TV journalist Maria Shriver took a leave of absence from NBC while her husband Arnold Schwarzenegger runs for governor of California. A West Virginia station believes that a local anchor should do the same as his co-anchor/wife pursues state office.
Erik Wells, anchor at WBOY-TV, Clarksburg, has sued employer West Virginia Media Holdings over its decision to place him on involuntary leave without pay while his wife and co-anchor Natalie Tenant runs for West Virginia secretary of state.
Wells has sued for breach of contract and tortuous interference with his business interests, seeking lost wages and other damages—including emotional distress, mental anguish and punitive damages.
In his complaint, Wells stressed that his contract and his wife's were separate, "conditioned in no way upon the contractual performance of Natalie Tennant or upon any of her personal or professional activities." To penalize him for his marriage to Tenant and her political affiliations violates West Virginia public policy, Wells says. In an interview, he added that the station does not bill them as a married "team" and that he told the station he wouldn't read stories that could appear to present a conflict.
West Virginia Media CEO Bray Cary says his company's principal concern is less the possibility or appearance of conflict in reporting on politics—which, he says, can be avoided—than the possibility or appearance of conflict in Tennant's fundraising. West Virginia is a small state with a small community of business leaders and political donors.
"She's out there asking people for money," Cary says, "while he's involved in reporting news that might involve those people." Cary says he did not anticipate the situation when the couple was hired as co-anchors less than a year ago and would prefer having both of them back co-anchoring the news. The pair are in the first year of a four-year deal, and, Cary says, the station spent thousands promoting them.