August 8, 2005
By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer
Alison Mead was thrilled when she landed work late last year
as associate producer of a series on women's health for Connecticut
Public Television. She even dared to think that the series might
save somebody's life.
Mead and the lead producer, Mary Ollie Newman, started work on the first
show, on heart disease, by finding a woman being treated at Hartford Hospital
for heart problems. They shot interviews in January with Dr. Paul Thompson
and Dr. William Bowden, the director of cardiology at Hartford.
And then the trouble began.
Soon afterward, the producers got a call from Jay Whitsett, vice president
of programming for CPTV. Whitsett told them that Jerry Franklin, the president
and CEO of Connecticut Public Broadcasting Inc., was demanding that the
producers shoot interviews with doctors from St. Francis Hospital and Medical
St. Francis was a key financial sponsor of the women's health series.
"Jerry just called and read me the riot act. He told me jobs are at
stake here [meaning me]," Whitsett wrote in a Jan. 13 e-mail to the
producers. "All [I] can say is that Jerry wants ST Francis people in
show #1 and I will be hung out to dry if it doesn't happen. I'm
sorry for this but I'm getting hammered."
Facing a situation that they felt was forcing them to breach a basic rule
of journalism ethics - that content decisions are kept inviolate from the
desires of advertisers or sponsors - Newman and Mead quit the project in
January. In March, former Fox 61 reporter Carolee Salerno also withdrew
for similar reasons.
"To just point-blank say, 'You're supposed to interview our doctors
...' There certainly may be a doctor at Hartford Hospital or some physician
at Yale who's better qualified, so how can they dictate that?" said
Newman, who won two Emmy awards during 25 years of work as a television
producer and reporter. "That's our business, to find out the best and
try to do the best story."
The demand by top management that journalists subjugate journalistic decisions
to the financial needs of a sponsor was not isolated to the women's health
series, current and former producers at CPTV said. They said it was just
one example of a pattern in which the CPTV chief has ceded editorial control
to sponsors, potentially undermining the credibility of the station's programming
"I think these guys are for sale," said one angry CPTV producer,
who asked for anonymity, saying he was afraid of retribution from Franklin. "It's
a slippery slope. They haven't gotten to the point of where they
are saying, 'Tell us what you want and we'll do it,' but they are headed
And the autocratic management style described in Whitsett's e-mail was
recognizable to many current and former CPTV employees. In contrast with
the 57-year-old Franklin's charm and his smooth on-screen manner during
CPTV fundraising programs, they complained of a boss who bullies subordinates
and has contributed largely to an exodus of staff over the years.
In particular, critics said, Franklin has forced out executives whom he
views as potential rivals or threats. One chief financial officer who questioned
what appeared to be personal expenses Franklin charged to CPBI several years
ago found himself out of work shortly afterward.
Bob Douglas, who covered Connecticut
politics and legislature as a reporter for CPTV in the 1980s and 1990s,
said Franklin is "kind of a mean-spirited
Even then, "there was a sense that Jerry took care of Jerry first,
and then dealt with the institution," said Douglas, who left public
broadcasting a decade ago. "In my days there, if there was an election
for CEO, Jerry would have been impeached."
Franklin, who has led CPBI since 1984,
said he "totally" disagrees
with criticism of his management style. He said he never threatened
anyone's job in the St. Francis matter.
"No, absolutely not," Franklin said when asked if he had threatened
Whitsett's job. "Jay was just engaging in some hyperbole. His job was
not at risk. Maybe he was just loose with language."
And Franklin disputed those who said
he appears threatened by strong staff members below him. "I like to hire department heads who can be the
next president and CEO," he said. "I thrive on hiring people like
Franklin, who earned a salary of $222,640 last year, has solid support
from the Connecticut Public Broadcasting Board of Trustees.
"We consider him an exceptional president and CEO," said Gayle
Capozzalo, the new chairwoman of the board. "He's very involved nationally
in public broadcasting as well as locally. He has created a very
viable organization here in Connecticut that continues to grow."
Outgoing board Chairman David D'Eramo, the former president of St. Francis, had
similar praise. "He's a dynamic personality. I doubt very much we could
do as well without a dynamic personality."
And Franklin has backers among outside donors and on the staff, including
the CPTV executive who helped launch some of the station's most successful
"He supported everything I was trying to do," said Larry Rifkin,
a senior vice president for national programming who helped attract nationwide
attention to CPTV through the station's University of Connecticut basketball
broadcasts and by taking "Barney & Friends" to a national
stage. "Jerry has given me tremendous independence my entire career
here, and I appreciate that."
Steve Futernick, a former senior vice
president at CPBI, was also complimentary of Franklin. "Jerry is very entrepreneurial," The deal that allowed
public broadcasting to sell its old building on New Britain Avenue for $10
million and move to an updated building on Asylum Avenue this summer with
new digital technology "was a great move," Futernick said.
When CPBI recently completed a survey of donors to gauge support for a
new capital campaign, Franklin's leadership emerged as one reason why the
consultant forecast success for the campaign.
