Firing of radio journalist stirs controversy
The firing of popular radio journalist Scott Braddock has stirred controversy. The station says he was fired for violating company policy. Braddock, however, says he thinks his decision to pursue controversial stories may have had something to do with his termination.
While Braddock has received significant public support from across the political spectrum, the response from within the radio industry has been muted.
Braddock was a mid-morning host of a news program on News 92 FM KROI in Houston. During his tenure he covered many different controversial topics. From the debates surrounding sanctuary cities to sharia law. His coverage of these topics has earned him a reputation as a fair journalist.
In an interview with the Texas Independent, Braddock said that while he was working as the state capital bureau chief for Texas State Networks, a CBS affiliate, he was recruited by Ed Shane, the acting program director for KROI. “They aggressively recruited me,” said Braddock. “They offered me a great salary and moving expenses, and said that they would pay to get me out of the lease of the house I was renting.”
Braddock was excited to come work in an area where he had lived in the past. From 2003 to 2008 he worked at KTRH NewsRadio 740 AM. Braddock said that he left KTRH because they were “moving away from news to ideological talk.” It was then, in 2008, that he joined CBS radio in Dallas, at KRLD 1080 AM which is part of Texas State Networks.
Soon after moving to KROI Braddock said he started to “butt heads with the manager.” Braddock said that the nature of the conflict wasn’t over the news being reported in a biased way, but rather that the type of news that was being reported was sensational. “I got the feeling that content didn’t matter. I got the feeling that style mattered more,” said Braddock. “The managers would rather steer clear of controversies. It was never said that I shouldn’t cover things, but I was discouraged from doing so.”
“It was clear that he [the station manager] was not impressed with the first-rate journalists that I would have on as guests or debates I would have on the air with different opinions and analysis,” said Braddock. “It was all style over substance.”
Braddock was asked by Geoff Berg to fill in for him during his program, Partisan Gridlock, which airs on Fridays from 3-4pm on 90.1 FM KPFT, a Pacifica affiliated non-profit community radio station. During the March 16 broadcast Braddock played an interview that he previously conducted with Carolyn Jones on KROI. Jones had written an article in the Texas Observer, that detailed her experience with Texas’ pre-abortion sonogram law. But it wasn’t until several days later that Braddock learned that this would result in his dismissal.
The following Tuesday afternoon Braddock was summoned into the station manager’s office, where he says acting program director Ed Shane, market manager Doug Abernethy, and a representative from human resources were waiting. According to Braddock, Abernethy told him that he had heard him filling in for Berg on KPFT and that he had heard him play an interview that was the intellectual property of News 92 FM. Abernethy told him that it was a violation of his contract and that he had “no other choice” but to fire him.
“I asked if there was no other course he could take,” said Braddock. “I suggested that a suspension or a warning would be appropriate and that anyone looking at it objectively would think firing me would be a horrible overreaction.” Braddock said that he didn’t understand how he could have violated the terms of a contract that he had not yet signed. According to Braddock at the time the station was launched in November, many personnel had not yet signed contracts.
Braddock’s firing has caused an outcry from those from across the ideological spectrum. In emails obtained by the Texas Independent, Kyleen Wright, the president of Texans for Life, wrote to station management that she was “disappointed” with the firing of Braddock, who she said “works very hard to be fair to both sides, a rare commodity in broadcasting today.” Melaney A. Linton, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, also wrote to the station management saying that she was impressed with Braddock’s “professionalism in cutting through the politics, sticking to the facts.”
Peggy Venable, the director of Americans for Prosperity Texas, told the Texas Independent that she was “shocked” by the firing of Braddock. “Scott Braddock has been a Texas institution,” said Venable. “He has always reported the news from right down the middle – just what we would want from a reporter. He is accessible, on top of the news, and aggressively goes after a good story. If any media outlet is trying to manage the news, that is a problem. Scott is one of the best radio reporters. His reputation and good work speak for itself.”
Harold Cook, a Democratic strategist, echoed Venable’s sentiment. “I am shocked that a high caliber broadcast journalist like Scott Braddock was released, especially by a news station with so much promise,” said Cook. “There are few reporters in Texas more fair, even-handed, or well-liked as Scott. This is clearly not a reflection on him; it’s a reflection of the poor judgment of News 92 FM specifically, and a reflection on the tenuous state of broadcast journalism generally.”
However, reaction from within the broadcast community has been muted, with few willing to talk about the situation on the record. While broadcasters disagreed on whether or not KROI took appropriate action, there did seem to be a consensus that Braddock’s actions were inappropriate.
“You absolutely can’t do that, go on another station and play audio from the station you work at,” said a radio producer from another state speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Most people in radio have non-compete clauses in their contracts. You can absolutely be fired for that. At the very least you would need to clear it with your own management before you do something like that.”
For their part, the management of KROI has offered limited comment to the media on the firing of Braddock. Abernethy told the Dallas Morning News that he was “not at liberty to comment on personnel decisions.” But, Abernethy did tell the Texas Observer, that he didn’t think Braddock was reprimanded for the content of the program on KPFT. He also said that “there wasn’t even a discussion [among station managers] about any of his shows” during the week of his firing.
The Texas Independent contacted the station management of KROI and asked about Braddock’s claims that he was discouraged from covering controversial topics, and that on air style was prioritized over substance. Management was also asked to respond to the claims that the station was rushed on the air with too little preparation, that personnel matters were overlooked, that Braddock was fired for breach of contract despite not having signed his contract, and that he had appeared on other radio and television stations before without management raising an objection.
Shane told the Texas Independent via email that “we have been stringent about formatics (hourly timing of events) and the language of the new station, if that’s what’s meant by “style over substance.” The caliber of the staff hired for the station indicates that we are equally devoted to substance. If management raised no objection about previous media appearances it’s because management was not informed. That underscores the issue.” Shane did not respond to questions concerning contracts, and other issues.
A grassroots effort in support of Braddock has sprung up online. A diary on the progressive blog Daily Kos calls on readers to “weigh in with 92 FM protesting Scott’s firing.” In addition, the diary calls for readers to contact several companies and “tell them you stand with Scott Braddock and ask them to pull their ads from News 92 FM.” A “We Back Braddock” Facebook page with 83 “likes” and Twitter account with 155 followers have also been created to show support.
Much of the media coverage and public outcry over Braddock’s firing has speculated over what role Braddock’s coverage of the controversial pre-abortion sonogram law played in his firing. “I hope it didn’t have any role,” said Braddock. “If the station’s management would articulate a reason for my firing that makes sense to people, these accusations of political motivation would probably just go away.”
Braddock said that he has not ruled out returning to KROI if they offered him his job back. “Yes,” said Braddock when asked if he would return. “If I was allowed to do the radio that so many people are passionate about. In depth reporting, analysis, real discussing, big discussions about things that matter.” However, Braddock remains unconvinced that the station has the right management. “I would hope that an operation with their mission statement could be successful, but I don’t see how it could be unless there is a change in leadership.”