10 p.m. (1.903 million vs. CNN’s 0.879 million), 11 p.m. (1.112 million vs. CNN’s 0.541 million), and at midnight (774,000 viewers vs. CNN’s 299,000).

From 9-11 p.m. ET, though, both MSNBC and CNN scored the same performance among the key 25-54 demographic: a 0.15 rating at 9 p.m. and a 0.18 rating at 10 p.m. (Note: a 1.0 rating in 25-54 equates to 1.21 million viewers within the aforementioned age range.) 

For the 10-11 p.m. hour, when the New York candidate speeches had aired, CNN grew by 68 percent (in viewers) and by 80 percent (in 25-54) from its Tuesday 10-11 p.m. hour output from Jan. 2 thru Feb. 6 — a time period that included a Ron DeSantis town hall and New Hampshire primary results.

MSNBC was up as well at 10 p.m. hour — +16 percent in viewers, +33 percent in the 25-54 demo — using the same reference parameters.

Even though Fox News did not offer live coverage of New York’s special election results, Hannity at 9 p.m. (2.528 million viewers; 0.21 A25-54 demo rating) and Gutfeld! at 10 p. m. (2.357 million viewers; 0.31 A25-54 demo rating) still held the top spots in their respective hours on all of cable news.

Source: Nielsen Media Research

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