Friday, November 12, 2010

Pat Sajak: Major League Baseball is Lucky He Doesn’t Work There Anymore

By Evan Weiner

November 12, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) --It is probably a good thing that Pat Sajak no longer hosts a show on the Major League Baseball owned because someone in MLB's hierarchy probably would have called the long time emcee of television's Wheel of Fortune what exactly was he thinking when he penned a column for calling for voter suppression in some cases.

Sajak can express whatever opinion he wants and he did nothing wrong except perhaps in the court of public opinion. He basically told a lot of his elderly and working class public sector viewers that are unfit to vote on certain issues because they could benefit financially if an election result favors the candidate they supported.

Sajak might have missed that civics class at Columbia College Chicago when the democracy topic was discussed.

Sajak is on a roll. Less than a month after he suggested that someone, somewhere at least give thought to his voter suppression idea, he picked on sportscaster turned news pundit Keith Olbermann in his latest Ricochet ranting called "Mea Culpa, I Put Keith Olbermann on National TV". Olbermann did appear on Sajak's very short lived television show in 1989 but here is the credibility problem that Sajak has in his piece. Olbermann was working for CNN in New York as the network's lead sports reporter in the early and mid 1980s and Sajak should have known that before apologizing for his sin. Sajak liked Olbermann, the Los Angeles sportscaster and thought he would be a great guest on the show.

A note to Pat Sajak, Keith Olbermann will eat you alive in a competition between intellects. Keith is the smartest guy in the room although he tends to be his own worst enemy. Pat, with your voter suppression opus, you have shown you are not very bright as the people who you suggest should be denied the chance to vote, school teachers, union members, baseball fans who are asked to vote on referendums to raise taxes for baseball stadiums watch your show and some of them might decide to contact Sumner Redstone, whose CBS TV distributes Wheel or show owner Sony or some advertisers asking questions about the "likeable" host who thinks in certain cases, public employees should be disqualified from voting on certain issues.

They could lead to a backlash and a viewer boycott of Wheel of Fortune. No sane game show host would ever venture into those waters.

Sajak's two column voter suppression opinion came out on October 13 and while he acknowledges that his idea might not fly, his argument goes against the conventional wisdom of product selling. Don't infuriate your customers which Sajak manages to do. The Wheel of Fortune customers are older and some of them are on Medicare and social security and those people along with public sector workers according to Sajak could be disqualified for conflict of interest.

"None of my family and friends is allowed to appear on Wheel of Fortune," wrote Sajak "Same goes for my kids’ teachers or the guys who rotate my tires. If there’s not a real conflict of interest, there is, at least, the appearance of one. On another level, Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan has recused herself from nearly half the cases this session due to her time as solicitor general. In nearly all private and public endeavors, there are occasions in which it’s only fair and correct that a person or group be barred from participating because that party could directly and unevenly benefit from decisions made and policies adopted. So should state workers be able to vote in state elections on matters that would benefit them directly? The same question goes for federal workers in federal elections.
"I’m not suggesting that public employees should be denied the right to vote, but that there are certain cases in which their stake in the matter may be too great. Of course we all have a stake in one way or another in most elections, and many of us tend to vote in favor of our own interests. However, if, for example, a ballot initiative appears that might cap the benefits of a certain group of state workers, should those workers be able to vote on the matter? Plainly, their interests as direct recipients of the benefits are far greater than the interests of others whose taxes support such benefits. I realize this opens a Pandora’s box in terms of figuring out what constitutes a true conflict of interest, but, after all, isn’t opening those boxes Ricochet’s raison d’être?"
Sajak, a man who has made his living by being a modestly talented host of a TV game show, has basically told a lot of his audience that a game show has higher standards than the American democracy and some of you viewers should lose your right to vote.
Wheel of Fortune has been on television for four decades. It was an established franchise when Sajak became the host of the daytime version of the program in 1981. He got lucky. The show's creator Merv Griffin liked his style as a TV weatherman in Los Angeles and decided to hire him to replace Chuck Woolery who wanted more money to host the show. NBC said no to Sajak, Griffin stopped production until he got his man. NBC caved and Sajak was the host.
Sajak has probably been hosting a game show too long and has made too much money to understand the makeup of his audience. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig got lucky on this one. He doesn't need to worry about someone hosting a show on who clearly doesn't understand the makeup of the consumer base nor does Selig have to worry about a backlash.
Sajak though is now in a fight with someone whose intellectual prowess (Olbermann) is superior to him and someone who has a following (250,000 signatures on a petition telling msnbc to put him back on the cable channel after Olbermann was suspended for making campaign contributions) that can hurt Sajak's Wheel audience by simply not watching his show. The Wheel is an old brand name that could get scoffed up because the show's emcee is picking fights with the wrong people, voters and Olbermann followers.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at or amazonkindle. He can be reached at

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