BREAKING NEWS: KTUL preempts sales tax debate


KTUL Channel 8 was supposed to be re-airing the Vision 2025 debate which we taped last Friday at Channel 47. Channel 8 anchor Carole Lambert was one of the panelists. I just received word that they're showing a Cheers episode instead. Were the "vote yes" PR people unhappy with their side's performance? Wanted to be sure it didn't get prime time coverage on a major network station? Did they threaten to pull ads if the show wasn't pulled? Or is there a more innocuous explanation? If you're curious, call the station and find out -- 445-8888.

UPDATE (21:56) -- Several friends called the KTUL newsroom to ask for an explanation. Whoever answered the phone claimed that the production quality of the tape from KWHB was not up to their broadcast standards. When one friend asked if the problem was with the tape itself or with the production quality, the person on the other end hung up.

KTUL was given the tape immediately after the taping Friday night. Their own crew and truck were present, and Carole Lambert taped an on-the-spot report in front of the KWHB studios at 88th & Memorial. If there had been a problem with the tape, they had three and a half days to get a better tape from KWHB. KWHB felt it was high enough quality to re-air on their own station Monday night. Several friends saw KWHB's rebroadcast, and no one reported that anything was inaudible or that there were distracting technical problems. Perhaps there were a couple of occasions where the camera was on the wrong person -- not uncommon in a live event, especially one with 10 participants but only three cameras -- but the content is what matters to the voters of Tulsa County.

There was no warning. No one called me or Jack Gordon to say that the debate would not be airing. Many people had sent out e-mail alerts advising Tulsans that the debate would be on again tonight. The TV Guide channel showed the debate, as did Sunday's TV World, and the debate still shows up on KTUL's own website schedule, as of 9:56 pm, September 2, 2003.

Then there's this item, posted Friday night on KTUL's website (emphasis added):

Debate Held Over Vision 2025 Proposal

Friday August 29, 2003 11:11pm Reporter: Carole Lambert Posted By: Kevin King

Tulsa - A televised debate over the Vision 2025 proposal was held Friday night. No matter which side you're on, it's becoming a harsh battle over Tulsa's future.

Both sides were pretty outspoken. The debate, which aired live on KWHB Channel 47. It was a one hour debate with Tulsa Mayor Bill LaFortune and Karen Keith telling Tulsans why they should vote for Vision 2025 and Republican Michael Bates and former County Assessor Jack Gordon telling Tulsans why they should vote no.

NewsChannel 8's Carole Lambert was on the panel and asked whether offering Boeing 350-million dollars in incentives is setting a dangerous precedent.

"There is a precedent in Tulsa for this with Whirlpool and others," LaFortune said. "There have been incentives provided to bring jobs to Tulsa and agreements made that when you receive funds, those jobs come, well you don't receive funds. As a matter of fact, if that commitment's not made, the tax is not levied."

"We need to be fair, we need to set an environment that's good for all companies," Bates said. "The state incentives, the Quality Jobs program, is available to any company that brings good jobs to our community. That's there even if we vote against this. Boeing would qualify for the Quality Jobs program if they come to Oklahoma."

If you missed Friday night's debate, you can catch it again. Through our partnership with Channel 47, we will re-air the debate Tuesday, September 2nd at 7:00 on NewsChannel 8.

Copyright 2003 KTUL, Inc.

If a scheduled program is preempted for any reason -- breaking news, technical difficulties -- standard practice is to run a crawl advising viewers of the change. If nothing else, it prevents hundreds of viewers from calling and asking what's going on. In this case KTUL simply ran "Cheers" with no explanation. It must have been a last minute decision, or they would have reverted to ABC network programming, instead of a 20 year old sitcom episode.

KWHB deserves great praise for once again (as they did in 2000) producing and broadcasting a debate on this important issue -- a 13 year tax that will take over $1 billion from Tulsa taxpayers.

KTUL must answer for its decision to break their commitment to show the debate on their station. Did they bow to pressure from the "vote yes" campaign? Was there a threat to pull ads? What would be enough to get KTUL to tarnish their journalistic credibility, to withhold a polite dialogue on an important topic from the public?

MORE (22:45): Just spoke to Carole Lambert as she left the studio following the 10 o'clock news. Carole suggested I contact KTUL General Manager Pat Baldwin (445-9302). She was surprised at the 2 o'clock production meeting to see no reference to the debate in the rundowns for the 5 and 6 o'clock broadcasts. That was when she was told that the debate would not air -- no explanation given. It was only when she was on the phone with me that her producer gave her the official explanation. She did mention that her husband, watching the debate when it aired previously, noticed occasions when the beginnings of questions were cut off because the sound wasn't brought up quickly enough for a given microphone. So you run a crawl disclaiming the production values -- the point is the information being presented, not how slick it looks. Right?

UPDATE (9/3/2003, 13:30) -- Just got off the phone with KTUL General Manager Pat Baldwin. The conversation started with him on the offensive, claiming KTUL had no obligation to air the debate, had made no commitment, had no obligation to notify anyone of the change in plans, and he didn't owe anyone an apology.

He repeated the claim that there was a production values problem, although he had not personally seen the tape or the debate. He said they normally use five cameras, 47 only used three, and they didn't have the material to repackage the debate the way they would like. The problem was not with the tape itself. He claimed there was another reason for cancelling the debate -- the possibility that Todd Huston's lawsuit challenging two of the four ballot items might prevail. He said that because the original KTUL debate had to be cancelled (because the vote yes people claimed a schedule conflict), and the KWHB debate was moved (from the 21st to the 29th, again because the vote yes people had a schedule conflict), and the production quality (not slick enough), and the possibility that the lawsuit would affect two of the ballot items -- he just decided that he'd had enough and to forget about the whole thing.

In the course of the conversation he mentioned that he is on the board of the Tulsa Metro Chamber. But he assured me that no one pressured him into cancelling the debate.

He said he would consider airing the debate at another time. Perhaps some encouragement would help.

UPDATE (9/4/03, 11:30): Pat Baldwin called again. He says I mischaracterized what he said about his relationship with vote yes marketeer David Littlefield -- they are not "good friends", but they did go to lunch and have spoken at various events as they're in related businesses. I'm sorry for misunderstanding, and I've made the correction above.

He also gave me more detail about the problems with the KWHB tape. On previous joint efforts, Channel 8 asked 47 for two things: a "clean feed" and a wide shot stationary camera. The "clean feed" (without captions and graphics) allows Channel 8 to superimpose its own graphics. The wide stationary shot allows them to cover up mistakes in direction. If the tight camera is on the wrong speaker, they can replace the shot with a wide shot. The KWHB wide camera didn't remain stationary, he said. Baldwin said Channel 47 had provided these in past joint efforts, but not this time, for whatever reason. I will try to confirm this with Channel 47 GM Bill Paddock.

I still consider these technical nitpicks. It can't be that hard to say, "We know this broadcast isn't up to our usual standards, but we feel these issues are important enough that we are going to bring this to you anyway." Substance over style.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on September 2, 2003 7:10 PM.

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