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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

 

September 30, 1997

VIA FACSIMILE AND

FEDERAL EXPRESS DELIVERY

Ms. Jane Akre
Mr. Steve Wilson
2000 Eagle Pointe
Palm Harbor, Florida 34685

Dear Jane and Steve:

David Boylan has forwarded to me your letters dated September 23, 1997. David Boylan, Phil Metlin, Greg Jones and I have reviewed your letters, and are disturbed, but not surprised, by the misstatements of fact and gross inaccuracies in your rendition of history. (I will attempt to correct your most egregious misstatements below.) Your most recent letters continue your practice of refusing to take direction from those whose responsibility it is to give you direction and make decisions for WTVT Fox 13 -- simply because you do not agree with their decisions. (This time you disagree with the station's decision to exercise its right to terminate you both without cause pursuant to the terms of your employment agreements.) You show your disapproval of the station's valid exercise of its rights as you have shown your disapproval of every disagreement you have had with the station; that is, by verbally attacking and threatening retaliation against your lawyers and your managers. You have admitted to telling Eric Deggans, a reporter with the St. Petersburg Times, of your displeasure with the legal and editorial review process on your BGH story, and to disclosing to him specific issues raised by the lawyers during the confidential pre-publication review process, all in violation of your employment agreements, which expressly prohibit the disclosure of confidential station information to persons outside of the station. In fact, Mr. Deggans called the station on Monday, September 29, 1997, just one business day after Mr. Boylan asked you to meet with him, to ask whether the station had removed Jane from her week-end morning anchor position and whether was Jane was now "out of the building."

Although the station has a right to terminate each of you without cause without stating any reason for its decision, there were definite reasons for the decision that was made. As is stated in my April I 0, 1997 letter to you, your pattern of responding to direction with "rancor, argument and personal attacks" on the lawyers and editors needed to stop, and that "such unprofessional and inappropriate conduct would not be tolerated" in the future. Your antagonistic, combative and accusatory behavior continued, and the station decided that it received very little in return for its efforts to work with you.

At the time you were given notice of the termination without cause, the station was prepared to go forward working with you both until the end of the first year of your contracts, which occurs on December 2, 1997. Our goals were to complete the BGH story for air in early October and for Jane to continue her week-end anchoring duties, and then to go forward with whatever news reports could be completed before December 2, 1997. However, in your September 23, 1997 letters, you refused to finalize the BGH story on the ridiculous pretext (and false accusation) that you are being forced to slant a story. You then concluded by stating that, notwithstanding the station's right to terminate your employment agreements without cause, you will not accept the termination, are going to complete the second year of your contract under its terms and will resolve the "differences with regard to the BGH story so that it can be broadcast as soon as possible."

We (your news director, outside counsel and 1) do not believe any "differences" currently exist with regard to the BGH story. The best way to demonstrate the falsity of your accusations is to recount how we arrived at where we are now. Just prior to Phil Metlin being hired as news director, the legal and editorial review of the BGH story came to a standstill because you objected to the review process to which the story was being subjected. Frustrated with your uncooperative behavior and refusal to take direction, the station decided to give you an ultimatum; i.e. either cooperate with the final decisions of your news management, or leave the station. My April 10, 1997 letter stated the point:

"If this is not a procedure [the legal and editorial review process] 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... However distasteful [your] style may be, let me further assure you that your voice on the merits of points raised in the review process [of the BGH story] 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 judgment 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."

Steve, you responded, in part, by suggesting to David Boylan, during a face-to-face meeting, that you would consider leaving the station, if you were paid for the balance of the first year of your contract and if Jane were allowed to continue anchoring the week-ends through the end of the first year of the contract, December 2, 1997. Based on your suggestion, David asked me to prepare separation agreements for both you and Jane, which included promises on both your parts that you would complete the BGH story. On May 6, 1997, I sent you and Jane the separation agreements.

Shortly thereafter, Steve spoke with David and stated that he believed that if he and Jane could work with an independent lawyer on the BGH story, rather than with outside counsel Greg Jones, because he was difficult to work with, the story would be completed in no time. David responded by stating that we do not appoint "independent" lawyers for the two of you because all of our employees are expected to work with the in-house and outside counsel assigned to their stations, but that the two of you could work with me directly, rather than directly with Greg Jones.

