- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 15, 2004

The labor union that represents anchors and reporters at WUSA-TV (Channel 9) is investigating the CBS affiliate’s hiring and firing practices.

The inquiry will examine the station’s recent decisions to fire or re-assign older employees, but it will include other employment practices, too, according to people familiar with the situation.

Patricia O’Donnell, executive director of the local American Federation of Television and Radio Artists chapter, confirmed that a review is under way but declined to comment on its nature.

WUSA’s general manager, Darryll J. Green, said he has not received “formal notification” of an investigation. “They haven’t called me,” he said.

Last year, WUSA dumped Mike Buchanan, who joined Channel 9 in 1970, and sportscaster Ken Mease, a 17-year station veteran.

This summer, Mr. Green told two other veteran broadcasters that their contracts will not be renewed when they expire in the fall: sportscaster Frank Herzog, who has spent much of the past 35 years at Channel 9, and weather forecaster Hillary Howard, a four-year WUSA employee who has worked in the business for more than two decades.

In recent years, other older reporters have been fired or reassigned from prime afternoon and evening reporting shifts to early mornings and weekends.

In addition, WUSA has been trying to force longtime star Gordon Peterson out of his anchor chair.

The station has hired Todd McDermott, formerly of the CBS station in New York, as a new anchor and Brett Haber as a new sportscaster, but it has delayed announcing their appointments until it has reached a new agreement with Mr. Peterson, a 35-year employee.

The union is trying to determine whether these personnel moves represent a pattern of discriminating against older employees, the sources said.

The investigators are expected to look at the ages of the people who replace the older employees.

Since 2003, WUSA has signed at least three seasoned anchors and reporters — J.C. Hayward, Bruce Johnson and Andrea Roane — to long-term contracts.

WUSA is one of 22 stations owned by Gannett Co. Inc.

In June 2002, when Mr. Green managed a Gannett-owned NBC affiliate in Buffalo, N.Y., he demoted Carol Kaplan — then 41 and an anchor at the station for 11 years — to a reporter.

Miss Kaplan sued for age, racial and sex discrimination. In March 2004, she was fired because she violated a company policy that required station employees to disclose driver’s license suspensions.

Her lawsuit is still pending.

Ratings roundup

WUSA’s other newcomer, Tracey Neale, still hasn’t anchored a full newscast, but on Sept. 8 she hosted and reported “9/11: Inspiring Hope,” a special that aired opposite the 10 p.m. newscast on WTTG-TV (Channel 5) that she once co-anchored.

The commemoration of the third anniversary of the terrorist attack on the Pentagon drew about 62,000 households, a distant third in its time slot behind a “Law & Order” rerun on WRC-TV (Channel 4) and WTTG’s newscast, according to Nielsen Media Research Inc.

Call Chris Baker at 202/636-3139 or send e-mail to cbaker@washingtontimes.com.

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