In the event you’re not paying attention to St. Louis media and you missed the social media-driven saga of Larry Conners and CBS affiliate KMOV-TV, let’s recap.
After the news broke about the IRS targeting Tea Party groups during the 2012 election, Conners, the longtime KMOV anchor, hopped on his personal Facebook page and wrote he had been targeted by the IRS after an interview with President Barrack Obama in 2012.
On May 13 Conners wrote in Facebook: “I don’t accept ‘conspiracy theories,’ but I do know that almost immediately after the interview, the IRS started hammering me. … Can I prove it? At this time, no. But it is a fact that since that April 2012 interview … the IRS has been pressuring me.”
There was media attention, of course, and the next day he read a statement on KMOV’s 5 p.m. newscast back pedaling off his initial claim and admitting the IRS issues dated back to 2008.
“To be fair, I should disclose that my issues with the IRS preceded that interview (with Obama) by several years,” Conners said.
Conners was then taken off the air, at least temporarily. And then yesterday came the final shoe to drop.
“We regret to announce that Larry Conners is no longer a KMOV news reporter,” Mark Pimentel, KMOV TV President & GM, wrote in a statement. “Larry was a valued member of KMOV for a long time, and we will miss him.”
After his dismissal, we also learned two other interesting nuggets of note from Conners:
- Conners claims he disagreed with the on-air statement, suggesting he was forced to read it.
- After his interview, Conners told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he had a payment plan with the IRS dating back to 2008, and after his interview with the President, the agreement was cancelled, with the IRS informing him they would now take action.
In reading through the lines, corporate statements filled with legalese, and public posturing, here’s my take.
Conners is a news broadcaster — a trusted source for “unbiased” information. And while many organizations, news or otherwise, don’t have well thought out social media policies and procedures (and those that do, often don’t do an effective job of articulating the policies to employees), today most media outlets encourage their personalities to leverage social media and engage on a personal level with viewers to build a larger, more loyal audience.
In doing so, certainly Conners has a right to speak his mind on his personal Facebook page. But as someone who’s expected to truthfully deliver news to thousands, he is held to a higher standard than most. Yes, we enjoy free speech. But that doesn’t give us the right to yell “fire” in a crowded movie theater. And particularly as a public figure and ambassador of a news organization, it’s incumbent upon Conners to be more cautious.
In the end there are many lessons to be learned on both sides: All forms of organizations need to have social media policies and procedures in place that are clearly articulated to employees. And as we all must do, employing a modicum of common sense and an understanding of one’s personal responsibility in social media channels is never a bad idea as long as we prefer gainful employment.