Management at Tampa ABC affiliate WFTS-Ch. 28 is deciding how to handle staffers who created a joke news video that later hit the Internet, reporting that an employee had been revealed as one of golfer Tiger Woods' many alleged mistresses.
The video, fronted by multimedia journalist Kerry Kavanaugh and featuring several other staffers, looked like a typical newscast report featuring graphics from the station and seemingly filmed at the Tampa studios of WFTS, also known as ABC Action News. The content centered on satirical allegations that photographer Delisa Walden was connected to Woods, concluding with Kavanaugh wishing Walden a happy birthday.
Pegram said Kavanaugh, Walden and the other staffers are still working at the station, pending further investigation and a decision on how to discipline them. Seven to 10 staffers were involved in making the video, said the general manager, who declined to reveal details on how it was filmed or distributed.
"Credibility is what we live off of — the average person who would see that on YouTube might not know it was fake," said Pegram. "It was not authorized by any (official) at the station. And once it goes viral, it can go anywhere."
WFTS management realized the video existed because it was linked on the local TV industry website Newsblues, which has also posted stories on joke videos created at other stations.
In July, four employees at KARK-TV in Little Rock, Ark., lost their jobs when two spoof videos filled with profanities surfaced on YouTube, showing reporter Pete Thompson complaining in explicit terms about his job and slapping an interview source in the face. The KARK videos were pulled from YouTube, but Gawker.com kept up copies of the clips, which include scenes filmed inside the station's newsroom.
In years past, TV stations kept "blooper reels" of mistakes and pranks pulled in the office, usually for display at holiday parties or staff celebrations. But YouTube, Facebook and other websites have provided an easy way to distribute the material beyond staffers in the know.
Deborah Potter, a journalist and educator who once worked as a correspondent for CNN and CBS, said such incidents also may be surfacing more now because production in TV newsrooms is simplified, allowing fewer people to collaborate on such spoof videos.
"I find it astonishing that people in a business that is so public and basically intrudes into people's lives would not exercise better judgment," she said. "If you're in the news business, you don't produce fake news, and people in this business should recognize that anything you put on your Facebook page isn't private."
Pegram agreed. "The tone, tenor and context were all inappropriate," he said of the video. "I can't tell you what rationale was used to justify doing this."