Yesterday, in a followup to our items about the Kyle Dyer/9News on-air dog bite incident, we wrote about the disappearance of a critical Facebook post by staffer Kirk Montgomery, and wondered if the station had censored it. This post incensed news director Patti Dennis, who categorically denies any such action, defends her calls requesting that other outlets not use the footage, and decried Westword's speculation as not just "false" but "immoral."
The item was prompted by a discussion yesterday morning on Peter Boyles's KHOW radio program in which Westword editor Patricia Calhoun and I participated. During the conversation, we discussed a guest commentary by former Denver Post staffer John Moore entitled "Fox-31's handling of dog bite video flips 9News the bird," which stated that Montgomery "wrote there's a special place in hell for whoever at the local Fox affiliate has chosen to keep airing the slowed-down video of a dog biting 9News co-anchor Kyle Dyer's lip on live TV." However, that post and another by Montgomery (who has been contacted but has not yet agreed to an interview on this subject) are no longer on view at the Facebook page where they originally appeared.
After sharing this information in our blog post, I posed several questions: "Did 9News order Montgomery to remove the post? Or did he remove it himself? And if he chose the latter tack, was the decision inspired in part by pressure from his bosses?" My answer: "We don't know the answers to those questions at this writing. But we do know that this is the second time since the biting incident that a Facebook post by a 9News air personality on this subject has disappeared. Gary Shapiro, Dyer's co-anchor on the station's popular morning news program, turned to Facebook to disseminate a quick update on her condition in the immediate aftermath of the bite. This note was quoted in a different Denver Post story, but shortly thereafter, it was gone."
The piece subsequently noted a Today show package on the Dyer dog bite, which stated that 9News had attempted to squelch dissemination of the video footage in question. My concluding line: "The old saw popularized during the Watergate era -- it's not the crime, it's the cover up -- has never been more true."
Dennis's response? "This story is so wrong, it's almost laughable," she says. "And comparing this to Watergate is just false. It's harmful, because it's not true. To make assumptions about our station not covering the story is absolutely immoral."
According to Dennis, neither she nor any other member of 9News management told either Shapiro or Montgomery to remove the aforementioned Facebook posts. "There has been no conversation -- none, zero -- about doing that," she stresses. She adds that she didn't know about the existence of these messages until after the fact.
Moreover, Dennis says that no e-mail or other communication was sent to staffers about not talking to the press or sharing information in the wake of the biting incident, which involved Max, an Argentine Mastiff whose rescue from an icy pond had been broadcast live. Such a reminder wasn't needed, she feels, because of the well-known policy establishing her or general manager Mark Cornetta as the only individuals authorized to speak for the station.
Page down to continue reading our interview with 9News' Patti Dennis.
What about social media? There was no directive about that, either, Dennis says. While 9News doesn't have a hard-and-fast set of rules about what's appropriate or inappropriate to share on Facebook, Twitter and other mediums, she reveals that "we've had conversations about it. We've talked about how it's never private no matter what settings you use, and you represent the organization as a whole, so you need to be thoughtful."
In her view, employees must keep their priorities clear when using social media. "I would prefer our staff spend their time and energy with what we're doing and how we're covering the news," she says. "But limiting the conversation? I don't think that's what the platform is about."
Does that mean Montgomery and Shapiro's vanishing posts about the bite are examples of after-the-fact self-censorship unmotivated by the efforts of overseers? Dennis doesn't go there, other than to say that no supervisors ordered or pressured them to remove the posts.
Regarding the Today show assertion that 9News was trying to prevent the distribution of the footage showing Dyer being bitten, Dennis doesn't think it accurately conveys what she was trying to do when she called numerous news organizations to request that they not use video that had surfaced on YouTube. The calls were made, she says, because "I was trying to understand copyright, which in today's world is vastly different than it used to be, and I had not been able to reach Kyle's family, including her kids -- and I asked that people not run the part of it where her face is actually torn off."
In my view, and the opinion of every other person with whom I have spoken, no such moment can be seen in the video. There's no blood, no screaming and nothing that qualifies as showing Dyer's face being torn off. (Click here to watch for yourself.) Nonetheless, Dennis stands by her description. For her part, Westword editor Calhoun says Dennis didn't mention copyright during their brief conversation about our use of the video, and neither did she request that only a portion of the footage be excised. As Calhoun recalls it, Dennis simply asked that the video as a whole be removed because it was traumatizing for Dyer's family.
On the subject of rights to share the video, Dennis emphasizes that "nobody has copyright to post it on a website -- not YouTube, not anybody -- unless the copyright holder allows it."
Page down to continue reading our interview with 9News' Patti Dennis.
Of course, dozens upon dozens of 9News clips are on YouTube right now, not all of them flattering: Note this clip of weather guy Ashton Altieri congratulating a female anchor on her big hooters. But while Dennis admits that she has never before asked any site or news purveyor to remove a video, she says many cease-and-desist letters have been sent out under the auspices of the general manager's office. "It typically involves an organization putting our video on their site either for commercial or news purposes and they have no authorization to do so," she says.
In the case of the Dyer footage, Dennis acknowledges that it likely falls under "the FCC's fair use" provision. Hence, she was only making a request to the news outlets with which she spoke or left messages on the day of the biting incident, she says, and not implicitly threatening them with potential legal action if the footage was shared.
To Dennis, the Dyer footage is too explicit to broadcast under the same objective standards 9News applies to any and all material, including stuff that doesn't feature a staffer. She likens it to other video the station has obtained over the years -- images of people being shot, stabbed, killed -- that weren't aired because doing so would have been gratuitous.
If that's true, why did the station air January video of a hit-and-run in which a man's body can actually be seen flying through the air? The distinction, Dennis says, is that the footage was supplied by the Denver Police Department, whose members hoped the clip would lead to the capture of the driver -- a suspect, Taylor Jo Mathis, has been charged with the crime -- and besides, the victims' families didn't object. In contrast, Dyer's loved ones didn't want the video shown.
Equally frustrating to Dennis is the implication that 9News was trying to control and limit the information about the incident -- a perception that was mentioned in Moore's commentary for the Denver Post. After all, in the immediate aftermath of the bite, other outlets were aggressively pursuing the facts while Dennis was calling organizations asking them not to use all or portions of the video. And several days later, word that Dyer had needed seventy stitches to close her wounds came not from 9News, but from several other news sources, which gained access to her private Facebook page.
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Even so, Dennis maintains that "we have reported everything we know about the story -- every single thing. We followed the dog, we followed the owner, we followed the Denver Animal Control side. And we reported on everything Kyle's family would release about her condition.
"This isn't the first time we've covered a story involving this station," she continues. "We've had to cover 9News in helicopter accidents. We had an employee who got involved in illegal activity. But I don't think we have a different standard when we do that. We covered this story as loudly and openly as we could. So to somehow relate anything we've done to a cover-up is embarrassing, because it's so far from that."
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More from our Media archive: "9News technical meltdown forces newscast to go back to the future -- the pre-voiceover era."