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Nexstar exec scolds WOOD-TV newsroom for leaking memo

The executive, Susan Tully, said the newsroom's reaction to the memo was "not appropriate."

The executive, Susan Tully, said the newsroom's reaction to the memo was "not appropriate."

Susan Tully, the senior vice president of content development at Nexstar Media Group. (Photo via LinkedIn)
Susan Tully, the senior vice president of content development at Nexstar Media Group. (Photo via LinkedIn)

A senior executive from Nexstar Media Group scolded journalists at a Michigan TV station for leaking a memo that urged reporters to ease up on their coverage of Pride Month events.

The reprimand came during an all-hands meeting with reporters, editors, producers and other newsroom staff at Grand Rapids NBC affiliate WOOD-TV (Channel 8), about a week after the memo written by Assistant News Director Amy Fox became public knowledge.

The meeting was led by Susan Tully, Nexstar’s senior vice president of content development, who has been on the ground at the TV station interviewing workers about the memo and investigating whether Fox and her direct supervisor, News Director Stanton Tang, violated any corporate policies.

During the meeting, Tully said the memo directed by Tang and written by Fox was “inappropriate,” but said the reaction of the newsroom staff — mainly, someone inside leaking the memo to media-focused reporters — was also “not appropriate.”

In the memo, Fox wrote that the station was receiving complaints from Conservative viewers over some of its Pride Month coverage. She urged reporters to reconsider whether a Pride Month event was worth considering, and suggested the stories were worth tabling if they could not find a newsworthy angle.

“We need to recognize that some stories related to LGBTQ issues are going to be controversial and polarizing in our community,” Fox wrote. “While you personally may not agree with a certain position, people are entitled to their opinions, and they are our viewers.”

The memo was met with immediate backlash inside WOOD-TV, with reporters and producers vowing not to follow its directive. An employee ultimately leaked the memo to the website FTV Live and to The Desk, where it quickly went viral.

The response to the memo prompted Nexstar to issue a public apology and launch an internal investigation, with a spokesperson telling media outlets that the company “will take appropriate action as necessary to address this situation.”

Related: Calls grow for news director to resign over anti-gay memo

On Wednesday, Tully affirmed the memo was not appropriate, but said journalists at WOOD-TV should have brought the matter to Nexstar first, before leaking the memo to the press, according to three people who attended the meeting. She later said that Nexstar’s employee handbook explicitly outlines the procedures for bringing violations of company policy to the attention of Nexstar’s Dallas-area headquarters.

“Like the memo [directed] by Tang, the approach by corporate in these meetings is essentially ‘both sides’-ing the situation,” a journalist at WOOD-TV told The Desk on condition of anonymity. “Like our jobs, we understand corporate has to be thorough in their investigation. But given their recent tone-deafness, time is running out and patience is running thin.”

Fox and Tang have not been allowed to participate in editorial meetings where Pride Month coverage is being discussed, but both executives are still working inside WOOD-TV’s newsroom while the corporate investigation continues, two sources said.

One source said they were upset Tang and Fox are still allowed in the newsroom at all, and weren’t immediately put on leave pending the outcome of Nexstar’s probe.

“It is absolute malpractice that Nexstar Media Group hasn’t done so, since the emotions are still raw,” the source said. “Yet, whenever we cover local governments, law enforcement agencies or school districts launching personnel investigations of their own, those involved are on administrative leave until it is complete. Why is Nexstar not holding itself to the same standard here?”

Tully did not return an after-hours email seeking comment, and Nexstar’s top executive in charge of external communications has refused to speak with The Desk about the matter. Tang and Fox have not returned multiple email requests for comment.

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Tang was hired by WOOD-TV in 2021 after working at a television station in Reno. Almost from the time he was hired, workers at the station complained that Tang’s unusual behavior created a hostile workplace and contributed to an already-stressed environment in a high-pressure industry.

Some workers brought their complaints to WOOD-TV General Manager Julie Brinks, though she often sided with Tang, sources said. Discouraged by her response, a few current and former employees contacted Nexstar directly with allegations of workplace harassment, bullying and other malfeasance, but to little avail.

The memo ordered by Tang last week might not be the only message to land him in trouble. Last July, Tang sent a newsroom-wide email strongly discouraging reporters from voting in Michigan’s primary election, and warning them that their party affiliations could be exposed if activist groups searched through voter registration records.

“You do not want to be the one they catch displaying your political preference,” Tang wrote.

That memo was received as an intimidation tactic by some inside WOOD-TV’s newsroom, with current and former employees telling The Desk they felt their job was on the line if Tang found out they had cast a ballot. While voter registration records are public in Michigan, a person’s specific ballot is not if the document can link back to a voter’s identity.

Legal experts told The Desk the voting-related memo written by Tang may have violated federal and state anti-voter intimidation laws. The federal statute is intended to prevent people from menacing others in a way that would discourage them from voting in a presidential or congressional election.

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About the Author:

Matthew Keys

Matthew Keys is a nationally-recognized, award-winning journalist who has covered the business of media, technology, radio and television for more than 11 years. He is the publisher of The Desk and contributes to Know Techie, Digital Content Next and StreamTV Insider. He previously worked for Thomson Reuters, the Walt Disney Company, McNaughton Newspapers and Tribune Broadcasting.
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