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Rebecca Aguilar Loses Suit Against Fox

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Sunday, December 12, 2010

Terminated Dallas Reporter Says She Has No Regrets

NABJ Proposes Different Split for Unity '12 Proceeds

Survey Finds 60% Approve of Obama Tax-Cut Deal

Reporter Strikes Chord With Story of Foreclosure Nightmare

School District Urges Pulling Ads From Black Paper

Christina Norman and Oprah: "Rare but Incredible Pairing"

Six in 10 See WikiLeaks Release as Harmful

Short Takes

Rebecca Aguilar accepts the Broadcast Journalist of the Year Award at the 2007 awards gala of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. (Credit: NAHJ)

Terminated Dallas Reporter Says She Has No Regrets

Dallas reporter Rebecca Aguilar lost her lawsuit against Fox-owned KDFW-TV television for wrongful termination based on race Monday but said, "Fox won in the court of law, but I know I have won in the court of life."

" 'You heard a week's worth of testimony,' Fox's head attorney, Michael Shaunessy, told outside the courtroom shortly after District Court Judge Jim Jordan announced the jury's decision in the oft-acrimonious case," Dallas television writer Ed Bark reported. " 'KDFW (Channel 4) did everything it could to make her a good employee. In the end they couldn't save her from herself.' "

Bark described it as "a trial in which both sides repeatedly swung hard at one another."

Aguilar was suspended by KDFW on Oct. 16, 2007, a day after her controversial interview of a 70-year-old West Dallas salvage business owner. As Bark explained, "On the weekend before the interview, [James] Walton had shot and killed an alleged burglar, the second time in three weeks that he had used deadly force on an intruder. . . .

"Aguilar said she initially was praised throughout the newsroom for her scoop. The station then was hit by a wave of angry emails and phone calls from viewers who essentially accused her of bullying an elderly crime victim."

Aguilar told Journal-isms she faced a Texas jury of 11 white people and one black person.

"I don't regret anything I did," she said. "They offered me two settlements. I said no. . . . I don't feel like I lost. I've inspired people that we do have a voice. A big corporation like Fox cannot take away my voice."

On her Facebook page, she added, "Was about exposing a wrong inside a newsroom when comes to minorities in management. It was not about money. They needed an army of lawyers, paralegals to take me on. What does that say. Never fear a giant."

A Fox spokeswoman told Journal-isms, "The jury’s decision vindicates our position that FOX 4 acted appropriately."

Aguilar's lawyer, Bill Trantham, said there was no basis to appeal the unanimous verdict from the state district court jury. "Some you win, some you lose," he told Journal-isms.

Aguilar is a member of the board of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. In 2007, she was NAHJ's "Broadcast Journalist of the Year."

Bark provided virtually the only coverage of the six-day trial. "I'm shocked that other media companies did not cover this," Aguilar told Journal-isms. "I wonder if they're in the same boat that Fox4's in now, with no minorities in management. Maybe one or two, especially not Latinos."

Bark reported, "It's Aguilar's contention that the station increasingly became averse to hiring minorities for news manager positions after Kathy Saunders became Fox4's general manager in 1997 and Maria Barrs was promoted to news director in 1998.

"Aguilar's repeated lobbying for more minorities in positions of authority eventually led to her suspension on Oct. 16, 2007, according to her lawsuit. The station allegedly found a pretext to dismiss her after Aguilar's controversial interview" with Walton.

On Friday, Day 5 of the trial, Bark reported, final witness Clarice Tinsley, Dallas-Fort Worth's dean of news anchors, a 32-year veteran at KDFW-TV and a black journalist, "said that Aguilar occasionally would broach the subject of discrimination in conversations they had. But Tinsley said she never witnessed any racial prejudice on the part of management, and advised Aguilar to keep her head up and continue to do a good job as a reporter."

Defense witness Shaun Rabb, another black journalist, "praised Aguilar as a dogged reporter who probably had more 'exclusive' reports than any other Fox4 staffer.

"Rabb said he also was an advocate for minority hiring at Fox4. But unlike Aguilar, he never sent any memos to that effect, Rabb said. He explained that that's not his style.

"Asked whether opportunities for minorities had declined with Saunders and Barrs in charge, Rabb answered, 'In my opinion, no sir.' "

Bark reported on Monday, "In his 45-minute closing argument to the jury, Shaunessy said that Fox4's action solely had to do 'with the fact that Rebecca Aguilar for more than 10 years was a bad employee.'

"The Walton interview, a flashpoint throughout the trial, 'was an ambush interview from the start,' jurors were told.

"Aguilar's relationships with fellow employees and supervisors were repeatedly problematic, and her reporting skills also began eroding in later years, Shaunessy said."

Aguilar was backed by NAHJ and Unity: Journalists of Color after her 2007 suspension.