On May 7, 1997, we were able to meet during one of my visits to the station. On May 23, 1997, Jane wrote to me declining to sign her separation agreement because she was "happy" that she and I had 64 overcome the apparent misunderstandings which led to [my] previous letter," that "[f]inally meeting and working with [me] more directly has been a terrific opportunity to learn that we both have much more in common than we have cause to be at odds with one another," that realizing that we are each professionals dedicated to broadcasts which are good j oumalism and legally defensible, too, has made a world of difference," and that she was "delighted to see that [1] and the station ha[d] reaffirmed the commitment to getting the BGH story on the air as soon as possible. Steve's May 28, 1997 letter declining to sign his separation agreement stated that we were making progress during our long sessions and that he hoped that I now understood "the sincerity of [his] dedication to this particular story which has never been told," and that "[g]etting these broadcasts on the air and making this important information widely available to our viewers [was his] primary commitment."

We thereafter proceeded with the editorial and legal review of parts 1, II and III. The review process proceeded slowly for two main reasons. First, between the end of May and the beginning of July each of us was away for a period of time on vacation. The greater problem, however, was that when Sue Kawalerski, the assistant news director who had been involved with the story from the beginning, Greg Jones and I received many of the drafts of parts 1, II and III, we realized that you had refused or neglected to make many of the changes that both of you had agreed to make during our review sessions. Once again there were attacks and counterattacks about the status of the story, and, once again, we reached an impasse that seemed insurmountable.

Just as we thought it would be impossible either to continue to work with you or to get the BGH story completed, the station hired Phil Metlin as its new News Director. He began work on June 23 1997. You and Jane expressed your excitement over his appointment and expressed confidence that, with his leadership andjoumalistic standards, the BGH story could finally be completed. Phil suggested that he review all four parts of the script himself and that we all (Greg Jones, Steve and Jane, Phil and 1) meet for a one day session during which we would complete the review process so that the story could be edited and aired. We all agreed.

On July 11, 1997, we began at approximately 10:00 a.m. and continued until after 9:00 that night. (I left the meeting just before 8:00 p.m. to catch the last flight back to Atlanta. I agreed that on Monday I would review everything completed after I left.) The result of that effort was that we all agreed that we had just about completed the entire series, and that the product satisfied the legal and editorial standards of the station. All that remained was for the two of you to verify the accuracy of a few statements that had been reworked during our session and for you to check on some new information that you wanted to include.

The series that we all approved had been rewritten as a three-part series rather than a four-part series. However, after the two of you finished editing all three parts for air, you and Phil concluded that part I was too long and its pacing seemed to drag. In short, part I seemed boring. You and Phil discussed that you would play around with part I and bring him a new draft which split part I into two parts and re-energized the pacing. You revised the series several times (and changed the number of the drafts each time) while trying to get the pacing where you wanted. You also added some new information and reinserted some information that we had deleted during our July II, 1997 session. I reviewed two of those drafts and requested that you reinsert certain material that we had included during our July II, 1997 session, and further asked you to provide substantiation for two new points. You put back all but two sound bites that you had deleted and provided substantiation for one of the two points. And, you wanted to change part IV to incorporate one new bit of information that you learned about after you sent me your most recent draft. (You gave me the substantiation for the change to part IV, and I approved the change you wanted to make.)

In short, by the end of August, the BGH series was at the verge of meeting our standards for balance and accuracy in reporting, and was just about ready to put on the air. So, how did we arrive at this point? On Friday, August 29, 1997, Phil Metlin called you both while you were on vacation to infon-n you that the station was exercising its rights to ten-ninate you both without cause. After you returned from vacation, you met with Phil for lunch on September 23, 1997, and discussed your termination, including the fact that Jane did not receive her notice despite the post office's attempts to deliver the certified letter to her home on three separate occasions and attempts to deliver the certified letter to her vacation home on three separate occasions. You also expressed your anger at being terminated. Later that afternoon, on September 23, 1997, you sent David Boylan the letters for the first time alleging that you were being forced to slant a news report and not report the truth.

What is obvious is that the reason for your sudden accusations is your anger over your termination. (During your September 23, 1997 lunch with Phil, you complained that the series, in current form, did not include certain points that you originally included and wanted reinserted into the series. Phil told you to make the remaining changes that he had already discussed with you, and to include anything else that that you wanted to include and he would review it. Rather than making the changes, you sent your accusatory letters later that day. To date, you have not submitted anything to Phil to review.) While we wanted the termination to be without cause and civil, your refusal to complete your assignment leaves us no choice but to suspend you both immediately, without pay, for the next ten calendar days, through October 10, 1997. If you elect, during this period of suspension, to complete your assignment by revising the scripts in good faith, as determined by your managers, and you do complete those revisions, then the suspensions will be "with pay." We will advise you of our decision whether to terminate you for cause or to allow the termination without cause pursuant to your employment agreements to remain, no later than ten (IO) calendar days from the date of this letter; i.e. by October 10, 1997.

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