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WVII GM says Consiglio was on way out, Michaels ‘couldn’t continue working without him’

Posted Nov. 21, 2012, at 8 p.m.
Last modified Nov. 22, 2012, at 6:11 a.m.

BANGOR, Maine — The general manager at Bangor TV stations WVII and WFVX says he thinks the main reason for Tuesday’s joint on-air resignation of news anchors Tony Consiglio and Cindy Michaels had more to do with job security than journalistic concerns.

Mike Palmer, vice president and GM for Bangor’s ABC (Channel 7) and Fox (Channel 22) station affiliates, said he offered Consiglio’s job to another person on Monday.

“Tony’s job was offered to someone else Monday. Cindy knew this and decided she couldn’t continue working without him,” said Palmer.

When told of Palmer’s statement, Consiglio said he didn’t know anything about that.

Both Michaels and Consiglio said they are close friends in addition to being co-workers and have almost the same mindset when it comes to the way news should be done.

When asked if their departure had anything to do with salary issues, Palmer said no.

“Actually, Cindy was offered a contract extension within the last few days. We wanted her to stay,” he said.

Michaels and Consiglio signed off their 6 p.m. newscast by telling viewers they were both resigning and that Tuesday night’s newscast was their last at the sister stations owned by New York City-based Rockfleet Broadcasting III LLC.

The BDN’s online story about the joint resignations drew well over 350,000 views from late Tuesday night to early Wednesday evening, was picked up by national websites like Drudge Report, Yahoo and others, and prompted several calls from national and regional news outlets to Palmer, Consiglio and Michaels for interviews.

“I think if we were able to do it on a general basis, it’s something we’d consider doing in terms of speaking about it to groups or on shows,” said Michaels. “So far we’re being asked to talk about it in specifics of what happened, but we don’t want this to become a back-and-forth blame thing.”

Michaels, who was born in Pasadena, Calif., and raised in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., said they never intended to try and make anyone look bad with their on-air resignations.

“The video out there with us saying goodbye is how we prefer to have the community and area remember us and keep us in mind,” she said. “It was cordial, professional, and as best as we could leave it.”

On Wednesday, neither Consiglio nor Michaels, 46, regretted their decisions.

“I still feel I did what I felt was right,” said Consiglio, 28.

Consiglio and Michaels said they got a lot of support and encouragement from family, friends and even people they don’t know personally Tuesday night and throughout Wednesday.

“It’s been nonstop. It’s been crazy. I’m amazed,” Michaels said. “But I’m sad to hear from some people that we possibly could have ruined our careers. That’s very saddening to hear because journalism and broadcasting is very important to me.”

Michaels hopes, at the least, that the stand she and Consiglio have taken serves to promote discussion and debate.

“I’ve had a few friends who have told me they now feel like they have the strength to speak out, because they felt it was admirable to do something like that,” she said.

That’s how former WVII producer David Esch, who now lives in California, reacted.

“I was really proud to see Cindy and Tony make a bold move,” said Esch, who worked three months at WVII last year. “In journalism, you have nothing but your credibility, so to make a move like that to keep it intact, that’s something I applaud.”

At WVII and WFVX on Wednesday, the phones rang regularly.

“Reporters from all over the country have been calling today,” Palmer said. “But as far as viewers, there’s been almost no reaction. We’ve had one email and two phone calls all day.”

Palmer had his hands full in the wake of the resignations as the station already was short-staffed because of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, but he said it was business as usual.

“This has been no effect on the operations,” he said. “I anticipate hiring a reporter a week from Friday. We’ve gotten 25 to 30 responses already, and quite a few of those from Maine, as well as several more from all over the country.”

In the meantime, Lindsey Mills will anchor the 6, 10 and 11 p.m. newscasts on the two stations. She has been the 10 p.m. anchor since September.

Consiglio and Michaels said they resigned because of ongoing frustration and disagreement about the way they were allowed or told to do their jobs, and an upper-management expectation for them to do “somewhat unbalanced news, politically, in general.”

Palmer reiterated Wednesday that he and ownership take a very limited role in the newsgathering operations for WVII-WFVX.

“I don’t go to story meetings. I don’t assign stories. I am not involved,” he said.

Esch, who worked as a producer at the stations for three months last year, said he quit in November over some “ethical breaches” he was personally familiar with.

“One time, we did a piece on a Democrat candidate and in the sound bite, she talked about her stand for same-sex marriage,” said Esch, founder and president of Poseidon Productions videography in California. “The next morning Mike called a meeting and said that would not happen again with anyone mentioning same-sex marriage, without also having someone speak who had an opposing viewpoint.”

Palmer said that was a rare instance where management called a meeting to address a problem.

“We do balanced journalism, and we don’t do one-sided stories,” Palmer said. “That is a perfect example of wanting to cover both sides of an issue.”

Esch also described how Michaels came to him one day to ask him how he felt about something he considered unethical.

“She seemed really uncomfortable asking me, but asked how I felt about doing a commercial for an advertiser, which I felt uncomfortable with,” he said. “It’s not journalistically ethical.”

Palmer disputed that account.

“I don’t think we do that here,” said Palmer. “We’ve never asked reporters to do commercials. We don’t ask news people to do commercials ever.”

WVII has consistently ranked last among news shows in the Bangor market. No current Nielsen TV ratings numbers were available and WVII-WFVX do not subscribe to the ratings service, but the most recently reported numbers had WVII third in the ages 25-54 demographic last July and third in every weekday news time slot. In the 6 p.m. time slot, WVII attracted 1,600 viewers to 13,600 for WABI and 8,600 for WLBZ.

When asked if WVII-WFVX planned to cover the anchor resignations as a news story, Palmer deferred the answer to his news department.

“No, because we’re not taking a back seat to what happened,” said Mills, who added that no local TV stations have called to do interviews or stories. “We’ve been getting phone calls all day from news outlets, and we’re aware of the attention it’s gotten nationwide, but there’s a bunch of news to cover.

“Morale here is high, and we’ll be going forward with a tight, dedicated news family,” he said.

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