More Messages: Challenge From a Schoolyard Bully

Categories: Media
In the August 3 edition of Westword, the lion's share of the letter below is slated to be published. Its author? Consumer advocate and self-proclaimed "troubleshooter" Tom Martino, whose local duties include hosting a weekday talk show on KHOW and reporting regularly for Channel 31, Denver's Fox-TV affiliate. The letter references a June 29 column noting the dissolution of Martino's weekday syndication deal with Westwood One, which had distributed his program to more than 200 stations across the country, and a July 19 blog item filled with observations about SaveWithTom.com, a new website in which Martino shills for a CD-ROM of car-buying tips available for $29.95, plus a $6.95 shipping-and-handling charge and a 2.9 percent tax for Colorado residents.

By the way, the italicized paragraphs won't be included in Westword's printed edition, because they refer to a piece that only appeared online.

Once again, Michael Roberts's pathetic obsession with me, my family and my businesses has resulted in a "negative" and "inaccurate" slant. In the June 29 Message, he reports that my national syndication is a "downturn" in my fortunes when, in fact, it will be financially more lucrative. He also fails to mention that my syndication will continue on weekends (my choice).

He reports that I started a website called "SaveWithTom" when in fact I have not. That website was developed and paid for by the group that produced: "Car Buying Secrets." He failed to report that the CD is filled with solid information for the car-buying public. He failed to report that I only make $2 for each CD sold -- and only after producers are paid back in full. He also did not report that all proceeds will go to my non-profit foundation -- where not one dime comes to me personally or to anyone else for administration.

The reason he did not report any of this is because he never bothered to ask. He simply made his recent attacks without bothering to contact me.

He also whines that I should not be involved in business because I am a journalist. And he continually chastises Fox-31 management for not reining me in.

Poor, pathetic Michael. He so desperately wants me to be a journalist so he can have me kicked out of the club. I never professed to be a journalist. I do not call myself a journalist. I am not a journalist. I gather information objectively and report both sides. But I definitely take a stand. I give advice and opinions on a daily basis on radio and TV. People never doubt where I stand. Does he realize that his obsession and disdain for me are clouding his judgment? His whining stories about me are not that interesting. People are beginning to notice that he is obsessed.

Give it a rest, Michael. I have been doing what I do for more than thirty years and better people than you have taken their best shots.

Tom Martino

Along with Martino's usual justifications for behavior in which no other local media personality engages, not to mention personal attacks of the most baseless sort, the letter contains a number of jarring contradictions. For instance, he says that his syndication deal will continue on weekends -- yet in an e-mailed quote published in the June 29 column, he stated, "I decided that I no longer want to do a syndicated show," because he wished to spend more time with his family. This claim was echoed by Westwood One spokesman Peter Sessa, who said in an e-mail that his company was "no longer distributing Tom Martino, effective immediately." So what happened? Did Martino change his mind? Or was the syndication deal's cessation never about the ol' spending-more-time-with-my-family rationale in the first place?

Also, who's distributing the weekend show? (It ain't Westwood One; via e-mail on August 1, Sessa wrote, "Martino is no longer with Westwood One in any capacity.") Is the weekender appearing on the same number of stations that used the weekday show? And even if it is, how could losing weekday syndication be more "lucrative" for Martino, as he insists? Is this an example of "new math"? Or are stations paying him extra not to be broadcast on their airwaves?

Martino also obscures numerous points about the SaveWithTom blog. Whether Martino owns the website or not, his name and image are plastered all over it, and he appears on a streaming commercial that runs on a continuous loop. Moreover, he's taking part in shaking down his listeners whether he's earning big profits from the project or not. As I wrote on July 19, "The CD-ROM represents a shift in direction for Martino. In the past, businesses had to pay to receive his de facto endorsement on his main website, Troubleshooter.com, but consumers could use the service for free. Now, however, Martino is charging the very people he's supposedly dedicated to helping before they can get his advice."

In the hope of getting Martino to respond to the enormous inconsistencies, I e-mailed him these questions and others along the same lines. And then I e-mailed him again. And again. And again. Finally, after four messages and a brief telephone conversation over a ten-day period, Martino sent the following missive on July 31, copying it to five members of his Troubleshooter staff, his wife, Holly, a representative of Fox, and Denver Post columnists Dick Kreck and Bill Husted. (Of course, he didn't check with me to make sure I had no problem with him sharing our exchanges so widely. After all, doing so would have been considerate.) The letter appears precisely as he wrote it:

Michael,

I took some time to review the questions. I would love to answer each and every question ... but here is how I want to do it.

