9News and parent company TEGNA have been accused of systemic racist behavior, according to a filing submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) this week.
News of the filing came Thursday, just as the station’s top personality coincidentally announced he would be taking an extended vacation.
Hi all – I’ll be away for a couple weeks of family time and only checking in here to share our Word of Thanks microgiving campaigns. You can reach the #HeyNext team at [email protected] Talk to you soon!
— Kyle Clark (@KyleClark) April 9, 2021
The claims were filed by Soohyung Kim of Standard General, a New York-based investment firm that controls 7 percent of TEGNA shares.
• An event in which the TEGNA Vice President, who now helms the Company’s employee recruiting efforts, wore black face at a Company event dressed as Michael Jackson. Far from being reprimanded, that employee apparently won an award for wearing the best costume and was subsequently promoted to her current executive role.
• The termination of a Latina reporter eleven months after she suffered a stroke because she was no longer up to “9News standards.”
• Termination and non-renewal of prominent Latinx reporters working at TEGNA’s Denver station primarily due to their coverage of immigration issues, including requiring Latinx employees to disclose their own immigration status when broadcasting about such issues.
• An incident in which a corporate marketing executive explained using purple graphics, which “African American audiences might enjoy,” referring to “You know, like the Color Purple (a novel and a movie),” and introduced new theme music as the “sound of the street,” to which she “stomped her hands and feet.”
• A practice of instructing Asian reporters “how to apply makeup so her eyes will look more ‘Western’” and Black or Latin on-air employees being “hammered for your dialect.”
Kim’s letter opens with a reference to an incident from 2014 that surfaced recently involving TEGNA CEO Dave Lougee and prominent media consultant Adonis Hoffman.
Lougee is a former executive at 9News.
Following an industry luncheon where both Lougee and Hoffman interacted in Washington, D.C., Lougee mistook Hoffman, who is African American, for a valet.
Hoffman was nominated by Standard General to serve on TEGNA’s board in 2020, but ultimately withdrew his nomination in part due to concerns about his ability to work with Lougee.
In a letter sent to Lougee, a copy of which was provided to Deadline, Hoffman said he was not offended by the original incident and accepted the apology.
“Coming from a working class family where my grandparents were domestic workers, I consider being a valet to be an honorable job,” he wrote. “What I took issue with was your failure to disclose, or accept any responsibility for your action until it was made public last week. You even attempted to suppress the mentioning of the incident itself by offering to pay me at the time (I sincerely hope you were joking).”
He continued, “You are the CEO of a major media company that touches and influences the lives of millions of Americans. As such, I am deeply concerned about your capacity to perceive a person of color as anything other than invisible, insignificant or in service to you. This lack of awareness and sentience is what experts today call ‘unconscious bias.’”
Hoffman’s suggestion that Luogee may have offered a bribe to conceal the incident raises obvious questions about the ethical standards at TEGNA and their stations like 9News.
Making matters worse for KUSA, former 9News News Director Patti Dennis is said to be the TEGNA executive referenced in the letter who wore blackface to portray Michael Jackson at a company event in the early 80s.
Standard General’s letter to the SEC requests TEGNA produce all documents pertaining to their alleged internal review of the Lougee incident, as well as “All documents reflecting employee allegations of racial, ethnic or disability bias, including maintaining a hostile work environment” from 9News and other TEGNA stations.
1. All documents reflecting the supposed “review” conducted by the Board and the Company’s General Counsel regarding the racially insensitive incident between Mr. Lougee and Adonis Hoffman, including all interview notes taken during the Board’s and outside counsel’s interview of Mr. Lougee.
2. All Board minutes and Board resolutions relating to the Adonis Hoffman incident, including all exhibits thereto.
3. All documents relating to the Board’s oversight of diversity and inclusion programs at the Company (including all documents created for or maintained by any Board subcommittees primarily charged with overseeing those matters).
4. All documents reflecting employee allegations of racial, ethnic or disability bias, including maintaining a hostile work environment, against senior management at the Company over the past five years, including those reported to have allegedly occurred at TEGNA stations located in Denver, Des Moines, Indianapolis and Tampa Bay, and documents sufficient to show the resolution of such allegations, including the Board’s role in addressing any such allegations.
The potential gravity of this letter cannot be overstated for 9News.
Should Standard General’s plea to the SEC be successful, 9News could be forced to show TEGNA shareholders nearly every document in their possession concerning reported incidents of racial bias at the station.
Standard General’s letter also threatened legal action against TEGNA if they refuse to produce the requested documentation within 5 days.
In the event that the Company does not respond to this Demand or fails to permit inspection and copying of the demanded documents within five (5) business days from the date of this letter, we will seek appropriate relief to the fullest extent permitted by law.
Remarkably, as we mentioned, this filing came literally hours before Kyle Clark tweeted he would be taking a previously unannounced extended vacation.
Standard General’s letter to the SEC is the culmination of a proxy fight against TEGNA that has embroiled the company for well over a year.
Last spring, Kim pushed for wholesale changes on TEGNA’s board through a proposal to the company’s shareholders, which included the aforementioned Hoffman nomination.
Just before the vote on Kim’s board proposal last April, the public relations firm Tusk Strategies emailed pitches to the press encouraging the media to accuse Kim of unethical behavior.
Tusk did not disclose their client, and Kim proceeded to file a lawsuit against Tusk arguing they were clearly acting on behalf of parties intent on protecting TEGNA’s leadership.
“As of the date of this complaint, the proxy contest hangs in the balance,” Standard General said in its complaint. “Tusk’s reasons for pursuing this malicious and defamatory article are obvious: a story accusing Standard General and Mr. Kim of a crime would likely be a knockout blow to Standard General’s prospects in the proxy contest.”
Standard General’s proposal to replace board members last year went on to be rejected by TEGNA shareholders.
Denver’s most liberal and most watched station is in a crisis of historic proportions, and it looks like their leadership is scrambling for cover.