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Wednesday, September 17, 2003

THIN HAIR

Is Princell Hair up to the job at CNN?

Genial and collaborative, his journalistic imprint nonetheless remains indistinct.

An article in the Chicago Tribune dryly notes that the 36-year-old Hair has held nine jobs.

Hair was news director for WMAQ-5 in Chicago when the NBC station signed on raunchy talk show host Jerry Springer as a political commentator for its newscasts. Two respected anchors resigned and the shows' ratings dropped. Springer was quickly dumped by the station. Hair somehow escaped the controversy.

Hair is a protégé of former CBS executive Joel Cheatwood, who had repeatedly hired him at local stations and more recently at the network itself. 

Cheatwood is often characterized within the business for his devotion to sensationalism and ratings stunts - anything to attract viewers. He also was the one who picked Hair, then in Baltimore, to become corporate news director to mold the news offerings of CBS parent Viacom's local stations. 

He served briefly as news director in CBS' ratings-challenged Los Angeles station, but rejoined the corporate ranks after it was combined with another Viacom station.

When Cheatwood was cast aside for a new executive vice president, Hair was given a promotion to vice president. But his new boss publicly embraced a hands-off approach that effectively allowed news decisions to be made in local newsrooms.

The kind of corporate hand-holding that had defined Hair's job was no longer needed, and so he left CBS.

At a relatively young age, Hair has attained heights few reach in the profession.

Now, he has to deliver.

David Folkenflik reviews Hair's years in Baltimore....

SHAM MARTYRS

Steve Wilson, investigative reporter for Detroit's WXYZ-7-ABC, has filled our e-mail box with allegations that an article in Friday's Creative Loafing newspaper by Senior Editor John Sugg was "false and motivated by a personal vendetta."

Wilson demanded that NewsBlues grant him "unedited access" to our readers, claiming we had "printed, nearly verbatim, Sugg's baseless charges about me and (wife) Jane (Akre) without EVER bothering to verify them or seek another point of view."

In the article, Sugg suggested that Wilson and Akre may have misappropriated money from a legal defense fund and used some of the proceeds to purchase a $1.4 million home in Ponte Vedra Beach. 

The Wilsons, you will recall, sued Fox and Tampa's WTVT nearly five years ago and have been soliciting and collecting "donations" on their website ever since. 

We contacted Sugg, who denied any sort of "personal vendetta" against the Wilsons.

"I'm amused when he (Wilson) claims I have a grudge against him," laughed Sugg from Atlanta. "Wilson is master of personal attacks. I took a look at the case -- really took a look -- and concluded that Wilson and Akre were sham martyrs. Most of my writing is media criticism and this was just a good media story."

"We (Creative Loafing) didn't make accusations and gave him numerous chances to respond. We encouraged him to respond -- but I asked him to do so with specifics. E.g., he said there were mistakes in the public records and threatened litigation if we printed the mistakes (I'd think an investigative reporter would know of the legal protections granted in quoting from public records). We just asked him to specify the mistakes. He wouldn't do so."

Wilson's dodging and sidestepping continued when NewsBlues asked him to explain how he was able to afford a $1.1 million down payment on a luxury beach townhouse.

"Since I make somewhat above the minimum wage (at WXYZ)," said Wilson, "have other business interests and investments, and lived in a luxury waterfront home (today valued at $1 million) when I went to work and was fired by Fox, the fact that my name is on a piece of similarly-valued real estate shouldn't be a total shock to anyone who knows anything about me and my 32-year career in journalism. And it certainly doesn't begin to prove Sugg's allegations."

Interestingly enough, the Florida Department of Agriculture Division of Consumer Services is the state agency that registers and monitors public solicitations.

When we called Tallahassee on Tuesday, we were not at all surprised to learn that Wilson and Akre had never bothered to register or report their collections.

State officials now say the two must produce audited records of their fundraising or face a $10,000 fine and possible criminal charges.

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HOT POTATO

The Republican-controlled Senate dealt a blow to the Bush Administration Tuesday, voting to rescind new Federal Communications Commission rules that would allow large media companies to get even bigger.

By a vote of 55 to 40, the Senate approved a resolution that would roll back the F.C.C. regulations allowing television networks to own more local stations and that would have permitted conglomerates to own newspaper, television and radio stations in a single metropolitan market.

The resolution faces a tougher battle in the House and a possible veto by President Bush.

Details in the New York Times....

Writes New York Times political columnist William Safire....

F.C.C. chairman Michael Powell, sensing that not even his friendship with Senator John McCain nor his backing by Big Media is stopping the popular groundswell, has resorted to a fear appeal: that stopping more gobbling up of local stations by the broadcast networks will be the ruination of "free TV."

That's the ludicrous party line being peddled by G.E., which owns NBC.

But four-fifths of broadcast network TV is now delivered to homes by cable or satellite — not free — and NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox are making money hand over fist.

"Powell's Last Stand" on this false argument has become an embarrassment to the Bush White House, which has been foolishly threatening to veto any disapproval of the F.C.C.'s abdication of the public interest.

Don't miss Safire's brutal commentary in today's Times.....

 

Got News? Alert the surly, mordacious editor at editor@newsblues.com

Monday, September 15, 2003

BREAKING NEWS
TEYA RYAN RESIGNS

Teya Ryan has "resigned" as executive vice president and general manager of CNN/U.S.  The announcement was made shortly after noon on Monday by CNN President Jim Walton, who indicated that Ryan would remain through the transition as a "consultant."

She will be replaced by Princell Hair, current vice president of news for the Viacom Stations Group, where he has ridden herd on a portfolio of 39 TV stations.

