Journalists at a Michigan television station are calling for their news director, Stanton Tang, to resign after he acknowledged himself to be the architect of a memo that urged reporters to ease up on coverage of Pride Month celebrations in the region.
Five newsroom employees who spoke with The Desk this week affirmed they were getting behind a growing movement at WOOD-TV (Channel 8, NBC) for Tang’s resignation or firing, claiming the memo was just the latest in a long string of editorial interference based on his political and social views.
The most-recent incident saw Tang direct his assistant news director, Amy Fox, to write and distribute a memo noting that recent Pride Month events focused on the LGBT community were hurting the station’s relationship with its conservative viewers, and urging reporters to avoid future Pride Month coverage unless they could find a hard news angle and seek out comment from “both sides.”
“We need to recognize that some stories related to LGBTQ issues are going to be controversial and polarizing in our community. While you personally may not agree with a certain position, people are entitled to their opinions, and they are our viewers,” Fox wrote in the memo, which circulated among employees on Tuesday. She continued: “We need to do some work to discern the newsworthy-ness of the event. If we are covering Pride events, we need to consider how to make the story balanced and get both sides of the issue.”
The memo was first obtained by Scott Jones of the website FTV Live, who placed it behind a paywall. It went viral after The Desk confirmed the memo and published a story on it, which was quickly picked up by other media outlets.
Reporters and producers immediately rejected the memo, vowing not to follow the guidance and proceed with any Pride Month-related coverage that impacts their community. They also declined to seek out “both sides” of the issue, which they interpreted as giving a platform to right-of-center groups who espouse anti-LGBT viewpoints.
No one was surprised when Tang held an all-staff meeting the same day The Desk‘s story went live, where he admitted to directing Fox to write and distribute the memo on his behalf. It was seen by most reporters and producers as just another example of Tang, who is Conservative, interjecting his own political viewpoints in the editorial decisions of the newsroom, something he has done numerous times in the past, according to employees who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Tang’s reputation preceded him, according to one WOOD-TV journalist, who heard rumors about his unusual and hostile behavior at other TV stations.
“Regrettably, these rumors proved to be true, as Stanton made biased remarks on specific topics and constantly steered conversations in the newsroom toward his own ideology and beliefs,” the employee wrote in an anonymous e-mail to The Desk.
A second employee said Tang did little to hide his political viewpoints from the newsroom. He appeared to draw inspiration from right-of-center news outlets and personalities, and occasionally came to editorial meetings with stories he found on conservative blogs, Newsmax and One America News, encouraging viewers to pursue stories found around themes being discussed on those news outlets.
Privately, Tang consumed a significant amount of political news, much of it focused around conspiracy theories discussed by right-of-center news outlets and personalities. On a Twitter profile used in connection with his job, Tang followed Republican and Democratic groups in Nevada, where he worked for Reno station KOLO (Channel 8, ABC). But in recent years, his following has skewed more toward the political right; some of the personalities he now follows include blogger Matt Walsh, the Daily Wire host Ben Shapiro, TV correspondent Jack Posobiec and a fringe news outlet called “Libs of TikTok.”
More than once, Tang emailed or texted WOOD-TV reporters with links to stories that he found on Twitter, and encouraged them to look for local angles on the same or similar subjects. When the Associated Press distributed a test of election results linked to Michigan’s Republican Primary — which WOOD-TV inadvertently published online due to some automation technology — Tang encouraged a reporter to consider looking into whether the AP had deliberately skewed the test results in favor of a candidate who spoke openly against former U.S. President Donald Trump, according to a source. (The station did not pursue the story.)
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Tang also interjected in stories on various social matters. Earlier this year, after WOOD-TV covered a controversial Black History Month-themed lunch menu at a local private school, Tang privately complained to a producer that the reporter, Byron Tollefson, spent too much time on the matter because “they don’t watch our news, and they won’t get us ratings.” The producer understood “they” to refer to Black people, based on some of Tang’s prior comments to them. The producer told The Desk the comments made them feel so uncomfortable, they deliberately avoided Tang for several weeks after the exchange.
The hostility involving Tang went well beyond his political and racial views. He also occasionally berated and shouted at journalists in his newsroom if he struggled to get his point across, or if they challenged any of his directives, multiple people said. On one occasion, an argument escalated to the point that a veteran journalist broke down in tears and ended their shift early. (Tang later apologized for what happened, according to a source.)
The anxiety at WOOD-TV, which many blame on Tang, turned a once-exceptional news team into a group that felt constantly under pressure, stressed and afraid. Several times, employees filed complaints with WOOD-TV General Manager Julie Brinks over their interaction with Tang. When those reports didn’t resolve the issue, they took their complaints directly to the human resources office at WOOD-TV’s parent company, Nexstar Media Group. Those complaints also went nowhere.
The pressures of the job that were exacerbated by Tang’s behavior became too much for some WOOD-TV employees, who often called in sick just to recover from the mental anguish they experienced. One employee who was reprimanded for “attendance issues” was ultimately fired, according to a source, who said a station official told everyone in the newsroom about their dismissal before the former worker was personally notified.
“The negative shift in our newsroom has prompted many employees to explore opportunities at other news stations, or even contemplate career changes,” a current employee wrote to The Desk by e-mail. “The toxic atmosphere created by Stanton’s behavior has had a profound impact on the well-being and morale of our team.”
The memo encouraging reporters to lay off coverage of Pride Month events is the last straw for many at WOOD-TV, who are now calling for Tang to resign. If he refuses, they hope Nexstar will terminate him. Gary Weitman, Nexstar’s senior communications officer, has refused to speak with The Desk about the matter; in statements to other news outlets, Weitman said the memo violated Nexstar’s policy, was not in line with the company’s editorial mission, and that an investigation had started.
Like other media companies, Nexstar promotes itself as a proponent of diversity, equality and inclusiveness throughout its operation — and it has, at times, dismissed executives who violate its policies, usually after internal matters become public knowledge. Earlier this year, Nexstar fired WAVY (Channel 10, NBC) news director Sarah Zak after she used a racial slur while reading from a court filing during an editorial meeting. The dismissal came two weeks after the incident, and only after reporters from other outlets started asking Nexstar about what happened.
If Nexstar finds that Tang violated the same policy, his days are likely numbered. Less clear is what will happen with Fox, with the newsroom split on whether she should be held to the same level of accountability. Some inside WOOD-TV believe she had a responsibility to push back against Tang’s directive; others believe Tang set her up to be a scapegoat.
While Nexstar continues its probe, the company says Tang and Fox will not participate in any discussions on the station’s Pride Month coverage for the foreseeable future.