I invite you to come on my show and ask me every question. I will answer these questions and more. Then I will ask you questions. It will be a give and take. Then listeners and readers can choose for themselves if your columns distort and spin things purposely to shed me in a negative light.

There will be no editing ... and no censoring (unless you violate FCC decency standards — which I doubt you will). You can ask ANYTHING.

I will then ask you questions about your background, motives, business dealings, life and obsession with me. I will also ask your opinion about what I do and how you feel about it.

I think it will be entertaining, don't you?

Thanks for considering m request.

And something you should know ... I do not dislike you or what you do. It has minimal impact — if any — on my life. However, it does disturb me that you try so hard to find negative things in every thing I do. You are a coward. You speculate without asking. You assume the negative stance. You try to drag me into your phony world so you can tell me I don't qualify to be there.

It is time you and your motives are exposed. Have the guts to confront me live on the air where I can answer you head on ... then when you make an innuendo I can address that.

If you do not take me up on this ... crawl into your hole and keep writing. Keep obsessing. Keep trying to bring meaning to your life.

Tom

I find the immaturity of this challenge to be positively astonishing; the letter makes Martino seem like a petulant ten year old compensating for perceived intellectual deficiencies. My coverage of him has never been personal (I'm interested in issues, and issues alone), yet he continues to act as if only a bare-knuckled brawl will settle things. By copying the letter to Kreck, Husted and his staff, he's essentially saying, "Meet me on my front yard. All of my buddies will be there. And if you don't show up, you're a chicken! And everyone will know it!"

Whether or not the results of such a get-together would be "entertaining" is unclear, but it's unlikely to be edifying. I was on a live radio show with Martino last year. Host Peter Boyles, whose show airs just before Martino's, invited me to appear, and brought the Troubleshooter on seconds after telling me he wouldn't do so. Martino immediately began ranting and spewing bile; I thought he might have an aneurysm. I was hardly able to get a word in edgewise. My one notable success was in getting him to confirm that he had begun to "investigate" Westword's advertisers in the wake of a column about him -- a failed attempt at intimidation straight out of the J. Edgar Hoover playbook.

Nevertheless, I would have no problem measuring my ethics against Martino's if the forum was fair, as all of my reporting about him has been. (I have always quoted Martino fully and accurately, and we've treated his letters to the editor likewise, even when they exceeded our paper's recommended word count.) That would mean someone else would have to run the operating board, to guarantee that he wouldn't switch off my microphone anytime he didn't like something I said. Boyles would be a good choice for this role, in my opinion. I think a more structured format would be a fine idea as well, with a time limit for replies included, so that Martino wouldn't filibuster like Daniel Webster on crank, thereby allowing me no opportunity to defend myself against what I suspect will be the sort of character assassination that would embarrass most folks, but likely wouldn't bother Martino one whit.

So, Tom, the ball's in your court. If you'd like to have a reasonable, even-handed discussion, rather than fixing the game in advance, I'll consider your invitation, as childish as it might be. The opportunity to get you to speak on the record about questions you've been dodging is worth becoming your latest victim of verbal assault. -- Michael Roberts

Update: Tom Martino doesn't wait around to let his feelings be known. Shortly after posting the blog above, I sent the text to him, and copied it to the same list of folks to whom he had directed his original challenge. I wrote:

Tom --

Below find my latest blog item. I look forward to hearing from you about it.

Michael Roberts
Westword
August 1, 2006

Martino's two-word response came back within minutes. He wrote:

Fuck you.

To that, I sent Martino a note reading:

Tom --

Thank you for your prompt, succinct and articulate response... I'll be adding it to my blog item shortly.

Michael Roberts
Westword
August 1, 2006

This time, Martino was a tad more verbose. He wrote:

FUCK YOU AGAIN. ADD ANYTHING YOU WANT TO YOUR BLOG. You have serious issues.

Seconds later came an even more bizarre entry:

Hey,

You may want to mention in your blog that I have been constipated lately but I found that Cod Liver Oil really helps.

Tom

If that's how Martino reacts to me accepting his invitation to appear on his show, albeit under fair conditions, I'd hate to imagine his response had I turned him down. -- MR

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