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Boston anchor stirs endorsement flap

Boston news icon Chet Curtis appears in a Webcast produced by the American Association of Health Plans intended to stir up opposition to patients'-rights legislation. A Washington newspaper had reported that a Boston anchor—Curtis was not named—had been hired to interview the group's president for the piece, but Curtis' role was limited to a brief introduction of what appears to be a news piece, albeit a slanted one.

Curtis, a 30-year Boston news veteran who hosts a news-talk show for the New England Cable Network, said his involvement was not a political endorsement but came from his investment in the company that produced the spot. "It doesn't go to the general public; it has a limited audience; and I didn't endorse anything," he said. "I have an association and an investment not in AAHP but in BizNews."

But the Project for Excellence in Journalism's Carl Gottlieb questioned the advisability of an extremely well-known anchor's lending a name and/or professional manner built over a distinguished career to any side of a political issue: "I wish he hadn't done it."

So do Curtis' NECN bosses Phil Balboni and Charles Kravetz. After reviewing the Webcast, they said that, although it was too late to do anything about the AAHP project, Curtis would not do similar work in the future. "We told Chet we would not be comfortable with his doing that again, and he understands and respects that."

WIAT wins suit

Several former employees of WIAT(TV) Birmingham, Ala., who charged their former employer with racial discrimination, lost their lawsuit when U.S. District Judge James Hancock granted the Media General-owned CBS affiliate a summary judgment. The decision was the latest in a series that whittled down and eventually ended the litigation, unless the plaintiffs appeal. Their attorney could not be reached.

But Hancock was emphatic: "There is no way that the evidence in this case, individually or collectively, rises to the level of a racially hostile work environment." The plaintiffs were ordered to pay court costs.

Among the allegations were unequal pay and hours and that a profane e-mail that included a racial slur circulated through the station. General Manager Eric Land, who was named in the suit, said that he was relieved to finally settle the matter and that the claims had no basis in fact. The e-mail, he said, was sent by an unknown person using the terminal of a reporter not there at the time.

RTNDA premium

Conus Communications says it will offer a credit good for up to $750 toward the future purchase of Ku-band satellite inventory for broadcast journalists attending the Radio-Television News Directors Association annual conference in Nashville, Tenn., in September. Vice President and General Manager Tom Becherer said the idea came from his company's commitment to RTNDA and its concern that the current economy will keep attendance down. He said, "We've been hearing of whole groups that say they're not sending anybody to the convention."

RTNDA will discount another $50 for anyone who takes advantage of Conus' program. With numerous other discounts, RTNDA will likely take a bottom-line hit even if attendance matches past years'. RTNDA President Barbara Cochran said the group is hopeful the Nashville location will attract additional daily or exhibit-only attendees who can drive there.

KHOU kudos

KHOU-TV Houston has won yet another award for its investigative work uncovering the danger from Firestone tires. This one comes from the National Press Club, which gave the station its Award for Consumer Journalism.

Retirements at KCTV(TV)

Wendall Anschultz took an early retirement (at 63) and delivered his final newscast last week after nearly 35 years at KCTV(TV) Kansas City, Mo. Consumer reporter Stan Cramer and General Manager John Rose, current president of the Missouri Broadcasters Association, are also retiring under the voluntary program offered by station owner Meredith Corp.

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