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FOX TELEVISION STATIONS, INC.
A UNIT OF FOX TELEVISION

 

1200 Windy Hill Road,Suite 1100 West
Atlanta, Georgia 30339-5609
Phone 770 563 9625 - Fax 770 563 9400
e-mail: cforr4l3@.fox.com

 

Carolyn Y. Forrest
Vice President

Legal Affairs

April 10, 1997

 

Ms. Jane Akre
Mr. Steve Wilson
WTVT Television - Channel 13
3213 West Kennedy Boulevard
Tampa, FL 33609

Re: BGH Story

Dear Jane and Steve:

Since our review process began on this story, Sue Kawalerski has been forwarding to me your memos, and hers, including your first memo dated February 24, 1997 and your most recent dated March 26, 1997. I had thought I would respond to these at the end of the review process, but I am compelled by the volume of combative, contentious memoranda accumulating from you to provide a response now.

The review process we have engaged in with you is the same process in principle and practice that we have employed on investigative reports since I have been associated with the station. The same standards, practices and procedures have been used. The aim in each case is to produce a fair and balanced investigative report that is consistent with good journalism and protected, insofar as we can forecast risk, by First Amendment privileges. Some stories, like this one, require more time and work than others. But the standards, process and procedures remain the same.

You referred to an "expose"' at "local nail salons" that was produced, and suggest a different standard of legal scrutiny was applied. That is simply incorrect. The "expose"' to which you refer was no "expose"' at all. It was a short piece containing some videotape of three nail salons, which had been served with citations by the State for questionable practices.* Nevertheless, the principles and standards applied in reviewing the nail salon story were the same as here. What is different -- very, very different - were the risks identified upon such examination. In the case of the nail salon story, no risk of unfair treatment, unbalanced attacks, careless representations, questionable links to unrelated points or unsubstantiated  assertions are present. In the case of the BGH story, all these were both present and persistent. I am sure you can appreciate that the application of neutral principles will yield different results depending on the subject matter to which the principles are applied. The different results produced by the application of the same principles to the nail salon story and the BGH story provide an excellent case in point.

*It also identified an employee of one of the three salons who was working with an expired State operator's license.

You suggest that the scrutiny of the BGH story has somehow been personalized and inspired by a "suspicio[n]" of your abilities and motives. That is incorrect. In fact, I specifically explained to you at the beginning of our conference call on February 26, 1997, following our receipt of the first Monsanto letter, that we were not questioning you, nor were we siding with or intimidated by Monsanto. Rather, we wanted to ensure that our story was on solid ground factually and in its tone. Moreover, subsequent scrutiny of the BGH script has been inspired by the unnecessary risk caused by the lack of fairness and the deficiencies we have found in the story , which have been recounted to you on numerous occasions, both orally and in writing, and by what is perceived by your editors to be your refusal to respond to the universally felt need to or inaccurate.

Throughout this review process, instead of responding properly to suggestions and directions for changes, you submitted renumbered versions of Part 1 (I believe you are up to version 14), which generally failed to make the substantive changes directed or suggested. Renumbering the versions to increase the version count is not the same as responding properly to suggestions and directions for change. You also responded to directions and suggestions for change by spewing out numerous memos attacking the process at every turn as "ludicrous" and "personally offensive." You have accused the editors and lawyers involved in this process of misreading the documents you have provided. I disagree with that assessment, and have personally reviewed the actual documents either you or Monsanto provided, where necessary, to form my own conclusions. You also have suggested that we "kill" the story as an alternative to continuing our review of it. We will not "kill" the story, but we will review and edit it until it meets our standards. You have stated in almost every way possible that you are fed up with our process of legal and editorial review.

A final, publishable version of your story could have been achieved many versions (and weeks) ago if the needed changes had been made by you without rancor, argument and personal attacks on Greg Jones, Sue Kawalerski and me. Henceforth, such unprofessional and inappropriate conduct will not be tolerated.

If you are chafing under the editorial and legal scrutiny, you may find it more useful to actively cooperate in producing a fair and balanced report. Be that as it may, I can assure you that there will be a continuing requirement in this story, and in any others you do, as there will be for any other story done by any other reporters at any other Fox television station, for supporting documents and proof of points that are of concern to your editors or counsel to ensure that the station is protected from risk or harm caused by inaccuracy, carelessness, lack of balance or perceived bias. If this is not a procedure you can live with, simply let David, Sue or me know right away, without rancor or bombast, and we will release you from your contract with us. Although we want you to remain a part of our team, please be advised that your failure to adhere to and cooperate with our procedures and directions constitute insubordination and are a breach of your employment agreement.

Your verbal discussions and written memos with your editors and lawyers have been confrontational and harsh in tone and manner. However distasteful that style may be, let me further assure you that your voice on the merits of points raised in the review process will continue to be not only heard, but also considered on the merits, but that the final decision on what to say and how to say it will rest with the editorial judgement of news management with consultation with legal counsel as necessary. You do not have the authority or right to overrule those decisions when you disagree.

I hope the foregoing may give you some insight into where we stand on the points you raise and what may be anticipated in the future in terms of the review process of investigative reports done either by you or other members of the investigative reporting team.

We look forward to a prompt completion of this process with respect to the story in question.

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