Disclaimer: I worked at Eyewitness News from 2009 to 2016
Well, well. What do we have here?
A BOMBSHELL from the Los Angeles Times revealing what Eyewitness News employees have known for many years now – that the station is a lifeless husk, bogged down by corporate meddling that goes high up the food chain. The morale level at CBS Philly was lower than the 2008 Detroit Lions football team. Lower than the 2017 Cleveland Browns and 2015 Philadelphia Phillies combined. It was so low that it wouldn’t even register on the morale scale, and the people who work there, even to this day, are largely miserable and just collecting their paychecks.
The story from Meg James is titled “Inside CBS’ fraught investigation into allegations of racism and misogyny,” and holy cow is this one a doozy. It’s got a potpourri of allegations, from sexism to homophobia and everything in between. For some background, you might recall that former Chairman and CEO Leslie Moonves caught a #MeToo and got the boot a few years ago. This story digs into the ensuing company-wide investigation, which is presented as inadequate in cleaning up a bigger mess.
James’ article centers on a guy named Peter Dunn, who used to be at KYW back in the day but now works for CBS corporate and basically oversees the local television stations that the company owns. He’s a New York overseer who is involved in hirings and firings and talent decisions for Philadelphia and other O&O (owned and operated) shops.
In the story, former high-ranking CBS 3 employees accuse Dunn of:
showing racism towards Ukee Washington –
“Dunn knew Washington from his KYW days and approved the promotion, but (Former GM Brien) Kennedy said in an interview that Dunn frequently disparaged Washington, calling him “just a jive guy.”
“Peter would say: ‘All he does is dance … dancing, dancing,’” Kennedy recalled in an interview.
“He’s not doing that ‘jive talking’ anymore? Sometimes, he’s just not speaking my language,” (Former News Director Margaret) Cronan recalled Dunn saying in the meeting, which was attended by several people. Kennedy separately recalled the incident.
“I was shocked that a corporate head would use words like that to describe an African American,” Cronan said.
Ridiculous, if true. I can say that Ukee Washington is one of the best people you will ever meet. A 100% genuine guy. He also happens to be the station’s most well-known talent and the only person who comes close to matching the popularity of Action News talent like Jim Gardner. Ukee is a Philly media OG and it was an honor and a privilege to work with him.
With Washington’s move to evenings, KYW managers needed to retool the morning show.
Cronan said she had a taste of what was to come. She recalled that during an early meeting with Dunn, he asked her whether one of the anchors under consideration was “too gay for Philadelphia.” Cronan said she was startled but responded: “Philadelphia can handle it.”
Dunn rejected KYW managers’ initial choice for co-anchor: a Black female journalist with CBS News, Kennedy and Cronan said.
That’s rather blatant, allegedly. The person in question, who is not named in the story, was a well-known personality and had been with the station for 10+ years prior. Their promotion came with years of credibility attached to it.
making the station too white –
In interviews with The Times, Kennedy said he immediately recognized that KYW needed greater diversity in prominent roles and more local flavor. When Kennedy arrived, the main anchor team included two white journalists from Arkansas.
“We were never going to compete if we had anchors with no ties to Philadelphia,” Kennedy, 60, said.
Kennedy began a major overhaul that included ousting about a dozen people, including the news director and one of the anchors from Little Rock.
Black residents would derisively refer to KYW as “White-Witness News” because, historically, many of the on-air journalists were white — in a county where 44% of the population is African American, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
There was a lot of internal talk about the lack of newsroom diversity. It was, indeed, pretty white.
But there’s a lot to unpack here.
First, years before the “two white journalists from Arkansas” (Chris May and Jessica Dean), CBS 3 had Alycia Lane and Larry Mendte on the desk. That pairing came very close to Action News in the ratings, before Alycia was charged with assaulting a cop and Larry decided to hack her emails. When they were both canned, Chris May and Susan Barnett got promotions they didn’t necessarily expect, then Dean replaced Barnett when she left. At the time, Ukee was doing mornings with a white anchor and the only other black anchor was Natasha Brown, plus Beasley Reece and Don Bell in sports. So there wasn’t a lot of black representation for a heavily black city.
Funny story though –
When Kennedy got rid of these anchors, he held a big “rah rah” meeting with the entire staff, a big morale-booster, and then turned around and fired May, Reece, and Kathy Orr a few days later. Didn’t even give them a heads up. Two of those anchors were met at the back door and informed they were gone, but one made it to their desk and had to be escorted from the building. Their personal belongings remained at their desk for a few months before anybody retrieved them.
Anyway, you have to read the story. CBS 3 was a disaster and everybody knew it stemmed from corporate lording over our management 24/7 and micro-managing from afar. They didn’t know anything about Philadelphia. They didn’t care about Philadelphia. This market was like their personal play toy because they thought we were some podunk backwater compared to New York City. In truth, this was the fourth-largest DMA in the country at the time and we had a lot of amazing and talented people in the ranks. We’re talking Ukee, Walt Hunter, Pat Ciarrocchi, Liz Hur – all of these people who were local legends or who went on to work at CNN and NBC and ABC and other huge and successful media outlets.
You should read the story.
Here it is again: