Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Sinclair Fires Washington Bureau Chief

Sinclair Fires Washington Bureau Chief

Associated Press Writer

BALTIMORE — The Washington bureau chief for Sinclair Broadcast Group said he was fired Monday after he criticized the company's plans to produce a news program based on a documentary critical of John Kerry's Vietnam-era anti-war activities.

[Note: the author calling the program "news" is a clear indication of bias. It is not a "news program."]

Jon Leiberman said he was fired by Joseph DeFeo, Sinclair's vice president for news, and "escorted out of the building."

"I was told I violated company policy by divulging information from a staff meeting to The (Baltimore) Sun in this morning's edition," Leiberman said late Monday.

That staff meeting took place Sunday at Sinclair's headquarters in Hunt Valley, Leiberman said. It was announced that the news division would produce an hourlong special based on the documentary "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal," he said.

The documentary features former prisoners of war accusing Kerry, a decorated veteran who took up the anti-war cause upon returning from Vietnam, of prolonging the war and worsening their plight.

Earlier this month, Sinclair ordered its 62 TV stations across the country to pre-empt regular programming to air the documentary.

"They're using the news to drive their political agenda," Leiberman said. "I don't think it served the public trust."

Leiberman, 29, criticized his employer in an interview with The Sun published Monday. "I have nothing to gain here — and really, I have a lot to lose," he said in that interview.

Sinclair in a statement late Monday said that "we are disappointed that Jon's political views caused him to violate company policy and speak to the press about company business."

"We have no further comment on the actions of a disgruntled employee or an ongoing personnel matter," the statement said. "Viewers can grade Leiberman's opinion versus the reality when the finished product is aired."

The reporter, who was tapped by Sinclair last year to start the company's four-person Washington bureau, said he had a contract that ran through next August. Sinclair told him that he was fired for cause and would receive no severance and his benefits ended immediately, Leiberman said.

He added that Sinclair would not waive his noncompete agreement, which means he cannot work for a broadcast outlet in any market that has a Sinclair station.

Leiberman started with Sinclair in 2000 as a reporter for WBFF-TV in Baltimore, Sinclair's flagship station. He said late Monday, "I don't like not knowing where my next move will be and how I'm going to take care of my family."

He added: "I really feel like I can sleep at night and I can be OK with my decision" to criticize Sinclair publicly. ... I know I stood up for the principles of objectivity. In journalism, all we have is credibility and objectivity."

Also Monday, a Vietnam veteran filed a libel lawsuit claiming he was falsely portrayed as a fraud and a liar in "Stolen Honor: Wounds That Never Heal."