NECN pulls DiMasi's wife's show off the air

Station wants to avoid a seeming conflict of interest

By Andrea Estes
Globe Staff / June 6, 2009
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New England Cable News is pulling the plug on "The Open Book Club," saying that airing the program cohosted by Deborah DiMasi could create an appearance of a conflict of interest as the station covers the federal corruption case against her husband, former House speaker Salvatore F. DiMasi.

The monthly show featured Deborah DiMasi and Christy Cashman, the wife of wealthy contractor Jay Cashman, chatting with authors in Cashman's wood-paneled home library. The former speaker appeared on the show to discuss "Bridge of Sighs" with the author, Richard Russo.

"NECN is aggressively covering the government's case," Charlie Kravetz, NECN president and general manager, said in an e-mailed statement.

"In order to avoid any perception of a conflict of interest, NECN has decided to suspend indefinitely the airing of 'The Open Book Club' through which it has a business relationship with Christy Cashman and Deborah DiMasi," he said.

Salvatore DiMasi resigned in January and was indicted on multiple corruption counts last week. The station did not see a conflict of interest previously in its financial relationship with the show, even though its cohost was the spouse of a powerful state figure, a NECN spokeswoman said last night.

"We did not feel that having her talk to authors about books had anything to do with how hard we would cover the speaker," said NECN spokeswoman Doreen Vigue. "But once there was a legal issue, we felt it was time not to do business with anyone related to Sal DiMasi."

The cable television show, produced by a company owned by Jay Cashman, was the subject of ethics questions last year. The Globe reported that Salvatore DiMasi took legislative actions that benefited Cashman's businesses, even while Cashman was paying Deborah DiMasi for participating in the program.

The DiMasis and the Cashmans have refused to say how much Deborah DiMasi received. The speaker is not required to disclose his wife's income on state financial disclosure forms.

Cashman paid NECN for the airtime. Station officials also would not say how much NECN charges Cashman for the "paid program."

Neither woman has been willing to discuss the specifics of the relationship, but have said they simply wanted to promote their passion for reading through the program, the only one of its kind in New England.

"We both love to read; we both enjoy doing this together," Deborah DiMasi told the Globe in an interview last year.

Yesterday, Cashman spokesman George Regan said: "We have great respect for New England Cable News, and that's obviously their decision. While we understand where they're coming from, we think the decision is unfair. When Sal was the speaker, they covered him and it wasn't an issue.

"I don't think anyone's going to be starving because this is taken off the air," he added.

Salvatore DiMasi pressed legislation in 2007 that would loosen rules and make it easier for Cashman to build a wind farm. The former speaker denied discussing the legislation with Cashman until confronted with statements to the contrary from others at the meeting. In addition, in 2006 Salvatore DiMasi kept alive a proposed liquefied natural gas facility in Fall River. Cashman later sold the land for the facility and reaped a $14.2 million profit.

Salvatore DiMasi has said that he never did anything to help Cashman financially.He said the two men were just friends and political allies.

Salvatore DiMasi was indicted along with three close associates. He is accused of using his post to ensure that legislation benefiting his friends passed the House. The 33-page indictment alleged that he and his friends orchestrated a scheme that allowed DiMasi to pocket $57,000 from a Burlington software firm while using his office to help the company win state contracts.

The Open Book Club began in April 2008 and has reviewed books such as "The Given Day," by Dennis Lehane, "Power Play" by Joseph Finder, and "The Good Thief," by Hannah Tinti. One episode was produced each month.