Sunday, May 7, 2017

THE FOX CULTURE, COVER-UPS, AND HUNTER NICKELL



"The time is always right to do what is right."
                                                                                                           -MLK, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. would probably roll over in his grave if he got a whiff of the
toxic stench  that permeates our society today. MLK, Jr. hoped people would be judged
by the content of their character, not the color of their skin. The content of the character
thing still has a long, long way to go. Power, greed, entitlement, getting ahead, and doing
whatever it takes to accomplish all of those have diluted a value system where honesty,
integrity, and honor once meant something.

Instead of doing the right thing, most people today seem to do the right thing only when
it's right for themselves. Self-preservation has become almost as important as the next selfie
in our self-absorbed world.

The time is always right to do what is right.

18 college students on the campus of Penn State did not do what is right. And it cost them.

They were recently charged in the death of a 19-year-old sophomore at Penn State who
drank so much at an on-campus fraternity party, he had a blood-alcohol level of .40, which
is pretty close to being dead on your feet. Tim Piazza fell down stairs, not once but twice.
The fraternity brothers he desperately wanted to like, all but abandoned him while he was
on his way to a toxic death.

Instead of doing the right thing, the frat boys went into self-preservation mode and did the
right thing for themselves.

During the subsequent investigation, police discovered a text from a leader of the frat
house to a few of the other frat boys who pretty much let their so-call 'brother' die a
painful death:

"If need be, just tell them what I told you guys, found him behind [a bar] the next morning
at around 10 a.m., and he was freezing-cold, but we decided to call 911 instantly, because
the kid's health was paramount."

Sad. Sick. Disturbing.

It's almost frightening this kind of cover-up came on the same Penn State campus that was
forever stained and wounded by a child sex-abuse scandal in 2011. It happened within the
prestigious football program built by the legendary Joe Paterno, a coach who was lauded from
coast-to-coast by the media, administrator, players, and coaches for "winning the right way."

The image built by Paterno was shattered by the biggest scandal in college sports history
as his former longtime assistant, Jerry Sandusky, was arrested for sexually abusing young
children with many of the lewd acts taking place inside the walls of the football facility.

The subsequent investigation revealed that administrators, including the president and
athletic director, did their best to cover-up the scandal. The late Paterno, who was told of
an incident between Sandusky and a child by a former assistant coach, would say he wished
he "had done more."  He admitted telling administrators about the incident, but that was
pretty much it.

Administrators knew if the media got wind of a scandal of those proportions, Penn State
and the football program, as they knew it, would sink like the Titanic. They would lose their
jobs and be cut off from the golden goose. And the once sterling reputation of Paterno would
be stained forever.

Instead of doing the right thing and reporting the child sex-abuse incidents, they chose to try
and do the right thing for themselves which entailed covering up the unfathomable.

However, when the PSU tanker hit the iceberg, all the sordid details came out, and they were
all doomed. Paterno, the president, and athletic director, lost everything.

Instead of doing the right thing and protecting young kids, they tried to protect themselves.
The contents of their character? Clearly, they didn't have enough good character to fill up
a thimble.


"Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
                                                                                 -MLK, Jr.

The scandals at Penn State, as well as the recent one at Baylor University, where
head coach Art Briles was fired after being negligent in a sexual assault scandal involving
several members of the team are common in sports, but they've become more prevalent in
the corporate world.

Fox television, which is owned by NewsCorp, has been mired in a sexual harassment scandal
that led to the termination of news guru Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly, and,  ultimately the resignation of Bill Shine, who was a co-president at the company. He was accused in
several lawsuits of  covering up Mr. Ailes’s behavior and dismissing concerns from
women who complained about it.

Instead of doing what was right, Shine allegedly did the right thing for himself and the
company. He allegedly attempted to brush aside the complaints of all those women who
claimed they were sexually harassed, allegedly, trying to make like they never happened.

                                "All truths are easy to understand once they are discovered;
                                 the point is to discover them."-Galileo Galilei

The culture at Fox News was not unlike the one I encountered and experienced while working
for Fox Sports Net several years ago. I was an anchor for both the South and Arizona region,
as both were broadcast out of the Atlanta.

The news operation started from scratch with very little leadership and/or experience. Hunter
Nickell, the president and general manager, had never been part of a news operation. Steve
Craddock, his confidant and executive producer, knew about production, but didn't spend an
hour of his life in a newsroom.

The newsroom they constructed was Romper Room on steroids.

One day, a few clowns in the newsroom tried to play a prank on a fellow employee. They
constructed a full-page memo and posted it throughout the newsroom and office. The memo
attacked the person's character, family, job path, and made light of his ability with a reference
to Marv Albert. The memo was allowed to remain posted for six hours before the employee
came in.

Nickell shrugged it off as a "locker room" prank. That's fine and good, but this wasn't a
locker room. It was supposed to be a professional working environment. There isn't an
office anywhere in the country where that kind of behavior is tolerated. There isn't a human
resource department  that believes that's acceptable.

