Tuesday, April 26, 2005

21st Century Racism

What would you think if your boss said "We can't right all the wrongs of the Civil War; we've got to quit hiring all these black people"?

Or how about "Black people are a lost race. It can't be said publicly, but it should be. They don't listen." Would you think your boss racist?

The feisty broadcast executive running Meredith Corporation's television division is alleged to have made the above statements during his short tenure with the company. Meredith publishes Better Homes and Gardens, among other magazines, and is based in Des Moines, Iowa. I lived in Des Moines for many years and always thought highly of the company, which did a lot for the community and for area journalism students.

Meredith hired Kevin P. O'Brien, a former Cox Television executive, in 2001 to turn around its faltering television division. In three years, he more than doubled profits. The company fired O'Brien last Oct. 29, announcing that he had violated the company's equal opportunity employment policy. O'Brien has challenged the accusations and has claimed the company fired him without cause.

An article in the Des Moines Register has additional details:

O'Brien was also accused of being sexist, having harassed women who worked at the television stations he ran, according to court documents.

Female anchors at one of the stations he operated were told to dress more provocatively on air.

"Reporters were told to hoochie it up," said April Nelson, a former health reporter at WGCL in Atlanta.

Reporters were sent to a salon where their hair and makeup were made more dramatic. They also were encouraged to wear "cleavage-revealing clothing," Nelson said.

Meredith owns KCTV in Kansas City:

Ratings soared at KCTV in Kansas City, which last November became the No. 1 10 p.m. newscast for the first time in more than a decade, according to the Kansas City Star. But some viewers rebelled against the changes on the newscast, which the Star described as "an in-your-face nightly spree of crime, accidents, sexual perversity and wild video."

That fit O'Brien's style, some said.

"He's a bigger-than-life kind of guy," Vacar said.

O'Brien and Meredith are in mediation in an attempt to reach a settlement out of court.