"It is puzzling why KDFW chose to run Aguilar's piece, and then suspended her only after the station received public pressure," Unity said in an Oct. 24, 2007, statement. "Either her reporting was a violation of the station's standards from the beginning and should never have run, or the station should have – out of fairness – also suspended the decision-makers who aired the piece."

Rafael Olmeda, who was NAHJ president at the time, wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday, "I was and remain proud to stand by Rebecca Aguilar against the unfair decision to fire her after a controversial interview."

NABJ Proposes Different Split for Unity '12 Proceeds

Kathy TimesThe National Association of Black Journalists, largest of the journalist of color associations, proposed on Saturday that the proceeds from the next Unity: Journalists of Color convention be split in a proportion more favorable to the groups that send the most registrants.

The individual organizations — NABJ, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Asian American Journalists Association and the Native American Journalists Association — would also receive a greater share compared with the Unity umbrella organization.

"We're all in a very similar position as far as our funding sources," Kathy Times, NABJ president, told Journal-isms. That is, scrambling. "This is an opportunity for us to begin a conversation."

Gregory Lee, the NABJ treasurer, explained via e-mail:

"This proposal means that the revenue sharing would be distributed according to association size. One of the big differences is the on-site registrations would be placed in the general pool so each alliance member can have added revenues. The logic is that the alliance partners have membership bases that [justify] receiving these receipts. UNITY is not a membership fee-based association that has become a fifth entity, something that the founding fathers never intended for it to become and competes for dollars that associations vie for as well."

The next Unity convention is scheduled for Las Vegas in August 2012.

Under the current arrangement, according to Lee, the first 20 percent of the net profits goes to Unity. The next 80 percent is split among the four alliance partners. Of that 80 percent, the first half is split equally. The final half is split proportionately among the associations, depending on each's paid registration numbers.

In addition, each alliance partner keeps its convention registration proceeds. Unity receives all of the on-site registration money.

In the NABJ proposal, all of the money, including the on-site registrations, would go into a general pool. Of that, Unity would receive 20 percent. The remaining 80 percent would be split proportionately among the associations, depending on the number of paid registrations.

The other associations were noncommittal.

"NAHJ is [analyzing] the motion made by NABJ President Kathy Times, as well as the proposal by NABJ Financial Officer Greg Lee, in anticipation of a meeting of the alliance presidents early next year," Michele Salcedo, NAHJ president, told Journal-isms by e-mail.

"NAJA is going to discuss the proposal set before us by NABJ's representatives. We also plan to meet with the other alliances in January to discuss their stance on this issue and the implications it might have," said Rhonda LeValdo, president of NAJA.

"Same here," said Sharon Chan, president of AAJA. "AAJA is crunching the numbers on NABJ's proposal and the implications it could have for all the alliance partners and UNITY, and the alliance presidents will put their heads together in January."

Former president Bill Clinton backs President Obama's tax-cut compromise with congressional Republicans in a White House appearance on Friday. Obama said he had to leave for a holiday party, and "for one remarkable half hour, Clinton turned a seemingly slow Friday afternoon into his stage," the Associated Press reported. (Video)

Survey Finds 60% Approve of Obama Tax-Cut Deal

"The agreement between President Obama and congressional Republicans to extend tax cuts and unemployment benefits is getting strong bipartisan support. Overall, 60% approve of the agreement while just 22% disapprove," the Pew Research Center reported on Monday.

"There are virtually no partisan differences in opinions about the agreement — 63% of Democrats approve of it, as do 62% of Republicans and 60% of independents. Among Democrats, liberals are as supportive of the agreement as are conservative and moderate Democrats.

"The latest national survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, conducted Dec. 9-12 among 1,011 adults, finds that on balance more say the agreement will help rather than hurt the U.S. economy and people like themselves.

"Nearly half (48%) say the agreement will help the economy, while just 29% think it will hurt the economy. Opinions are similar about the personal impact of the deal: Nearly twice as many say the agreement will help (47%) rather than hurt (25%) people like themselves.

"However, far more people say the agreement on tax cuts and unemployment benefits will hurt (46%), rather than help (26%) the federal budget deficit. Opinions about the impact of the agreement – like views of the deal itself – show little difference across parties."

Reporter Strikes Chord With Story of Foreclosure Nightmare

Toluse Olorunnipa, a Miami Herald business reporter, was spotlighted last week on the Nieman Watchdog site under the headline, "How watchdog reporting is supposed to work." Olorunnipa told the story of Imogene Hall, the victim of a foreclosure nightmare who had called him on a recent Friday in tears.


"With a ballooning backlog of more than 100,000 lingering foreclosure cases, South Florida’s courthouses have become hopelessly overwhelmed, and judges are tasked with clearing out 200 court cases per day," Olorunnipa wrote.

"As a result, evidence of fraud and other irregularities are routinely pushed aside or looked over for the sake of expediency. That’s perhaps the saddest part of Hall’s story — the inability of the judicial system to protect her.

