The State Journal Register ran a story today on the departure of Brian Pierce and Kellie Michaels from WNNS.
"Kevan Kavanaugh, Mid-West's general manager, confirmed the pair left the station Wednesday and will no longer be on the air. Kavanaugh didn't discuss details, calling it a personnel matter".The SJ-R story written by A&E editor Nick Rogers went on to recap a recent, and heated blog exchange between Pierce, Dave of The11thhour, and myself over a quote which Pierce had attributed to Hillary Clinton. Pierce's blog post alleged Hillary Clinton had once stated that she "loathed the military". Both Dave of the11thhour and I had challenged the authenticity of the quote, and requested that Mr. Pierce provide a source for his citation. The SJ-R story continues by stating:
"By early afternoon Wednesday, the WNNS Web site, www.wnns.com, listed Steve Parker as assuming their slot and Jim Leach, primarily a WMAY-AM broadcaster, filling in for Parker's afternoon shift.
The site also disabled or removed links pointing to Pierce and Michaels' personal Web pages.
One such site is "Briblog," Pierce's personal blog (http ://pierceshow.blogspot.com) on which he writes about "all the stuff he doesn't have time to drone on about live on the air."
There is no obvious indication "Briblog" has had anything to do with Pierce and Michaels leaving WNNS. But a recent post drew Pierce into a fierce war of words among Springfield-area bloggers.
In a Saturday post titled "Hillary gets 'owned,'" Pierce questioned U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton's support for the military as part of her presidential campaign.
The Briblog post included this passage: "Many have never forgotten that when she was co-president for eight years she was quoted as saying: 'I loathe the military.' "
However, another local blog, The 11th Hour (http ://the11thhour.blogspot.com/), challenged that quote, calling it "bogus information" taken from right-wing Web postings.
Another local blogger, Jerome Prophet (http://jeromeprophet.blogspot.com/), joined the call for Pierce to cite a "reputable source."
A heated online exchange among the three included this response from Pierce: "I simply don't take this thing as seriously as you guys do. I've been in media 32 years. I cume (reach a cumulative audience of) 35,000 people a day on the radio show. ... I can say anything I want here - that's the fun."
On Monday, Pierce edited his original post to remove the questioned quote and extended an olive branch. He acknowledged not "researching the topic completely," but added, "I hope you react similarly to the tens of thousands of blog posts that get the facts wrong."
The 11th Hour acknowledged the sarcasm, but accepted the apology. On Wednesday, that blog posted this response to the WNNS news: "Just to be clear, I really, really had nothing to do with this. I sent no bad karma or nothin'. I certainly would never wish anyone to lose their job. So best of luck to both of them in the future.""
Did Pierce's Blog Statements Befall Him?
First and foremost I want to mention that I have no knowledge about any actual meeting between Mr. Pierce, and his manager. I'm using total speculation as a vehicle to express my ideas on blogging. If you're reading this Mr. Pierce, and Kellie Michaels I want you both to know I have nothing but the greatest respect for you. In all honesty I have never listened to your radio program, but Mr. Pierce earned my respect when he deleted his Hillary Clinton quote, and stated that he had made a mistake. It takes a mature person to do that.
I believe it is very likely that Brian Pierce's blog post on Hillary Clinton started a chain of events which led to his, and his spouse's departure from WNNS. Brian had made an arrogant, and inflammatory statement, even citing his station's cumulative audience value in an attempt to impress his readers, and to belittle his critics.
I'm paraphrasing here (note the lack of quotation marks)
Most importantly Mr. Pierce went on to state that he did not consider making unfounded statements about Hillary Clinton to be all that serious of a matter, and that he would go on to say whatever he wanted in the future because it was fun.
From the stand point of his employer this could be considered a dangerous declaration.
Unlike most bloggers Pierce's employers provided publicity for, and a link to Mr. Pierce's personal websites. If an average blogger becomes embroiled in an online dispute most find themselves unable to play the CUME card which Mr. Pierce used. In that sense Mr. Pierce was not only relying upon his personal prestige, but also that of his employer.
Citing your employer is a double edged sword, which can indeed cut both ways. Pierce was essentially yoking his unfounded, and untrue quote which he attributed to Hillary Clinton around the necks of his employers. Furthermore his declaration that he'd go on making whatever statements he wanted in the future because it was fun, alluding to the wild west, had to set off alarms in the minds of his managers.
If Mr. Pierce had been a journalist, and had falsely quoted a candidate for the Presidency, and then said something similar to, "I don't take this as seriously as you do, I work for the New York Times, and the New York Times is read by millions of people, and I'll write anything I want on my personal blog, and by the way how many people read your blog?", then it would be all too obvious that that New York Times Journalist had stepped over the line of propriety, and that the New York Times would be right to terminate their relationship with that journalist.
Yet is being an on air radio personality different? Is there a lower standard for such personalities? Dave of the11thhour suggest that there has to be another reason for their dismissal, than just Mr. Pierce's blog postings. I feel that Dave who worked in radio for several years is a bit jaded when it comes to the motivations of radio station owners, and managers. I am not idealistic about the motivations of WNNS management.
I don't believe that Pierce was dismissed simply because he made up a quote, or used a quote without citation. Nor do I believe he was dismissed due to making an arrogant statement. I do however believe that his approach led to problems once he was asked about his blog by his employer.
I suspect that Mr. Pierce was brought in to discuss his blog post, and was told that it made the station look bad, and that according to the terms of his employment contract that WNNS could terminate him if he didn't stop. I suspect at that point Mr. Pierce argued that it was a violation of his privacy, and first amendment rights for WNNS to tell him what to write on his blog.
At which point his manager probably stated that he couldn't claim a right to privacy since the station had links to Brian's website, and that Brian himself had mentioned his affiliation to his employer on his blog.
Somehow in that moment, when things may have been resolved they only became worse, and Mr. Pierce was terminated. I'm totally guessing on all of this, but I'd guess at that point that Kellie Michaels in solidarity with her spouse quit.
If True Was It Just?
I believe the lesson to be learned is not to mention your employer on your blog. You'll find no links, and no stories about my employer on this blog, and you never will. There won't be any company water cooler gossip, and no trade secrets posted here. There won't be any sly references to my mangers either. Especially important you'll find no statements on my blog which use my relationship to my employer as a means of propping up an invalid claim about anyone - including Hillary Clinton.
In the end we live in a rapidly changing world, and we're all sailing in uncharted seas when it comes to blogging, and so the safest course to sail is a conservative course. Assume that at all times everything you write will be read by your beloved grandmother, your pastor or priest, and your employer.
Where the private, and the personal meet has always been an area of contention, and blogging makes things all the more complex. What is clear is that WNNS has a right to defend itself from potential liability, and bad press just as Mr. Pierce has a right to blog. What is less clear is how those rights coexist.
My hope is that as time passes and employers, and individuals become more sophisticated about where the line falls on such matters that people won't find themselves victim to these types of events.
In the meantime I recommend to all bloggers looking for a safer blogging experience to either remain anonymous, or practice a high level of care when it comes to what you say, and in how you refer to your employer. Yes this is self censorship, but it will make a more responsible blogger out of you too.