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April 24, 1997


Dear Carolyn,

I cannot let your April 10 letter go unanswered, especially in wake of your decision to distribute it to the highest levels of the company where I and my work may not be known.

I was stunned and amazed at your harsh and malicious charges that my journalism is shoddy and unprofessional. In a news reporting career of more than 26 years, I have dealt with the editorial review process involving attorneys at media outlets from St. Joseph, Missouri to CBS in New York. All of them—including, ironically, even one your counterparts at Fox Television where I also once worked—know me to be dedicated to fair, accurate and honest reporting above all else. Furthermore, any of them would tell you I have certainly never considered myself to be above the editorial review process or been insubordinate to their authority to decide the final content and presentation of any story on their air.

I should also point out that never, never once in 26 years, have I been to court to defend the accuracy or fairness of any report written by me, nor has any employer ever paid a dime to a plaintiff to settle such a claim.

Your conclusions are particularly surprising given that the only personal involvement my reporting partner and I have had with you in the entire review process is two telephone conference calls in which you remained largely silent while outside counsel Greg Jones stated his views. You will recall in the most important of those discussions, you excused yourself early to attend a ski lesson, saying "whatever is fine with Greg is okay with me". The other journalist and I have never had the opportunity to fully explain the basis and documentation of our editorial positions to you directly.

May I respectfully suggest that the legal review system itself, complicated perhaps by the recent change in ownership and direction, is more responsible for our difficulty than any intransigence on the part of the reporters involved. Most news managers and their counsel would agree that final decisions on a broadcast can only be made based on a complete understanding of the facts and full review of the documentation journalists have uncovered in their investigation. I know this understanding becomes particularly difficult in stories such as this one involving complex scientific matters about which even experts sometimes disagree.

At every other place I have worked, lawyers and journalists sit down face-to-face to thoroughly discuss and review each legal concern. This is the best way for counsel to have an opportunity to see and understand the background and documentation which supports any questionable part of a script. But in the process at WTVT, legal review has generally not included close participation with the reporters who best know the story. Lawyers and others have suggested changes without first having the benefit of seeing the documented basis for why the script was written that way in the first place. I would not be doing my job as a reporter if I did not respond to those suggestions by providing the supporting documentation and full explanation of why I believe the script is both fair and accurate as written. I’m sure you would agree that, time after time, a review of this documentation has addressed and relieved the initial legal concerns. In many documentable instances, legal changes first thought necessary have been withdrawn.

The review process which has been used in this case also explains, I believe, your impression that changes have not been made in 14 separate versions of the script. I have each and every version which show the comments and suggestions for change. Subsequent versions clearly show that change after change after change has been made as directed or suggested along the way where the suggestions for changes were not withdrawn as explained above.

Any objective review of what the reporters have prepared and changed through the course of this process would also confirm another basis of the difficulties reaching closure on this story. Virtually every time changes have been made to the level we honestly believed would be satisfactory to management and counsel, the new script has been greeted with a call to change additional items which were never mentioned in the previous review. Although the facts of the story have never changed from Version I, the standards of what is acceptable seem to have changed virtually every time a revised script was produced.

It is not that station management or its counsel do not have the right, or indeed the responsibility, to raise potentially troublesome issues whenever they may spot them. I am merely suggesting that a process which concentrates the focused attention of all of those involved in the review would be a much more efficient and effective way to arrive at the end product. Eliminating all the confusion which inescapably stems from a piecemeal legal review would also clearly dispel any false claims that the journalists involved are not fully responding to your procedures and directives.

I’m sure anyone can see how a process like this only increases the frustration of all of us working to broadcast a report which is both legally and journalistically sound. Those frustrations no doubt contributed to many spirited discussions which were not, nor were ever intended to be, personal attacks on anyone present. I know the former station manager and news director, who participated in those very limited discussions that included you and I, would join me in taking strong exception with your claim that my conduct was either unprofessional or inappropriate.

As any journalist can tell you, the kind of discussions which you have characterized as distastefully offensive are actually a part of the editorial process in most newsrooms every day. While such creative clashes are admittedly different than what you see and hear in executive suites and courtrooms, most news reporters and managers alike value the freedom to have those kinds of spirited discussions because they ultimately lead to better broadcasts. 60 Minutes Executive Producer Don Hewitt would be the first to tell you that what may seem like shouting matches with Correspondent Mike Wallace and others are part of the process which have helped make his broadcast what it is today. No one intends them as personal attacks and it would be unfortunate if you took it that way in our experience.

In closing, let me repeat an assurance I gave Dave Boylan more than a week ago after he first handed me your letter: I am fully prepared to adhere to and cooperate with your procedures and directions to the extent they do not require me to produce a broadcast which includes facts or characterizations I know to be false or misleading. Some of the changes previously suggested would do exactly that. Surely that was never anyone’s intention.

I’m glad you have stated that you want me to remain a part of your team. Throughout my career, I have never met an attorney with whom I could not collaborate to produce a script that was both journalistically and legally sound. As indicated on the most-recent versions of the script at issue here, we are very close to that goal with this story. With very little additional time or effort from either of us, this story can be ready for broadcast in a sound form which will make it an important benefit to the viewers we serve. I am awaiting instructions on how to proceed.


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Steve Wilson

Senior Investigative Reporter


Ms. Carolyn Y. Forrest
Fox Television Stations
3200 Windy Hill Road
Suite 1100 West
Atlanta, GA 30339-5609

cc: David Boylan
Gerry Friedman, Esq.
Jean Fuentes
Mitchell Stern



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