I was personal friends with the person who was on the wrong end of the memo. He admitted
to me that it ripped him to his core. He didn't sleep for six months. He'd come home from his
shift at 3 a.m. and admitted he stayed in bed until he had to go to bed until 4 p.m. when he had
to go to work. My friend said he had to go to therapy to work through the damage the memo
had done.

Former U.S. Senator Ted Danforth once said while eulogizing a close friend who had been
victimized by bullying and a smear campaign that he could no longer deal with:

"There’s a principle of law called the thin skull rule. It says that if you hurt someone
who is unusually susceptible to injury, you are liable even for the damages you didn’t
anticipate. The person who caused the injury must pay, not the person with the thin
skull. A good rule of law should be a good rule of politics. The bully should get the
blame not the victim."

Instead of doing what is right, Nickell and Craddock did what was right for themselves. Self-
preservation. They did little to assure my friend he'd be guaranteed a safe environment to
work in. Instead, they collected all the existing memos throughout the building and destroyed
them.They only cared about protecting themselves. They knew if corporate got wind of the
type of culture they had created, their jobs would be gone and the golden goose would go
along with it.

When my friend confronted Nickell on the situation and the memo, Nickell told my friend,
"It's been taken care of." Nickell didn't reprimand or suspend anyone in the office. He
just made like it never happened.

Both Nickell and Craddock declined repeated requests for comment on this story.

Making like things never happened was a skill Nickell had perfected. According to
one anchor who is still part of the Fox Regional Networks and chose not to be identified for
obvious reasons, Nickell once called a 'secret' meeting when one of the anchors called in sick.

"It was one of the most unbelievable things I ever experienced not only in television, but just
life in general," he said. "Hunter called in about 15 employees and asked them their opinion
of the anchor who called in sick. He gave them free reign to say whatever they wanted without
fear of repercussion. And they did. The guy wasn't even there to defend himself or call B.S.
on all the personal attacks. That's about as low as anything I've ever seen in the business."

I'm not sure that can be classified as doing what is right.

Things didn't end there at Fox Sports Net with Nickell.

Just over an hour before I was to anchor a show, I received a call that Michael Tardio, a
childhood friend of mine, had been brutally murdered in Los Angeles. His story was
documented in spectacular fashion on 48 Hours on CBS, titled, "Playing with
Fire." Check out The 48 Hours link.

As one can imagine, I was shocked, stunned, and in a state of utter disbelief.  However, I
still had several shows to anchor and couldn't let if affect my performance. I had to put on
the good face and do my job. Usually, when I get on the set, I joke around to lighten the
crew up.  I'm always pretty happy because, after all, I had a dream job anchoring sports.
However, I was quiet and not in any kind of mood to kid around after learning of my friend's
brutal death.

After I got off the set, I returned to my desk to find a derogatory note with a feminine
product attached to it. It was a prank that had gone way too far, especially with the discovery
that a childhood friend of mine, a person part of a family whom I've been friends with for more
than 40 years had been gunned down and lit on fire.

It had crossed well-beyond the line of a professional working environment. It violated nearly
every guideline for a safe environment in the company handbook.

Nickell, as usual, chose not to address the situation. He was more concerned with finding
a way to keep corporate from finding out about it. According to a longtime producer who
worked at Fox Sport Net, Nickell "destroyed the memo and didn't bother to address it with
the person who created it."

The producer went on to say, "Hunter made himself out to be this salt-of-the-earth guy. And
many people liked him. But he was in way over his head when it came to dealing with a
newsroom. Hunter knew about ad sales, marketing, and such but the only thing he knew about broadcast television was how to turn to the channel the network was on. And he was the kind of guy who believed that if nobody at corporate found out, then it didn't happen."

There were rules in place at Fox Sports Net. A glitzy company handbook was passed out to
employees to make sure they knew what was right and what was wrong. It's unfortunate
Hunter Nickell didn't bother to read it. Or perhaps, he just chose to make up the rules as he went
along. However, his number one rule always stayed in place: do what is right for me

The time is always right to do what is right.

From Penn State to Baylor and college campuses in-between, I've covered many of these
type of cover-up stories. Leaders and executives who believe they are above the rules and
the law, try to find a way to make those things that could potentially make them look bad, go
away.

When the truth doesn't fall in their favor or could shake the pole leading up to their lofty
perch, they run from it, or even worse, bury it, hoping that nobody ever finds out.

Instead of doing the right things for the victims of attacks, assaults, and rule-breaking pranks,
they do what is right for themselves and their careers.

Bill Shine found that out. So did Roger Ailes and Bill O'Reilly. Art Briles was a $4-million-a-year
coach, now he's forever unemployable with a reputation that came down quicker than a house of
cards. Joe Paterno? He was fired and destroyed a near perfect reputation. Same goes for the
administrators at Penn State. They made the mistake of doing the right thing for themselves
instead of what is right.

Many of these people are like the Wizard of Oz. They talk a big game and are real tough
behind a shield or façade. But once you pull back the curtain, we find out just how small
and arrogant they really are. We see how they build great public images but then discover
their content of character is beyond foul and wretched.

They end up getting exposed for what they truly are: cowards.

                                        Cowards die many times before their deaths;
                                          The valiant never taste of death but once.

                                                                                               -Shakespeare









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