Hair's television career has been marked by a meteoric rise. He served briefly as news director of El Lay's KCBS-2.  Before that, he was ND of Baltimore's WBAL-11-NBC and NBC's Chicago O&O WMAQ-5.  He has also worked in Miami (WPLG & WSVN), Detroit (WDIV) and Orlando (WKMG).

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MINNEAPOLIS ND

Jeff Kiernan, current news director at Milwaukee's WTMJ-4-NBC (where he's been for 15 years), has been named the new ND at Minneapolis's CBS O&O WCCO-4, replacing Maria Reitan, who "resigned" last month.

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REPORTERS LIVING LARGE

Steve Wilson, the "chief investigative reporter for WXYZ-TV, the Scripps-Howard flagship ABC affiliate in Detroit," who was accused Friday by Atlanta's Creative Loafing newspaper of misappropriating money from a legal defense fund and using it to purchase a $1.4 million home in Ponte Vedra Beach, has refused to talk to NewsBlues unless we give him the "same kind of unedited 'news release' access to your readers that you allowed (Creative Loafing Sr Editor John) Sugg." 

We declined.

"I see your policy is to simply print whatever release anyone sends you," harumphed Wilson.

NewsBlues asked him to respond to two simple questions...

"How can two TV reporters afford such a house?

"Were the funds collected from your website used in the purchase of this home?"

According to county records, Wilson and partner Jane Akre purchased a 5,000-square-foot, $1.4 million luxury townhouse near Jacksonville, Fla. with a $1.1 million down payment.

The Creative Loafing article suggests that the money may have come from "uninformed do-gooders" who contributed to Wilson and Akre's "legal defense fund."

The two sued Fox Television five years ago, claiming they "pressured (them) to deliberately distort a news story-and then fired (them) after (they) resisted." Fox denied the claim and fought back.

A Tampa jury initially awarded Akre $425,000 for wrongful termination, but the award was later overturned on appeal.

"Every penny contributed to this fund goes to pay for legal expenses remaining from the trial as well as continuing expenses related to the appeal process—paralegals, transcripts of testimony, etc—only the direct expenses of this lawsuit," says their website. "Jane & Steve receive none of these funds for their personal use."

Where, then, did the money come from?

"It's not at all that simple," explains Wilson.

Color your surly editor skeptical.

 

 

Thursday, September 18, 2003

 

SHAM MARTYRS

Steve Wilson and wife Jane Akre, the two former Tampa reporters who sued Fox and Tampa's WTVT five years ago....lost in court....and have since been collecting donations on their website to help defray legal expenses, now say they will comply with Florida state regulations, designed to oversee fundraising activities.

According to Wilson, now an investigative reporter for Detroit's WXYZ-7-ABC, the couple did not register with the Florida Department of Agriculture's Division of Consumer Services because they believed they qualified for an exemption. Public solicitations for money are allowed for "individuals who invite donations for a particular family in need."

The Division of Consumer Services, however, took note of the fact that Wilson and Akre have been raking in cash under the banner "Citizens Fund For The Right To Know."

Wilson now says he will comply with state regulations, but he will not produce audited records...nor will he explain how he is able to afford a $1.4 million beach townhouse in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida.

"We have nothing to hide and never intended to violate even the spirit of state oversight," he told NewsBlues. "In fact, we welcome the opportunity to block further wild speculation by immediately complying with the obligations outlined to us today by the state official in charge of administering the state’s Solicitation of Contributions Act.">>

 

Friday, September 12, 2003

 

 CREATIVE LOAFING

You may remember Steve Wilson and Jane Akre, the husband-and-wife "reporting" team that produced a hysterical, poorly written investigation of Monsanto's cattle-fed growth hormone five years ago then screamed bloody murder when their bosses at Tampa's WTVT-13 asked them to make some copy changes.

Wilson and Akre were fired by the station for repeated acts of insubordination.

They then sued WTVT under a Florida whistleblower law and immediately began a vigorous campaign of fundraising and self-promotion

They implied impoverishment on their website, telling uninformed do-gooders that "we have decided to put our pride aside and ask all of you who will benefit from our struggle to help shoulder the burden of legal expenses."

Their web still contains a "Click Here to Help Jane and Steve" link.

To turbo charge their fundraising following defeat of their lawsuit, they claim they'll have to pay Fox's legal costs, as much as $3 million. That's a gross exaggeration. Fox won fees only for the relatively minor portion spent during the appeal of a jury decision.

Now Atlanta's Creative Loafing reports that Wilson and Akre have purchased a 5,000-square-foot, $1.4 million luxury townhouse near Jacksonville, Fla.

According to county records, the townhouse purchase on Ponte Vedra Beach shows only a $300,000 mortgage -- indicating a $1.1 million down payment.

When confronted with the records, Wilson last week refused to disclose any accounting of money he collected for the lawsuit. He claimed there were errors in the public records, but he refused to cite the specific mistakes or even to say whether they were significant.

He threatened litigation if Creative Loafing ran the information that he claimed was erroneous. Florida law, as with most states, protects reporting on the contents of public records.

According to the Wilson and Akre website, "Every penny contributed to this fund goes to pay for legal expenses remaining from the trial as well as continuing expenses related to the appeal process—paralegals, transcripts of testimony, etc—only the direct expenses of this lawsuit. Jane & Steve receive none of these funds for their personal use."

Don't miss this report by Creative Loafing Senior Editor John Sugg, who covered the entire Wilson/Akre circus when he was editor of CL's Tampa sister paper, the Weekly Planet.

SHOOTING THE MESSENGER

The Justice Department may file a criminal complaint against ABC News over a story designed to reveal flaws in homeland security measures.The story, which aired on last night's edition