Two former employees of Loudoun's cable television operation told county supervisors Wednesday that the company's management has been manipulating news coverage to benefit Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chairman Dale Polen Myers.
At a public hearing concerning the sale of Cablevision of Loudoun, the operation's former news director and anchor, along with a former cameraman, told supervisors that Myers was allowed to dictate news coverage and get more time on television than other politicians.
"Management was not subtle about their relationship with Chairman Myers," said former news director Kathleen Hazelton, who said she was dismissed last month, in part, because of complaints from Myers. "It was direct, and it was crude. Quote: 'We support the incumbent; Dale Myers is our candidate.' "
Former cameraman Chuck Kaster, who was dismissed in 1995 for job performance reasons, said Cablevision management described Myers as "our candidate" during her campaign for chairman that year.
The comments were made to all of the board members--except Myers, who had recused herself from participation because she appears in a half-hour interview show on Cablevision's Channel 3 that is taped once every two weeks and rebroadcast daily. Myers did not return several telephone calls Thursday and Friday.
A Cablevision official and a representative of Adelphia Communications Corp., the Pennsylvania-based company that plans to purchase the cable operation, were at the hearing but did not respond publicly to the criticism.
In a brief interview after the hearing, Max Kipfer, chief operating officer of Benchmark Communications, Cablevision's parent company, denied that Channel 3, which also does a nightly news broadcast, favored Myers. He said she has her own program because she is board chairman.
"I don't believe there's any truth to anything they said," Kipfer said of the comments by Hazelton and Kaster. "We have worked hard to create Channel 3 for the benefit of the community."
Hazelton and her attorney urged the board to ensure that if the cable operation is sold, the local news operation will be preserved and insulated from political influence.
Several supervisors said that they were concerned by the comments and that they will closely examine the allegations. Supervisor David G. McWatters (R-Broad Run), who referred to Cablevision as "Dalevision," said he was considering asking for a federal investigation into whether the cable operation failed to give equal time to political candidates.
"When the public officials start dictating what the media can report, then we might as well just throw the whole Constitution right out the window," McWatters said.
And Supervisor James G. Burton (I-Mercer) said he would investigate "the principle of whether or not we are in fact getting objective reporting."
Last week marked Hazelton's first public comments since her dismissal from Cablevision last month. Her attorney made similar allegations of bias previously.
Hazelton, who broke down in tears, said her dismissal stemmed from a Myers interview with Cablevision in which Myers said she planned to run as an independent after her defeat in the county's GOP primary. Hazelton said that a local newspaper reporter called and asked her about the interview and that she agreed to disclose Myers's comments provided that Cablevision was credited on the newspaper's World Wide Web site.
Hazelton said Myers complained. Hazelton said management criticized her for divulging the information and for calling Alfred P. Van Huyck, who was then considering running as an independent, to confirm comments that Myers said Van Huyck had made to her.
"Chairman Dale Polen Myers was unhappy," she said. "And when Chairman Dale Polen Myers is unhappy, you better bet Cablevision management is unhappy."
Kipfer declined to comment on why Hazelton was fired. He said, however, that he didn't "think it would be normal good business practice to share news stories you have with competing media."
Supervisor Eleanore C. Towe (D-Blue Ridge) said Myers called her after the hearing to deny the allegations. Towe said Myers asserted that she had an agreement that the information from the interview would not be disclosed until it appeared on television--something Hazelton's attorney has denied.