A veteran news anchor at San Francisco’s Fox station has warned newsroom employees to stop contacting a local media columnist as the news operation works to recover from a week-long scandal involving a racially-charged photo that was broadcast on air.
In a memo written Monday morning, KTVU (Channel 2) broadcaster Pam Cook ordered colleagues at the station to stop sending information to Rich Lieberman, a prolific news critic who is known for his off-color commentary and numerous “scoops” about San Francisco Bay Area media operations.
Last week, KTVU aired a news story focused on Nia Wilson, an 18-year-old Oakland resident who was fatally stabbed in an unprovoked attack at a mass transit station earlier in the week. Like many news outlets, KTVU obtained photographs of Wilson from her various social media accounts to help illustrate their coverage of the young victim.
But only KTVU chose a photograph showing Wilson, who is black, holding an object that appeared to be a firearm. It was later determined to be a cellphone case.
KTVU was swiftly condemned for airing the photo. Some took to Twitter to point out that the station could have used a number of other photos that were on Wilson’s social media profiles, while others condemned KTVU for what they said was an inaccurate portrayal of young black victims as dangerous individuals. Last week, a group of people protested outside KTVU’s studios in Oakland, calling the photo a “disrespect” and a “slap in the face of all Bay Area young women.”
KTVU reacted by issuing a lengthy apology online and on-air in later news broadcasts. Frank Somerville, a veteran news anchor, appeared to go off script at one point and apologized directly to Wilson’s family for the mistake.
Some were not persuaded by the apology tour. Lieberman, who is known for his tenacious coverage of media errors, pointed out that the controversial broadcast happened in the noon news hour — the same time slot when KTVU bungled the names of South Korean pilots who were flying an aircraft that crashed at San Francisco airport in 2013.
Lieberman followed-up his post a few days later with a scoop that the picture had prompted KTVU’s parent company Fox Broadcasting to dispatch a team of media liaisons to Oakland for what he described as an “internal inquiry” and that station management would be exploring whether the photograph’s airing was the result of personal misconduct.
Lieberman wrote several days later that a source told him several KTVU staffers were crying in the newsroom over the picture incident, with some worried they would lose their jobs. One source told Lieberman that they considered the incident to be “another fucking Asiana,” a reference to the crashed plane scandal that occurred five years ago.
On Monday, Cook wrote in a newsroom e-mail that staffers at KTVU should stop providing Lieberman with information because he was on the receiving end of “private, personal and professional information.” In the e-mail, Cook wrote that Lieberman’s “sole purpose is to exploit us and undermine the professional work we do every day.”
“Out of respect for our co-workers, and our profession, as journalists, we need to put an end to this,” Cook said.
Cook’s e-mail, a copy of which was obtained by The Desk late Monday evening, was first reported by Lieberman after someone at KTVU forwarded it to him. He responded by suggesting Cook was making a larger issue out of Lieberman’s column than the incident involving the photograph.
“Pam, how am I exploiting you?” Lieberman questioned. “By calling you guys out and attempting to place you accountable for your actions? Maybe having the audacity to respond, and to comment on some of your various cast of characters who are, in their own right, acting foolish on social media and displaying questionable judgement? …That’s deplorable, Pam, if you ask me.”
Cook has not yet responded to an e-mail request seeking comment.
Correction: An earlier version of this post erroneously reported that Cook read several false names during a newscast that were attributed to pilots of a crashed jetliner in 2013. KTVU anchor Tori Campbell read the names during the broadcast. Campbell left the station in 2015.