By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, May 5, 2010; C01
It was the sort of feel-good story that local television loves.
A Marine lieutenant calls his hometown station, saying he is coming home early from a combat tour of Iraq and Afghanistan and wants to surprise his wife -- with the cameras rolling.
But because Lt. Denver Edick's wife is a cheerleader for the Washington Redskins, the easy score turned into a turf battle in which ABC, the network that pitched the idea, wound up barred from FedEx Field, while the team handed the ball to the NBC station in town, which happens to be its broadcast partner.
And the Redskins formed a defensive line against any other coverage. A news executive involved in the discussions says a Redskins official told him that if Kristin Edick talked to anyone from WJLA, the ABC affiliate, she would be dismissed from her cheerleader's job.
"To threaten to fire his wife -- that is objectionable on so many levels that I couldn't even count them," said Bill Lord, station manager at WJLA (Channel 7). "When we go to the PR department at any company and ask to do a story, the last thing you expect is that they'll take the story and give it to a competitor. That is just flat wrong. I'm always going to think that's unethical. It was hijacked."
The team denies that the director of its cheerleading squad spoke of firing Kristin Edick. In a letter to Lord on Tuesday, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder offered a "personal apology" for the exclusion of WJLA.
"I do regret actions taken by our representatives that prevented your news organization from being able to report on the surprise early return of Lt. Denver Edick and his reunion with his wife Kristin, one of our cheerleaders," Snyder wrote. He said he is "making many changes in personnel and policy" that he hopes will ensure "that the Redskins are respectful and fair to the journalists that are covering our team." (Karl Swanson, senior vice president for public relations, resigned Monday but his departure had been in the works before this controversy.)
Lord said he welcomed Snyder's letter and wants to "rebuild the relationship," but "I also think he ought to apologize to the lieutenant and his wife" for the pressure applied on them.
David Donovan, the Redskins' chief operating officer, said Edick initially contacted the team, which learned later about WJLA's involvement and alerted WRC (Channel 4), the NBC station in Washington. "There have been times when our broadcast partners are afforded exclusive opportunities, but this should not have been one of them. . . . Apparently, this was an over-exuberant attempt to support one of our partners," Donovan said in an e-mail.
Edick, in full-dress uniform, surprised his wife Thursday evening at FedEx Field, where the cheerleaders were conveniently practicing. "My legs turned to Jell-O," Kristin Edick told WRC after jumping up to embrace her husband. WRC aired the story that night, and the Redskins' official blog featured the video as well, saying: "Not really much to add to this one besides Awwwwww."
Edick said from Quantico, where he is now based, that he was pleased by the story but troubled by the dispute that developed. "I hope none of this will get me or my wife in trouble," he said. "The Redskins were absolutely awesome in everything they did."
WRC spokesman Matt Glassman said in a statement: "We went to FedEx Field to cover a story. We did not request that it be exclusive and have no knowledge why another station was denied access." He declined to comment further.
Edick, 28, is from the Asheville, N.C., area. He was scheduled to return from Iraq in January but volunteered to extend his tour in Afghanistan. When a military rule barred him from staying in that war zone longer, he got in touch with WLOS, the ABC affiliate in Asheville, which asked if he could stage the reunion with his wife back home in North Carolina.
When that proved logistically impossible, the station asked WJLA to send a crew to the couple's reunion in Washington and provide the tape, a common practice among affiliates -- and a winning story for WJLA as well, because it involved the city's football franchise.
When reached for comment, Bryan Luhn, assistant news director at WLOS, said he suggested alternatives to the team after learning that it would cooperate only with WRC. The Redskins became broadcast partners last year with WRC, which carries exhibition games and pre- and postgame segments.
Luhn said he asked Stephanie Jojokian, the cheerleaders' director, whether WJLA could interview Kristin Edick and her husband afterward, outside the stadium or even at a restaurant.
"She could do that, but she'll no longer be a Redskins cheerleader," Luhn recalls Jojokian saying. "She is contractually obligated to the Redskins."
Luhn said he was "kind of stunned by that. You'd really fire a cheerleader who's getting ready to see her husband after a year and a half in Iraq over media access? . . . How can they not want coverage for this story? It's a great story. It's free publicity."
The Redskins' Donovan said he spoke to Jojokian and that "she told me this was absolutely not true. I would not have permitted that to happen."
Edick, caught in the middle, said he felt that WJLA reporter Jay Korff "was being rude" as the dispute escalated. "I felt the guy at Channel 7 was asking me to do things I wasn't comfortable with. He wanted me to tell the Redskins that I wasn't going to surprise my wife unless the Redskins let them cover the story."
Korff said that was untrue and that their conversations were cordial. He recalled telling Edick that the Redskins would not let his station cover the reunion "because we're not their broadcast partners, we're not their buddies. They're basically stealing this story from us."
At that point, Korff said, Edick asked if there was anything he could do to help. "Give them a call and tell them you think this is unfair and we should be in on it," he recalls telling the lieutenant.
The Redskins barred WJLA's crew from entering the stadium Thursday night. "That was not a good decision," Donovan said.
At that point, said WJLA's Lord, a Vietnam War veteran who was concerned that the Marine was being unduly pressured, "we decided it was time to punt."
WRC made the footage available to the Asheville station the next day but with one key condition: that the tape not be fed back to WJLA. This, of course, kept its Washington rival off the playing field.