"The opinion that we heard was that Jerry is very much an asset, a
strong asset," said Eleanor Drury, the New Hampshire consultant who
did the survey. The consultant interviewed 50 public broadcasting
supporters chosen by the organization.
But what some have seen as entrepreneurship and strong leadership, others
have seen as Franklin creating a domineering fiefdom run by his word and
for his benefit.
One was Les Meyer, a certified public accountant who as public broadcasting's
chief financial officer in 1995 confronted Franklin about charges to CPBI
that included travel to and from a farm he owns in Georgia and telephone
calls made by a family member.
"I brought this to his attention: 'These seem to be expenses that
are yours,'" Meyer said. "He said, 'That's OK, just pay it.' That
didn't sit right with me."
Soon afterward, Meyer said, Franklin told him that CPBI was eliminating
the chief financial officer's job. Franklin explained it was a financial
decision, Meyer said.
Franklin said CPBI never eliminated the
chief financial officer position. "We
collectively agreed that this wasn't the best position for Les," Franklin
said. "Les is a terrific human being, a good friend, and we wished
him the best, but it didn't seem that [the chief financial officer
job] was the best fit."
Meyer's concerns about Franklin's expenses were echoed a few years later
by a second employee familiar with the CEO's spending. That employee, who
now works elsewhere, spoke on condition of anonymity because of concerns
about developing a reputation as a whistle-blower.
The second employee also questioned some of Franklin's travel expenses,
as well as gifts worth several hundred dollars to people who were not CPTV
members. When confronted about the expenses, the ex-employee said, Franklin
said they were authorized.
"The explanation that I got was that all executives have certain benefits
afforded to them, and the board approves of these expenses," the employee
said. The employee resigned because of Franklin's behavior: "I just
didn't agree with his ethics. And I just decided that it was time
to move on."
The objections to Franklin's use of CPBI money expressed by Meyer and the
second employee are widely shared within the ranks at CPBI. One substantial
perk Franklin receives is that CPBI pays for his travel to his lucrative
second job as a member of the board of directors of Bridgeport-based People's
Bank. At times, that has included CPBI paying Franklin's airfare between
his farm in Georgia and Connecticut so he could attend a People's Bank meeting.
Meg Sakellarides, public broadcasting's
current chief financial officer, estimated the travel costs totaled less
than $3,000 since 1998; she refused to allow The Courant to review Franklin's
expenses. She said the CPBI board has approved paying Franklin's expenses,
viewing his membership on the People's board as "vital to Jerry's
statewide networking efforts."
That membership serves Franklin's financial
interests as well: In the past four years alone, Franklin has been eligible
to earn more than $500,000 in cash and stock for his services to People's
Bank, according to the bank's proxy statements. Franklin declined to discuss
his actual earnings, but said they were "considerably less" than
Assets Or Rivals?
Several critics said that when Franklin has had strong managers under him,
he has viewed them as rivals rather than assets.
Don Russell, who ran CPBI's Stamford operation during the late 1990s, said
he often heard Franklin berate other public broadcasting executives at meetings.
Russell took the job of running the Stamford operation at a salary of about
$40,000, he said, because he valued the mission of public broadcasting.
Russell raised money to install a new digital radio studio in Stamford and
began building a local news staff.
Russell said he got little support from Franklin, even though Russell was
sure Fairfield County was a potential source of donor support for CPBI. When
Franklin became verbally abusive to him, Russell said, he quit.
"The problem with Hartford is they had to give up control," said
Russell, a Stamford native who is now a columnist with the Stamford Advocate. "They
don't really know the territory down here, but they don't want
to give up control of it."
Franklin said that his clashes with Russell and another executive in Fairfield
County, Lynn Laitman, were due to philosophical disagreements about the
presence public television and radio should have in Fairfield County and
whether it should have a news operation and television studios in Stamford.
"I'm sure they were not pleased when we made the decision to close
Stamford," Franklin said. "But we saw the writing on the wall
years ago, when we first heard people talking about digital [television].
And we said there's no way we're going to have the resources to
have two state of the art facilities."
Concerns about management style at CPBI
were reiterated in a 2004 consultant's study that criticized senior management
for creating a "silo culture" that
fostered competition instead of teamwork, "a formula for disaster" when
applied to CPTV's fundraising.
The report, by the Willis Consulting
Group of Medford, Mass., said that when the staff put together successful
sponsorship packages by using a multimedia platform of radio, television,
Internet and print, Franklin and other senior managers didn't deserve
the credit. "This success has occurred as a
result of personal sacrifice rather than through enthusiastic support from
senior management," the Willis report said.
CPTV and Franklin attracted national
attention in public broadcasting circles over the past five years for
being aggressive in building partnerships with nonprofit funders, arrangements
in which CPTV may "co-produce" programming
with nonprofit sponsors.
Now, though, critics of that policy said the money CPTV might earn through
those partnerships comes at the expense of something invaluable - the trust
of its viewers.
Franklin's demand that producers promote or highlight the role of a sponsor
in their documentary was not isolated to the women's health series, other
producers said. They said it was just one example of a pattern in which
financially pressed CPTV has ceded editorial control to sponsors.
