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Does Tree Poisoning Spell the End for Paul Finebaum?


Syndicated radio host Paul Finebaum has made a small fortune over the years inciting fans from both Auburn and Alabama. The talk show host has made an art out of drawing in callers from both sides of the rivalry that have no affiliation with either institution.

For years his radio program has been regarded by many on both sides of the aisle as an embarrassment to the state, bringing out fans from both schools who sit on the fringe of lunacy.

With his recent syndication deal with Sirius XM, the controversial host has now taken his show nationally. For a state that's working hard to change long held stereotypes about its people, this is a worst case scenario.

The question today is whether the actions of caller Harvey Updyke mark the beginning of the end of Finebaum's shtick.

While admitting the rhetoric on his program perhaps played a role in the actions of the accused tree killer, Finebaum remained defiant on his show Thursday afternoon.

Speaking to Bob Carlton of The Birmingham News, Finebaum said he had no plans to ask callers to tone down the volume.

"This is not a milquetoast, politically correct radio show," said Finebaum. "A lot of things are said, and a lot of things are said with a lot of anger. And I let it go.

"So if someone wants to blame me for what happened, they are welcome to do that," he added. "But I don't think just because people engage on a radio show equates to what this guy is accused of doing."

Clearly Finebaum has a point.

Even the angriest of Auburn fans would have a hard time laying complete blame on him for the actions of Updyke. He merely used the Finebaum Show as a vehicle to vent his anger and announce to the country his actions.

The Paul Finebaum Radio Show is where the rubber meets the road for crazed fans of both schools.

What started out as a local Birmingham call-in talk show has grown into a syndicated monster across the South. Suddenly these fringe characters, whose voices only a short while ago extended just beyond Birmingham, now spread their venom across the state and the region, inciting other less than stable fans from both Auburn and Alabama.

Will there be a backlash from the casual listener who decides once and for all to change the channel?

It's not a reach to say that over the last 24 hours, the University of Alabama has suffered its worst black-eye since George Wallace stood in the school house door. From CNN to ESPN to NBC News with Brian Williams, Alabama and its reputation has been carpet bombed from one end of the country to the other.

Will fans from both schools say enough is enough? Alabama doesn't deserve this any more than Auburn people deserve what happened at Toomer's Corner.

What Finebaum doesn't yet grasp is his influence and the role he plays in these types of nutty instances. Rather than vowing to work toward cleaning up the rhetoric, he's clearly chosen to maintain the status quo.

Unfortunately, Finebaum holds the most cards in toning down this rivalry gone bad. Like it or not, he wields that kind of power.

His words today seem to indicate he has no interest. After all, retaliation by some crazed Auburn fan on an Alabama landmark will mean even bigger ratings.

To add insult to injury, Finebaum made this bizarre statement on ESPN's Pardon the Interruption today.

"Most people seemed very celebratory after [Alabama won a BCS title in 2009]," he said. "It was really a special time to be in the state. This time it's different. Most Alabama fans are angry because they don't believe [Auburn's championship] is legitimate. They don't believe Cam Newton should have been eligible."

Really? Alabama fans are angry because of Cam Newton? I thought it had more to do with Auburn coming from 24 points down in the second half. Even after all that has transpired, Finebaum refuses to stop stirring the pot.

So how does the story end for Paul Finebaum?

The idea of listeners turning away in big numbers is nothing more than a pipe dream. While the more educated fans on both sides have probably already moved on; those who sit on the fringe will continue to get their daily dose.

Is intelligent conversation among fans too much to ask for?

Apparently so.