Credibility Gaps in WVII-TV Resignations
By Al Diamon
Truth or dare? Here’s what’s verifiable: On Nov. 20, Bangor television station WVII anchors Cindy Michaels and Tony Consiglio finished up their 6 p.m. newscast by resigning on the air. You can see it for yourself at dozens of websites, such as this one.
Here’s what’s not so clear: Among the reasons Michaels and Consiglio gave for quitting in such a dramatic fashion is that they were pressured by management to slant stories in particular ways, according to the Bangor Daily News.
They refused to be more specific, but Maine Public Radio reported that they caught flack when a gay staffer was chosen by Michaels to moderate an on-air debate on the same-sex marriage question.
Station vice-president and general manager Mike Palmer denied such claims, saying he didn’t get involved in the content of newscasts. Instead, Palmer said the two anchors plotted their resignations after learning Consiglio was about to be fired.
There appears to be some spin on both sides. Michaels got coy when asked by the Bangor paper if she knew about her co-anchor’s impending dismissal. “I don’t want to answer that,” she said.
Other staff at the station confirmed Michaels had mentioned the firing to them. The BDN also found WVII employees who backed up claims of management-imposed edicts on news coverage, although other workers said they had seen nothing like that. Meanwhile, North East Radio Watch pointed out an incident from several years ago in which Palmer had sent a memo to the news department banning further coverage of global warming. So much for management’s hands-off approach.
All that said, this whole incident, which generated national publicity, is really of little consequence. WVII has long been a journalistic afterthought. Nielsen ratings from 2010 show the station’s news is a distant third-place finisher (out of three) in the Bangor market, and the rare viewer of its indifferent product would have little trouble understanding why. If the resignations hadn’t taken place on the air, it’s unlikely anyone would have noticed or cared.
As for the aftermath, Palmer already had lingering credibility issues before this incident happened and did nothing in his handling of the departures to improve his reputation. It remains to be seen if his promises of improved newscasts (new set, more staff) in the near future can nudge the ratings in an upward direction, but it seems unlikely.
Michaels and Consiglio appear to have been less than honest about their motives and reckless in their decision to quit on-air. It’s hard to imagine them finding new jobs in TV journalism – or in any other news medium with solid standards.
Seeds of conflict of interest: Avery Yale Kamila has strong opinions about genetically modified plants and animals. In her weekly columns in the Portland Press Herald, Kamila has made no secret of her opposition to such agricultural practices.
Her recent writings include a reference to altered organisms as one of the “horrors of our industrial food system.”
She’s claimed a “biased regulatory system” allows these allegedly unsafe products into the marketplace.
She’s complained about the U.S. government’s “unquestioning embrace of industrial food.”
All of which is her opinion and would be fair enough, since Kamila’s advocacy on these issues has only appeared in clearly labeled columns.
On Nov. 24, the Press Herald ran a news story on a lawsuit against the Monsanto chemical company, a major producer of genetically modified seeds. The suit is being pushed by a farming group based in Maine whose president was the subject of a Kamila column that praised his efforts to limit Monsanto’s legal rights to the seeds they’d created.
The Portland paper has plenty of reporters. It doesn’t need to use a columnist with an agenda to cover this issue. Even though Kamila’s reporting was reasonably thorough and balanced, her past writing (not to mention an online search that indicates she belongs to groups that oppose genetically modified crops) is strong evidence of a conflict of interest.
An editor should have recognized that.
Out of the Zone: Say goodbye to WZON-FM (103.1). The Stephen King-owned station in Dover-Foxcroft has dumped the progressive talk format it shared with WZON-AM (620) in Bangor and changed its call letters. According to the Radio Insight website, the FM outlet will now be known as WZLO. As of this week, it’s playing all Christmas music, but its website promises a “BIG surprise” after the holidays.
Former Green Party big shot Pat LaMarche had been a morning co-host on both stations, but resigned on Nov. 15, just before the changes started hitting.
Al Diamon can be emailed at email@example.com.