Yesterday, KMOV-TV (Channel 4) fired veteran news anchor Larry Conners, one week after he wrote a controversial Facebook post pondering whether the IRS had targeted him in response to a tough interview he did with President Obama in 2012.
In the announcement of his termination, KMOV said he violated the station's journalistic standards by "taking a personal political position."
Conners, in an interview with Daily RFT this morning, argues that he did not take any personal position, but simply raised a question. Further, he says, his bosses have made him look like a criminal in their handling of this controversy.
See also: - Larry Conners Off Air After IRS Comments, Lawyer Says Not Allowed To Talk - KMOV-TV's Larry Conners Says IRS May Have Been Targeting Him For Years - Larry Conners Out At KMOV, President Cites "Journalistic Standards"
As a quick recap, the Facebook post that sparked the whole debate -- now down, but the text of which is on view below -- speculated whether the IRS went after him specifically in response to an April 2012 interview with Obama in which, Conners said, he asked particularly critical questions.
Later that night, Conners made a short on-air statement that wasn't quite an apology, but made clear his views were his own. He also disclosed that he had had issues with the IRS several years prior to the 2012 interview. He was then taken off air temporarily and officially fired yesterday.
Conners' brief on-air comments about the Facebook post last week.
Today, Conners says that he never directly alleged that the IRS was targeting him because of the interview, but rather considered the possibility, given the national scandal around the IRS's intense scrutiny of conservative groups.
"They say that I took a position on the IRS. I did not take a position," Conners tells Daily RFT. "I raised the question."
He also notes that there is a lot of pressure at KMOV to drive traffic through these Facebook pages and says that he was repeatedly praised internally for his social media presence -- which at times has involved more personal posts.
"It's a new platform," he says. "They want you to do personal, engaging stuff...but if it gets too hot, I guess they say no."
Conners, who has been in the business for 50 years, says, "It's always been my goal to be the best unbiased reporter I can be."
In Facebook posts about the Boston bombers and other national stories, he has sometimes gotten personal and perhaps less neutral than he would be on air -- but he never heard any complaints from his bosses, Conners says.
Regarding the IRS, he says he does not know for sure if he was targeted because of the Obama segment, but says that his issues with the agency clearly escalated after the 2012 interview.
"My trouble started after the interview," he says. "The timeline is very simple."
Continue for more of our interview with Larry Conners.
In August of 2011, he explains, he worked out a payment plan that he has followed through on with the IRS regarding outstanding issues. His problems got worse after the Obama interview, he claims.
But when KMOV, he says, made him deliver a comment he did not write or agree with -- and was confusing to viewers -- accusations started coming in.
"They made a mistake forcing me to read a statement which was misleading and unclear and not letting me add some corrections," he says. "That statement caused a bigger firestorm."
Excerpt of the Obama interview in question.
He says, "I can take a lot of slings and arrows in this business...but because they forced me to read that statement that was misleading, [commenters] started calling me a tax fraud and a tax cheat. Those are criminal allegations."
"I don't take kindly to that," he continues, noting that it was especially frustrating that he could not comment on it further, since KMOV, he says, barred him from speaking out.
Because he had to read this short statement mentioning previous issues with the IRS -- without much context -- Conners says, "What they've just done is make me look like a criminal."
Will he consider fighting his termination?
It's still too early, he says, but argues that he does disagree with the stated reason for firing -- that his Facebook post compromised his integrity and credibility. "I deny that. I deny that wholeheartedly."
And what's next for Conners?
"I'm a free agent. I certainly want to stay here and continue my craft.... I've got a lot more to give," he says. "I'm not ready to retire. I'm just going to leave that in God's hands right now."
(You can read our interview with the president of KMOV in our post published yesterday).
And for posterity, here's a copy of the original Facebook post that sparked the controversy.
Shortly after I did my April 2012 interview with President Obama, my wife, friends and some viewers suggested that I might need to watch out for the IRS. I don't accept "conspiracy theories", but I do know that almost immediately after the interview, the IRS started hammering me. At the time, I dismissed the "co-incidence", but now, I have concerns ... after revelations about the IRS targeting various groups and their members. Originally, the IRS apologized for red-flagging conservative groups and their members if they had "Tea Party" or "patriot" in their name. Today, there are allegations that the IRS focused on various groups and/or individuals questioning or criticizing government spending, taxes, debt or how the government is run ... any involved in limiting/expanding government, educating on the constitution and bill of rights, or social economic reform/movement. In that April 2012 interview, I questioned President Obama on several topics: the Buffet Rule, his public remarks about the Supreme Court before the ruling on the Affordable Care Act. I also asked why he wasn't doing more to help Sen. Claire McCaskill who at that time was expected to lose. The Obama interview caught fire and got wide-spread attention because I questioned his spending. I said some viewers expressed concern, saying they think he's "out of touch" because of his personal and family trips in the midst of our economic crisis. The President's face clearly showed his anger; afterwards, his staff which had been so polite ... suddenly went cold. That's to be expected, and I can deal with that just as I did with President George H. Bush's staff when he didn't like my questions. Journalistic integrity is of the utmost importance to me. My job is to ask the hard questions, because I believe viewers have a right to be well-informed. I cannot and will not promote anyone's agenda - political or otherwise - at the expense of the reporting the truth. What I don't like to even consider ... is that because of the Obama interview ... the IRS put a target on me. Can I prove it? At this time, no. But it is a fact that since that April 2012 interview ... the IRS has been pressuring me.