Thursday, September 25, 2008

KEYT Video Briefly Surfaces, Then Gets Yanked At Station's Behest

Nearly two years after it was originally shown at an employee party, the KEYT Holiday video, which Santa Barbara News-Press editorial page editor Travis Armstrong would have had us all believe was not only scandalous but characteristic of some type of moral depravity that had somewhow found its way into the building that sits high atop TV Hill, has hit the Internet.

KEYT anchors Paula Lopez and C.J. Ward as seen in the Christmas Video.

It was posted at various video sites last Wednesday by Lew Marklin, an independent video producer who, by his own admission, is a disgruntled former employee of KEYT. One week later, it has all but disappeared. The station evidently has had its lawyers busy contacting websites that had posted it to advise them that it was a violation of the station's copyright.

The station's efforts to have the tape removed appear to have been mostly successful.

In a phone conversation last Thursday, Marklin admitted to me that he is the person who gave a copy of the video to Armstrong some six months ago in hopes that the op-ed page columnist would write about it.

Armstrong readily obliged, using it as an opportunity to suggest that it showed how the station had somehow lost its moral compass and therefore was not to be trusted as a source of local news.

As I've written here before, the motivation behind Armstrong's targeting of the local ABC affiliate is the fact that the station dared to report about the inner turmoil that has existed at the News-Press ever since the paper's editor Jerry Roberts and his top lieutenants resigned in July of 2006.

KEYT has risen to the top of the paper's "enemies list" as being part of a group of "rival media" who Armstrong felt was trying to exploit the labor unrest at the News-Press.

While in-house gag videos are not at all unusual in the TV industry, Armstrong has written at least two columns about the video within the last six months.

But he hasn't written a word about it since it debuted on the Internet last week.

Little wonder. After having read Armstrong's description of the video and then having seen it with my own eyes, it's obvious that he oversold the salaciousness of the 13 minute tape.

Readers at the local blogs Blogabarbara and SantaBarbarasBlog appear to be similarly unimpressed with the video. Links to it were posted at both sites last week but the upshot of the comments left by people who watched the video and then went to the trouble to leave a comment seem to be, "what's the big deal?"

As for myself, after watching it I'm reminded of that scene from the movie Annie Hall where the insecure Alvy Singer (played by Woody Allen) finally gets to meet Annie's (Diane Keaton) ex-boyfriend, the one she's been incessently raving about up to that point in the movie talking about what a "great lover" he was. Turns out the ex is shorter, fatter, balder and presumably more insecure than Alvy himself, causing Alvy to exclaim increduously upon meeting him, "This is your old boyfriend?"

Like Annie's ex boyfriend, the tape's actual appearance fell far short of the expectations that were raised by the build-up. The video is a combination of sophomoric humor and plain old bad taste. There is one short scene which is indisputably anti-semitic. For that there is no excuse. But to paint everyone associated with the station as a bigot rather than merely the few people who were actually responsible for the scene, is a stretch.

And for what it's worth, Marklin recalled at least a few people walking out of the party when the video was shown.

According to Marklin, the video was the work of people in the production department, most notably the station's production manager Jeff Martin.

It's doubtful that you'd recognize Martin's face but you would certainly recognize the voice. He is the announcer heard in those KEYT news promos breathlessly announcing the next "KEY News Special Investigation."

The video - which appears to be a combo of bloopers, out-takes and staged skits - is mostly populated by off-air staff, although anchors C.J. Ward, Paula Lopez, Mike Klan and weatherman Alan Rose all make appearances.

Lopez - who as the wife of a local Superior Court Judge tries to maintain a certain air of dignity when she reads the news - does indeed dance in the video, but there's hardly anything scandalous about it as Armstrong would have you believe. Lopez's dance sequence is funny in the same sense a video of Walter Cronkite disco dancing would be if one ever happened to surface on You Tube.

And yes, while she's dancing there's a voice-over from someone off camera who uses a five letter word that I last used on this blog to describe Leona Helmsley's female dog. But as Marklin took pains to point out when we spoke, Lopez was never aware of the context in which her dancing was going to be used.

And as for the other noteworthy dance performance in the video - a woman shimmying on the roof of a remote van that has a telescoping microwave antenna - the stunt struck me as being more death-defying than sinful.

So why did Marklin release the video and why now?

He told me that with the recent firing of the station's general manager Cathy Jacquemin he thought "it was time."

At first I thought it was some kind of act of solidarity with his former boss but as we talked it became apparent it was anything but that.

He described Jacquemin as being a "tyrant" on a par with News-Press owner Wendy McCaw. The day he was fired she followed him out to the station's parking lot and physically tried to wrestle the holiday tape that he had grabbed on the way out of the newsroom from his possession. According to Marklin she briefly pursued him in her car.

But Marklin made a successful getaway with the tape.

Ironically, Marklin at one time dated former News-Press reporter Melissa Evans. Marklin said while Evans didn't care much for Armstrong, he always got along with him. So while pointing out he was never "friends" with Armstrong, he nevertheless liked and appreciated him and thought of him as the logical person to make the tape available to.

Originally, Marklin simply let Armstrong view the tape. He later gave him a copy on DVD.

Not long after he was fired Marklin got a letter from the station's lawyers, the Santa Barbara firm of Mullen and Henzell, demanding that he return the tape.

But for over two years, he's held onto his copy and, other than sharing it with Armstrong, had pretty much kept it to himself. Until last week.