News anchor Rob Braun said in a WKRC-TV staff meeting Wednesday that he's been getting death threats after Channel 12 started airing a statement by owners Sinclair Broadcast Group complaining about media companies pushing "their own personal bias and agenda."
Braun, the station's main anchor for about 30 years, told coworkers that he's had his life threatened in person, and his family's life, since WKRC-TV and WSTR-TV started broadcasting the corporate-mandated statement read by Braun and co-anchor Cammy Dierking, according to colleagues who attended the meeting.
Sinclair has received a nationwide blacklash since Deadspin mashed together three dozen Sinclair anchors – including Braun and Dierking – reading the Sinclair script in unison, as if they were mindless corporate robots.
Some parts sound like it was written by or for President Trump: "The sharing of biased and false news has become all too common on social media. More alarming, some media outlets publish these same fabricated stories without checking facts first. Unfortunately, some members of the media use their platforms to push their own personal bias and agenda, to control exactly what people think. This is extremely dangerous to our democracy."
Braun responded to my call and email by saying: "Sorry, John, I've been advised by my union and my attorney to say nothing publicly." So I could not determine the nature, type or specific reasons for the threats.
(6:10 p.m. April 4 update:) I hadn't been able to reach anyone at Braun's union, SAG-AFTRA, but late Thursday the national office issued a statement slamming Sinclair.
“Over the last couple of days, many of them have been the subject of misdirected criticism for the script Sinclair required them to read for its recent promotional campaign," said SAG-AFTRA, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.
“SAG-AFTRA has been in contact with Sinclair to express our concerns with this campaign, and we stand with our members and journalists everywhere in challenging corporate directives that call into question the journalistic integrity of the news presented to the public.... SAG-AFTRA opposes such directives in the interest of defending the professionalism of journalists and preserving the basic rights of a free and independent press.” (end update)
When I asked Jon Lawhead, Channel 12 general manager and Sinclair Group Manager for Cincinnati and Dayton stations, in an email Thursday if he had received threats by email, Lawhead said: "I've never been threatened, and obviously have never told anyone that I was threatened." Lawhead did not respond to my follow-up email asking about Braun's comments to the staff about receiving threats.
Channel 12 staffers tell me that they're not happy that Braun and Dierking – Cincinnati natives from high-profile families who have anchored the city's No. 1 newscast for years – were put in this position by Sinclair.
Two Channel 12 staffers said Braun tried to rewrite Sinclair's script, but it was rejected.
When the story exploded on social media this week, some people asked: Why don't Sinclair TV anchors quit in protest? Because the 40 percent financial penalty in their Sinclair contracts would be too costly, according to Bloomberg and the Hollywood Reporter.
Sinclair talent contracts include "a liquidated damages clause for leaving before the term of their agreement was up: one that requires they pay as much as 40 percent of their annual compensation to the company," Bloomberg says.
Contracts also include a "non-compete" clause, which has been standard for most Cincinnati TV talent contracts since I started covering the beat in 1985. Non-competes can restrict an employee from working at a competing TV (or radio) station for months. Sheila Gray spent six months away from Cincinnati TV in moving from WXIX-TV to WKRC-TV in 2014, and Jack Atherton waited nine months to work for WLWT-TV after leaving WXIX-TV. The only contract without a non-compete that I recall in recent years was Ken Broo's WLWT-TV deal which allowed him to work at WCPO-TV immediately in 2013.
Current and former Sinclair employees told Bloomberg that "it was the potential financial penalty that had the greatest impact on those thinking of quitting," not the non-compete clause.
Braun, son of longtime TV entertainer Bob Braun, was hired by Channel 12 in 1985. Dierking, daughter of UC and NBA Cincinnati Royals basketball player Connie Dierking, came to Channel 12 in 1988 as a sports reporter, and later co-anchored "Good Morning Cincinnati" for 13 years.