"Hall’s story has received more response than any other piece I’ve written during my short stint on the Miami Herald’s real estate beat.

"Readers from all over the country have chimed in with their thoughts, and many have offered to help Hall with legal aid, financial contributions and words of support. Members of the local government — including Hall’s state representative — took interest in Hall’s case. One man even offered to feature Hall’s story in a movie.

Toluse Olorunnipa"However, as of this writing, Hall remains very much in danger of losing her home and being put out on the street. Her lender, which already received a foreclosure judgment, has not responded to the article, and her house is set to be sold at auction in December.

"I hope to do a follow-up on this article, when all is said and done, and narrate the final chapter of Hall’s housing malaise, which increasingly looks like it will end sadly, with a family of seven kicked out of their home."

In her "From the Editor" column in the Herald, Executive Editor Aminda Marques Gonzalez quoted Money Editor Terence Shepherd, a former president of the South Florida Black Journalists Association:

"There are a lot of stories out there," Shepherd said. "You just have to keep your finger on the pulse and know what’s happening."

School District Urges Pulling Ads From Black Paper

"James Tucker, publisher of the African American Voice, the city’s only Black newspaper, has asked the federal government to stop a local school district from advocating an advertising boycott of his publication," Roger K. Clendening wrote from Colorado Springs, Colo., on Sunday for New America Media.

"Tucker recently filed a racial discrimination complaint with the U.S. Justice Department against Harrison School District 2 alleging that Superintendent Mike Miles wrote a letter asking businesses not to advertise in the African American Voice.

“ 'If your organization advertises in his paper, you are either wittingly or inadvertently sending a message of support for the paper’s extreme views and incivility,' Miles wrote in a letter on Harrison School District [stationery] dated Nov. 2. The letter appeared on the publicly-financed school district website.

" 'I ask that you take a stand and pull your advertisement from the paper,' Miles wrote in the letter saying that 'a quick look through a few editions of the Voice will make apparent the use of personal attacks and the fomenting of racism.' "

Christina Norman and Oprah: "Rare but Incredible Pairing"

Christina Norman"The countdown has begun. In just three weeks one of television’s biggest experiments will launch," Jenna Goudreau wrote last week for Forbes Woman.

"The Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), a joint venture between the media mogul and Discovery Communications, will hang its fate on the appeal of the world’s most recognizable woman. But behind the scenes, another female leader is busy laying the foundation for Oprah’s next favorite thing.

"TV veteran Christina Norman, chief executive of OWN since February of 2009, is charged with overseeing all business and creative areas of the cable channel and website. Norman previously spent 17 years at MTV, climbing from a freelance production manager to president of the network. The hard work and spotless record took its toll, however, causing an exhausted Norman to initially take herself out of the running for the OWN job. But after a few months of rest, she realized it was an opportunity she couldn’t walk away from.

"The Winfrey-Norman duo took off, creating a rare but incredible pairing: Two African-American, female leaders who single-handedly scaled mountains in the television industry. Now their success depends on each other.

"Norman came into our studios recently to film a video with Moira Forbes. She shared her anxieties about that first interview, her struggle to create a cohesive culture at OWN, and her hopes for the network’s future."

Six in 10 See WikiLeaks Release as Harmful

"Most Americans following news about the WikiLeaks website’s release of a huge trove of classified documents about U.S. diplomatic relations see the revelations — which have received extensive media coverage — doing more harm than good," the Pew Research Center reported last week.

"Six-in-ten (60%) of those paying attention to the story say they believe the release of thousands of secret State Department communications harms the public interest. About half that number (31%) say the release serves the public interest, according to the latest News Interest Index survey conducted Dec. 2-5 among 1,003 adults.

"Yet the public makes a distinction between WikiLeaks itself and the press’ handling of the document release. While nearly four-in-ten (38%) of this group say news organizations have gone too far in reporting the confidential material, a comparable number (39%) say the media has struck the right balance. Just 14% say news organizations have held back too much of the classified material.

"In August, the public was more divided about the impact of the release by WikiLeaks of thousands of classified documents about the war in Afghanistan. At that point, 47% of those who had heard at least a little about the story said the release harmed the public interest, while 42% said it served the public interest."

Short Takes

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Richard Prince's Journal-isms originates from Washington and is published Monday, Wednesday and Friday. It began in print before most of us knew what the Internet was, and it would like to be referred to as a "column." For newcomers: The words in blue (on most computers) are links leading to more information. The Web site provides passwords and user names to some registration-only news sites, but use may be illegal in some states. Any views expressed in the column are those of the person or organization quoted and not those of any other entity.

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Defense Witness From Hell

I am disappointed Rebecca Aguilar lost her suit against Fox. I am more upset with her so-called defense witness Shaun Webb's comments. I would hate to take Webb to a protest rally with me. Having him watch my back is scary in light of his weak comments on her behalf.

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