"Jerry has been very clear in sharing his philosophy that nonprofit
underwriters can appear in and participate in content development in programs
they fund. And the issue of funder participation has arisen in a number
of shows in the past couple of years," said Maura Martin, a veteran
producer who protested that policy to Whitsett before she left
the station recently.
Both current and former employees said they also are concerned about the
station's choice of documentary subjects. Some worry that documentaries
are being made primarily because they can attract sponsors, not because
they reflect Connecticut's most important stories. They worry about a pattern
in which many of the companies and institutions that are sponsoring upcoming
programs also have a business interest in the content of those programs.
St. Francis is a major funder of the women's health series. St. Paul Travelers,
an insurance company, is funding a series on the safety of teenage drivers
that aired this spring.
The state's community college system, which trains nursing students at
community colleges across the state, is hoping to sponsor a program on the
state's nursing shortage.
PBS national standards forbid for-profit
or nonprofit organizations from sponsoring public television "when
there exists a clear and direct connection between the interests or products
or services of a proposed funder and the subject matter of the program."
Those standards, for example, say a nonprofit organization whose mission
was to eradicate heart disease could not sponsor an educational program
about heart attacks or stroke. Otherwise, PBS says, viewers might conclude
the program was intended solely to promote the interests of the funder,
and the network's credibility would be wounded.
National production standards for public television also dictate that sponsors
have no control over program content.
But increasingly, CPTV's top executives, led by Franklin, have been granting
sponsors access to producers as they work on programs, suggesting they interview
people connected to the sponsor or even alter content to appease a sponsor.
Jennifer Boyd, one of the producers of
a recent series on clean energy-producing businesses, said she was "strongly encouraged" to
interview Arthur H. Diedrick, who headed two quasi-public state economic
development agencies that had sponsored CPTV programming. At the time,
Diedrick was also a member of the CPBI board.
was chairman of the Connecticut Development Authority, which has paid
$375,000 since 2000 to sponsor another CPTV series, "Positively
Connecticut." He was also chairman of the Connecticut Clean Energy
Fund, which provided $400,000 to CPTV through 2004, sponsoring
the energy series and other programming.
Ken Simon, an independent producer who has created more than 20 programs
that have been broadcast on CPTV, said Franklin pushed him to consider making
changes in one of his documentaries after a sponsor saw the program before
it went on the air and did not like the way it was portrayed.
"Sponsors usually have agendas that in some way connect to the programs
they are underwriting. I think that you can say that with CPTV programs
as well as all public television programs. That is OK," Simon said. "It's
essential, however, to maintain high ethical standards in program
funding and creation."
Other producers, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear that they
could lose their livelihood in the small world of public broadcasting in
Connecticut, said they fear Franklin is willing to sacrifice CPTV's credibility
to appease sponsors.
"We're in a situation where we're doing fee-for-service programming," one
said. "It's not just an ethical issue. You're going to kill your reputation."
Franklin said that what makes the plan acceptable is that CPTV would only
partner with nonprofit organizations such as St. Francis, not for-profit
"We make a distinction between news and non-news," he said. "It
is unthinkable that we instruct our news journalists how to cover
a story, and which story to cover. We do not do that. When it comes to
community service programming, that is different. We put on a different
Franklin said local public television
outlets are only obligated to adhere to PBS standards if they are producing
programming specifically for national distribution. Franklin said the
producers were never told they could interview only St. Francis doctors. "We never said that this had to be exclusive
to St. Francis," he said.
Franklin said there is a higher purpose than money in CPTV's partnering
with nonprofit groups.
"Time will tell if our current strategy
is correct, but to me it's a joy when I discover a new partner and they
agree to work with us. If it's the inner-city kids suffering with asthma,
well, those agencies working with those inner-city kids, they need our
help. They need the communications vehicle. So to me it's a joy that we
do this. I don't see it as a negative. It's a gift."
But with CPTV having killed its last
news program, the local magazine show "Main
Street," Franklin's delineation between "news" and "non-news" may
not have much relevance. Newman and Mead said they don't see a
different set of ethical rules for profit and nonprofit sponsors. Ethical
experts who follow public broadcasting generally agree.
"I am not sure there are many public broadcasters who would use the
legal status of a funder as a distinction of when you exercise editorial
discretion," said Raul Ramirez, the news director for KQED public radio
in San Francisco.
It would be wrong to prohibit a producer from interviewing funders, if
that producer believes the person is a worthy source of information, Ramirez
said. But he said that compelling journalists to interview sources identified
with a funder affects the quality of content.
Jeffrey Dvorkin, the ombudsman for National Public Radio, said NPR's standards
dictate that there is no contact between underwriters and editorial staff.
"The credibility of the organization is really the only currency that
is valid," Dvorkin said. "We can't debase that coinage."
Mead said she quit the women's health series with great regret, exchanging
work in a profession that she had hoped would lead to a television career
for a job waiting tables. But one of the things that bothered most was the
way Franklin treated others.
"It bothers me that people think they can bully and threaten people
into doing things they know are wrong," she said.
Mead is planning to attend graduate school in a few months. She is no longer
planning a career in journalism.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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