What does 27 years of hard-hitting, honest and integrity-driven reporting get you? You would think it would merit you esteem within your community and among your peers, the loyalty of your station and the respect of those who watch you. But, if you were Larry Conners of KMOV in St. Louis, Missouri, that level of expectation would prove disappointing.
The profession of anchor and journalist afforded Conners opportunities that most of us could only dream of, and one such dream was an interview with President Obama in April of 2012. During the interview, Conners called Obama on the mat for his extravagant vacations while so many of his viewers, Obama’s constituents struggled daily to simply make ends meet.
Obama’s response was true to form, he skirted the issue, said he was trying to raise a family and that Air Force One and the Secret Service detail was necessary to his position. When Conners concluded his interview with closing commentary he noted that Obama had not addressed the meat of the question, the reason for so much extravagance in the vacations in the wake of such the need and desperation of so many in our nation.
Conners said those around him warned that his interview might place him under scrutiny, as it was clear after the interview those in attendance with the President were put off, if not angered, by the line of questioning.
The warning proved true when, shortly after his interview, Conners was notified that his IRS tax payback plan had been cancelled and his back taxes were due immediately. Conners maintains that the back taxes were the result of accounting errors on the part of professionals hired to prepare taxes on behalf of him and his wife.
While the taxes amounted to tens of thousands of dollars, the Conners had entered into a plan to pay those taxes with the IRS. According to Conners they had been on track with payments in accordance with their agreement when the contract was suddenly cancelled.
While Conners sought to work out the issues with the IRS he remained silent for months in public forum about his tax woes. It was only last week when news came to light that the IRS had been used as a political tool to thwart, harass and intimidate individuals, institutions and groups who did not espouse the rhetoric of the nation according to Obama.
Conners, who at the time had a page on facebook created by his employer, KMOV, publicly queried whether or not his tax woes were not the result of such targeting and in retaliation for his April interview with President Obama. This questioning was not well received by KMOV who forced Conners to publicly apologize for using his station’s forum and his public figure status from creating the news and stomping on journalistic principle.
Conners admitted that his query did not clearly address the fact that his issues with the IRS had been ongoing and that he had been part of a payment plan long before the April interview.
Bowing to whatever governmental and outside pressure there may have been, in the days that followed, Conners was removed from the air and later fired.
He has filed suit and gave an interview to another hard-hitting, no-nonsense journalist, Charles Jaco, which will be aired on Sunday morning. A teaser 2-minute bit of the report has already been aired, but the circumstances will be more fully discussed at that time.
Whatever fleshing out remains to occur, the fact remains that Conners had asked the kind of questions of Obama that as citizens we have the right to have answered honestly and with integrity.
Also a known fact Obama does not care to answer the hard questions, especially when it reflects poorly on his “record” and shows a decided disregard for the constituents he has sworn to represent to the best of his ability.
Back in my college days, when I wrote for the campus newspaper, I was told that despite whatever righteous indignation we felt towards an individual, institution or practice, our job as journalists was to report the news, not to make it and certainly not to be part of it.
However, the rules have changed, and by necessity, journalistic integrity now requires the type of honesty and questioning that Conners demonstrated. Whatever the issues with Conners taxes, the timing of the contract cancellation, as well as the recent evidence which impugns the IRS’ legitimacy, calls into question whether or not the agency has been unethically used as a tool to silence another media opponent.