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WJLA-TV's Doug McKelway suspended after clash with station manager, sources say

 WJLA-TV's Doug McKelway
WJLA-TV's Doug McKelway (Michael Williamson - Washington Post)

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By Paul Farhi
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Veteran TV newsman Doug McKelway may have said too much -- not to viewers but to his boss. As a result, the WJLA-TV journalist has been ordered off the air and suspended indefinitely, according to sources at the station.

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McKelway's troubles began last month when he covered a Capitol Hill rally during WJLA's noon newscast. The rally by religious and environmental groups was to protest BP's response to the gulf oil spill and to advocate for legislation favoring renewable energy sources.

According to several of McKelway's colleagues, the newsman's reporting may have lapsed into partisan territory when he commented live on the air about the oil industry's influence in Washington, particularly its contributions to Democratic politicians and legislators.

The episode led to a meeting between McKelway and Bill Lord, WJLA's station manager and news director, that featured sharp exchanges between them, said several newsroom sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak about a personnel issue.

"The issue wasn't what he said in the live shot. It was what he said when he was questioned about it by Bill," said one of McKelway's colleagues. "The issue is insubordination."

McKelway reportedly was notified of his suspension after his encounter with Lord. One newsroom manager described McKelway as "in limbo" at the station, which is known as ABC7. Although he hasn't appeared on the air since the incident, he remains under contract and his photo and official biography remain on WJLA's Web site.

The station has made no public comments about McKelway's absence from its midday newscast or "Good Morning, Washington," which he had co-hosted.

Station spokeswoman Abby Fenton said Monday that McKelway "is off the air at this time," but she declined to comment further. McKelway, 56, did not return messages left on his home and office phones or respond to e-mails sent to his office.

McKelway has been cryptic when discussing his status with WJLA. In a posting on his Facebook page Thursday, McKelway wrote, "I've gotten so many emails and messages of concern about my employment situation. I wish I could say more!!! I don't know if I'll be back on the air, but I can tell you that life is very good. I've got a beautiful wife who's telling me to stick to principle."

When asked late last month by morning radio host Elliot Segal if he had been fired, McKelway said, "All I can say is, I got a great lawyer."

Last year, McKelway threatened to punch a local blogger during an interview that McKelway was conducting on NewsChannel 8, the cable station owned by WJLA's parent company, Allbritton Communications of Rosslyn. The blogger, Michael Rogers, described his efforts to "out" politicians who opposed gay rights but were allegedly living gay lives in secret. McKelway took exception to Rogers's tactics, in part because Rogers had targeted several Republican congressmen.

The conversation grew increasingly heated, as McKelway repeatedly interrupted Rogers. At one point, McKelway told his guest: "I'd take you outside and give you a punch across the face. . . . I think you're hurting innocent people."

A day later, McKelway was unrepentant on the air, telling viewers, "An apology? Mike Rogers, you're not getting one. You understand that? Because you're a bully and you hurt innocent people, and you're doing great harm to your movement, the gay rights movement, by doing what you're doing."

A Washington area native, McKelway has a long history in local news. Before joining ABC7 in 2001, he was a reporter and anchor at WRC, Channel 4, in Washington. His grandfather, Benjamin M. McKelway, was the longtime editor of the Washington Star newspaper and president of the Associated Press.


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