The mudslinging intensified in California’s 25th district during the weekend, as an embattled news organization accused Democrat Lee Rogers of politicizing controversial personnel changes while the displaced journalists continued holding incumbent Republican Rep. Buck McKeon responsible for costing them their jobs.
The employment scrap got under way Oct. 16. That’s when KHTS owner Carl Goldman told news director Carol Rock and reporter Mark Archuleta they were being laid off because of budget cuts. Both Archuleta and Rock maintain they were terminated because McKeon was tired of their unflattering reports and had threatened Goldman’s financial interests if the coverage did not stop — charges the McKeon camp flatly denies.
“It has been made clear that neither the Congressman nor his staff members had anything to do with the staffing decisions at KHTS, and we won’t engage in the perpetuation of these unfortunate accounts,” McKeon spokeswoman Alissa McCurley told HOH.
Goldman, meanwhile, went from playing defense on the firings — “Our decision to change personnel was solely a business decision,” he assured HOH in an Oct. 19 email — to now fingering Rogers as the instigator of the whole sordid affair.
The Beginning of the End
In a sweeping editorial originally posted last Friday, Goldman not only accuses Rogers of sour grapes, he traces the origins of Archuleta’s recent pink-slipping back to May of this year.
The tipping point was an Archuleta-penned post calling into question a private fundraiser for McKeon and subsequent land-swap deal benefiting the ski resort that hosted it. The story has since been scrubbed from the KHTS archives, but continues to live on cache-savvy local blogs.
Goldman insists he yanked the piece because of its lopsided bent. “We did this because it was taken from a blog that was fed to Mark Archuleta by Congressional candidate, Lee Rogers. Rogers personally confirmed that to Carl in a telephone conversation that week,” Goldman declared, adding that, “Congressman McKeon had not been given an opportunity to respond.”
Rogers challenged Goldman’s characterization of the entire episode. While he did acknowledge sharing the information about the fundraiser and real estate arrangement with Archuleta — Rogers held a press conference about the same issues, which Archuleta attended, in late April — Rogers said the findings were gathered from Federal Election Commission filings, hardly a fly-by-night source.
“We did not direct Archuleta to ‘a blog.’ We discovered the evidence ourselves through research and released it,” Rogers told HOH, providing a detailed timeline illustrating how sympathetic bloggers had subsequently latched on to Archuleta’s original reporting, not vice versa.
Rogers did recall conversing with Goldman around that time but insists the brief chat was about the future, not the past.
“I did speak with Goldman when he pulled the story and asked why. He told me that he pulled it because McKeon’s office didn’t have a chance to reply and that he’d put the story back up on Monday after McKeon replied. It never went back up,” Rogers shared.
According to Archuleta, if KHTS had to wait for a McKeon response before publishing stories, they’d never have anything to write about. Archuleta said he and Rock had learned that lesson the hard way after getting the silent treatment from McKeon staff about the evolving Countrywide probe.
“We kept calling and waiting, but the news cycle moved on,” he told HOH about the missed opportunity.
Rock confirmed radio silence was par for course. “McKeon’s office has always been hard to work with. They don’t return phone calls,” she told HOH.
Track record side, Archuleta said he emailed and called McCurley for comment while reporting out the ski resort story but never heard back. His research done, Archuleta said he sent the story live around 4 p.m. that Friday. Goldman called him at home not two hours later, stating that an enraged McKeon had chewed him out and was threatening to make himself scarce during a KHTS-sponsored two-day swing through the nation’s capital scheduled for the following week.
“Carl said, ‘I have to pull this,’” Archuleta recalled of the conversation.
The story was killed. McKeon made good on showing Goldman’s dozen or so paying guests around the Capitol. And everything went back to normal.
Until a few weeks ago.
An October Surprise
Just before they were marched into McKeon’s district office Oct. 5 for what would turn out to be a career lowlight, both Rock and Archuleta found themselves in the hot seat again.
The pair had collaborated on a report about a planned community for military veterans, a story Rock said drew the ire of McKeon and his communications team. Once again Goldman intervened, demanding that Rock play up McKeon’s involvement in a carefully choreographed rewrite.
“He has to be featured. You have to mention McKeon,” Rock said Goldman ordered. “I really resented it because I thought the first story stood.”
Still, Rock said she totally believed the introductory meeting they all had scheduled with McKeon district director Morris Thomas and McCurley at the end of the week might provide everyone with a fresh start.
At least, she did until Goldman opened his mouth.
“Carl’s opening statement was an apology. We were blindsided by that,” she said of the jarring exchange.
Archuleta was equally taken aback but somewhat less surprised.
“It was like there had already been a conversation going on,” Archuleta said of the pre-emptive mea culpa. “Why would he apologize if they hadn’t complained? They must have before the meeting took place,” he surmised.
And the appeasement didn’t stop there.
“Carl then told them we would be taken off covering McKeon stories until after the election and that he would personally endorse Buck through the station to make amends,” Archuleta recalled. “All of this before we even had a chance to speak.”
According to Rock, Thomas and McCurley took turns lobbing insults at them both, charging the duo of being in the tank for Rogers and blindly publishing opposition research as credible news.
“There were a lot of accusations made of us by McKeon’s staff,” she said of the contentious sit-down — a situation made all the more uncomfortable by what they saw as Goldman’s willingness to sacrifice his employees to stay on McKeon’s good side.
“I have integrity. And that was just thrown under the bus in that meeting by Mr. Goldman,” Rock said of the vote of no confidence her ex-boss handed down in full view of the Congressional aides.
Goldman maintains that meeting had been a long time coming (originally scheduled back in February) and had no bearing on the subsequent dismissals.
“Our decision to pull Carol and Mark off of covering election stories and assigning another reporter to handle election coverage (and the debate) had been made three days prior to the October 5th meeting. We were losing our objectivity,” Goldman argued in his editorial.
Goldman’s objectivity appears to be indelibly intact when it comes to accepting advertisements from both sides. His site features ads for McKeon and Rogers: