Tom Martino's arrogance helps him win court case

Last week, self-proclaimed "Troubleshooter" Tom Martino, a KHOW personality who's also part of Channel 31's staff, came out on top of a ruling by a San Francisco-based federal appeals court. In the decision, a three-judge panel declined to overrule a lower court's dismissal of a lawsuit filed by an Oregon couple, who claimed that they lost $600,000 worth of business after Martino labeled them liars on his program, which was nationally syndicated at the time. Gordon Hinkle, Martino's attorney, speaking to the San Francisco Chronicle, called the ruling "a strong vindication of free-speech principles on talk radio." But as the folks at pointed out in a thread on the topic, the judges tossed out the case in large part because they had a hard time seeing Martino as a credible source about much of anything.

A key part of the judgment states that Martino's program "contains many of the elements that would reduce the audience's expectation of learning an objective fact: drama, hyperbolic language, an opinionated and arrogant host, and heated controversy." In other words, his style and approach are so intertwined with entertainment value and self-promotion that anyone who actually believes what he's saying gets what he or she deserves.

That's not a message likely to thrill Martino, who continues to charge individuals and businesses for his de facto endorsement on the website even as his own investments make unflattering headlines. For evidence of the latter, check out "Welcome to Hotel Martino: The Homeless Love It, the Neighbors Hate It," an October 2008 Jared Jacang Maher feature article about a property co-owned by Martino that's drawn numerous complaints from the city in regard to alleged health and safety violations. (This slideshow offers numerous images of the property.)

Martino passionately and vociferously disagrees that his practices are ethically dubious, as he emphasizes in Message columns such as March 2005's "Target: Tom" and "Tom Redux," a followup published two months later. But he's got little incentive to go after the appeals court, even though the panel sees him and others in his profession as mere blowhards. The headline on the aforementioned Chronicle speaks volumes: It begins, "What Do You Expect? It's Talk Radio..."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts

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