With KTVU’s suspension of popular host Frank Somerville continuing to cause a riot on social media, the incident raised more questions than answers.
Somerville, 63, was followed by Channel 2 management last week a disagreement with the news director of KTVU over reporting of the Gabby Petito murder case « suspended indefinitely ». He wasn’t on the air Sunday night and wasn’t expected to be back on Monday. It’s not clear when he could return – if at all.
The disagreement, sources said, came when news director Amber Eikel declined Somerville’s suggestion to peg a brief comment on racial inequality to a direct news update of the Petito story. Somerville had wanted to point out the blatant differences in media coverage of white crime victims and black people.
Although they did not necessarily reject the validity of Somerville’s proposal, Eikel and the newsroom producers concluded that the timing was not right or that The place was to publish the « tagline » which would have taken less than a minute to air.
Somerville apparently protested the cut and was overruled. The next day, Somerville was notified that he had been suspended.
Meanwhile, the conflict has sparked outrage among Somerville supporters who believe it is being censored and that KTVU is perpetrating « Missing White Woman Syndrome, » a term that coined by the late PBS presenter Gwen Ifill to describe the media’s often one-sided focus on white women and girls when they are missing.
But others have sided with the station and insisted that Somerville « Get paid to cover the news, not his opinion ».
What is not known is how heated the newsroom got or what exactly was said – and whether this is an ongoing trend between Somerville and management.
The KTVU’s longstanding practice of not addressing such matters makes matters even more difficult. Both Somerville and Eikel, for example, have declined to go on record and repeated calls to a company spokesperson went unanswered at the time of this writing.
That goes without saying at KTVU. When Somerville abruptly did a newscast on the 3rd focusing on his health. «
And when Somerville returned to the anchor desk nine weeks later, neither he nor the station spoke of his long absence.
It’s an attitude that This is in stark contrast to Somerville’s typically open approach to the public. The veteran anchor has a history of expressing his personal opinions – often very passionately – on social media, and it has paid off in a huge fandom.
For For example, no Bay Area TV news personality can match its reach on Facebook, where it has nearly 600,000 followers (Julie Haener, its Channel 2 co-host, has 33,000).
That following is obvious a big plus for Somerville – and KTVU, but its openness can also create friction. In reporting on Somerville’s suspension, The Chronicle cited sources saying he was recently disciplined by KTVU for inappropriate political opinions on Texas’s new abortion law and the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
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Somerville’s suspension hits the anchor desk just six weeks after his return and will no doubt spark speculation about his future at the station. Raised in the Bay Area, Somerville joined KTVU in 1991 and inherited the anchor position from KTVU icon Dennis Richmond in 2008. He and Haener continue to run the top-rated nightly newscast in the Bay Area, so he obviously has some leverage.
The Somerville contract expires in March. He has said in the past that he would like to work “two or three more years” and end his career at KTVU. That goal could now be in jeopardy.
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