Veteran Journalist Takes On Westinghouse p. 17

By: Allan Wolper White House correspondent Sarah McClendon charges the
company with harassing reporters and whistle-blowers;
says it should not be permitted to buy CBS television sp.

SARAH MCCLENDON, THE venerable White House correspondent, says the Westinghouse Electric Corporation harasses reporters and whistle-blowers and should not be allowed to buy CBS television.
"They have a whole group of people who go after anyone who criticizes them," McClendon said of Westinghouse. "If they are allowed to buy CBS, they'll want to manipulate the news media and not allow them to say anything."
Westinghouse's manufacturing arm is involved in a wide range of enterprises, including the development of nuclear power. It receives just 10% of its income from two cable networks, five local television, 18 radio stations, and the syndication of its programming.
The CBS network owns seven television stations, 21 radio stations, and syndicates its nightly news program to hundreds of its affiliates.
McClendon, reading from notes and embellishing her remarks with anecdotes, told a primarily female audience at an Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication panel discussion that a corporate marriage of CBS and Westinghouse would contribute to the atmosphere of self-censorship in Washington, D.C.
"If they get to buy CBS, you are going to hear news according to Westinghouse," said the 85-year-old journalist. "We are going to have to take their word on radiation, and on the management of nuclear fuel."
McClendon, two days later, provided specific examples of her criticism of Westinghouse in a newsletter that she distributes all over the country.
She said she decided to tell the assembled academics of her concerns so that they would understand how little news is being reported in the nation's capital.
"I saw all those women sitting out there and I thought I had to tell them the real story of journalism in Washington," she said in an interview. "I wanted to tell them no one is doing anything there anymore. The reporters are just afraid to do any real investigative reporting anymore."
Gil Schwartz, the vice president of communications for Westinghouse Broadcasting, said McClendon had no facts to support her allegations.
"At no time has the Westinghouse Electric Corporation tried to influence the news operations of its broadcasting subsidiaries," Schwartz said. "We have no idea where Ms. McClendon got her information and we believe her sources to be unreliable."
Schwartz said the Westinghouse television news programs have never bowed to special interests, especially when they might involve their parent company.
"Our continued viability as a broadcaster relies on the separation of our news operation and the operations of our parent company," he said. "We defend that separation vigorously."
McClendon insisted, however, that Terri Taylor, a reporter at KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh, a Westinghouse station, was fired for aggressively pursuing a story involving the Westinghouse corporate sale of missile parts to Iran.
"They just fired her," said McClendon. "It never got on the air."
She also said the non-profit Government Accountability Project found examples of Westinghouse Electric Corporation intimidation of employees who complained to management about alleged safety problems at the Hanford nuclear plant in Lacey, Wash.
Alene Anderson, a staff attorney for GAP, said Westinghouse had gone to "extraordinary measures" to silence employees who spoke out against the conditions at the Hanford plant.
"Westinghouse Nuclear does not have much respect for freedom of speech," Anderson said.
Schwartz refused to comment on the charges made by McClendon or GAP.
"I have no files in front of me about any of this," Schwartz said. "I want you to say that I decline to comment on any specific cases mentioned by McClendon."
The Westinghouse public affairs executive said CBS would be able to operate as independently as NBC News, which is owned by General Electric, or by ABC-Capital Cities, which has just been bought by Disney.
"When it comes to the subject of CBS, we will continue, if the acquisition is approved, to maintain the highest standards of journalism at that station," he said.
Schwartz insisted that the Westinghouse news stations have always been able to separate themselves from the corporate entity that owns them.
"The interests of the parent company have never been leveraged against our broadcast outlets," Schwartz said. "The issue under discussion is whether the joint CBS-Westinghouse Broadcasting operations can operate independently and with integrity. It can. And we have a 75-year history to approve it."
The Westinghouse Electric Corporation agreed in a deal announced Aug. 1 to pay $5.4 billion for CBS, Inc.
"They have a whole group of people who go after anyone who criticizes them," McClendon said of Westinghouse. "If they are allowed to buy CBS, they'll want to manipulate the news media and not allow them to say anything."
?(Wolper, a professor of journalism at the Newark campus of Rutgers University, covers campus journalism for E&P.) [Caption]


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