By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY—The dismissal of two APT top executives were lead topics for newspapers and blogs not only in Alabama but around the country last month.
The story was featured heavily on the blog current.org which according to the website is, “An editorially independent service of the American University school of communication.” It was also featured in websites around Alabama.
The story was also covered by the Birmingham News, the Montgomery Advertisers and others. All of which told generally the same story, that Allan Pizzato, executive director of APT, and his deputy, Pauline Howland, were ordered to clean out their desks and immediately vacate the station’s Birmingham headquarters, because of their refusal to run a conservative Christian series by David Barton.
This is not the story says, Dr. Rodney D. Herring, Secretary of the Alabama Educational Television Commission (AETC), who is appointed for the 3rd congressional district.
Herring believes that once the story line became, sensationalized as, “Christian conservative versus the Media,” that every news outlet followed that line of reporting and not the facts.
According to Herring, the termination did not have to do with programing but over concerns of “leadership.”
“If you look at the minutes from our June 12 board meeting you will see that there is an item that basically says, we want to talk about a change in management,” Herring said.
Herring says that when the Board reached that portion of the meeting it was decided by a vote to hold the discussion in an executive session.
An executive session–also called a closed meeting or an in-camera session–is generally used to protect and advance the best interests of individuals or an organization. These sessions are most often used for handling issues that are best discussed in private.
According to BoardSource, “Distinguished by their purpose and participants, executive sessions serve three core functions: (1) they assure confidentiality, (2) they create a mechanism for board independence and oversight, and (3) they enhance relationships among board members and with the chief executive.”
Herring says that the reason AETC went into executive session was to, “Protect reputations.”
While Herring said nothing unlawful had been committed by the pair, he did indicate that there were “ethical questions” that concerned a number of board member.
According to Herring, “Four of the seven members made presentations, all seven members discussed the facts, but four brought up particular issues, anywhere from one to three issues per member.”
Herring would not discuss what the issue were but says that it had nothing to do with the series by David Barton.
“That is a cover to get people to look the wrong way,” said Herring.
The AETC Commission Chairman Ferris Stephens has also disputed reports that have focused on the David Barton films as a reason for the firings.
Herring does not shy away from the fact that he is a Christian conservative, but adds, “That was not the reason for the dismissals.”
He says that there had been talk about the series and that Allan Pizzato and staff had been asked to review one of the shows in the series.
“Did we talk about the American Heritage Series [with Pizzato]? Yes,” says Herring, “Did he talk about the whole ten hours of programing? No.”
Herring reiterates that the blogs and news media made this the story and that the work of David Barton’s group was not under consideration in the dismissal of Pizzato and Howland.
“I told everyone who called me what happened but they wrote what they wanted to write and not the facts,” Herring said.
Herring says that he and other board members are disturbed by the one-sided coverage of the events that led to Pizzato and Howland leaving APT but that the media according to him was more interested in painting a picture of “conservative against liberal” than the facts as they occurred.
Herring points to the records of the meeting saying, “We had an executive session, four board members expressed concerns, we came out and held a vote on termination.”
The vote to dismiss Pizzato and Howland was 5 to 2 for termination with Mr. Gregory O. Griffin, Sr. and Mrs. Bebe Williams voting against.
“If people will look at what happened they should see a different picture than the one painted by the liberal media,” says Herring.
According to some reports Pizzato and his staff had “grave concerns” that the Barton videos were inappropriate for public broadcasting due to their religious nature. However, Herring points to the APT website where a search reveals that religious programing is a standard of APT with religion having 1070 results: Religious 395 results, God 598 results and Church 698 results.
Herring says that he thinks that APT should reflect the viewing interests of all Alabamians. He also concedes that polling data would probably result in showing that many Alabama TV viewers would like to see more conservative programming.
While Herring and the board have remained mostly quiet on the dismissals he says he thinks that they did what was right for APT and its future.