This weekend WJLA-TV announced that it had fired veteran anchorman Doug McKelway for a verbal confrontation this summer with the station’s news director. McKelway is a longtime journalist in the Capitol and his termination raised questions about the limits on fair commentary for anchors in political coverage.
In a brief story on environmentalists protesting the influence of the oil industry in Congress, McKelway referred to the small demonstration as “largely representing far-left environmental groups.” He went on to note that such protests “may be a risky strategy because the one man who has more campaign contributions from BP than anybody else in history is now sitting in the Oval Office, President Barack Obama, who accepted $77,051 in campaign contributions from BP.” It is, in my view, clearly wrong to suggest that the protesters were “far left” since many environmentalists are appalled with the level of influence of the industry in Congress and the Administration. The second comment, however, was fair game in my view and has been noted by other journalists in covering such stories — though it has been challenged on the grounds that it came from employees as opposed to company itself.
The second segment is more problematic. He added in a later piece that the Senate was unlikely to pass “cap-and-trade” legislation this year, because “the Democrats are looking at the potential for huge losses in Congress come the midterm elections. And the last thing they want to do is propose a huge escalation in your electric bill, your utility bill, before then.” That seems well over the line for reporting as opposed to commentary. It is the very talking point line put out by conservative advocates to justify more drilling and less regulation. It is greatly disputed and should not have been reported as a fact. However, the question is whether it justified termination.
That coverage led to a confrontation with ABC7’s news director and general manager, Bill Lord. In a letter to McKelway this week where McKelway was accused of insubordination and misconduct. It was the argument with Lord that was the direct justification for the termination decision.
McKelway has accused local news of having a liberal and pro-democratic tilt in the past. He comes from a long line of Washington journalists in his family. He also attracted criticism in 2009 when he was accused of threatening to punch a gay blogger over his practice of “outing” politicians who are in the closet.
McKelway is well known in my area not just as a newsman but as a musician. My family and I have enjoyed his performances with a local blue grass band that plays at restaurants and other venues. He is a very talented banjo player. It is a sad way to end a long career at the station, but McKelway is reportedly working on a book and could still find another venue as a journalist or commentator.
Source: Washington Post