By Bill Britt
Alabama Political Reporter
MONTGOMERY— In June, APT executive director Allan Pizzato and chief financial officer Pauline Howland were terminated from their positions.
The firestorm that ensued portrayed Pizzato and Howland as victims of religious fanatics that had taken control of the Alabama Education Television Commission (AETC) the governing body of APT.
From the “Montgomery Advertiser” to the national web magazine Salon, the AETC board was demonized while Pizzato was held high as a champion of liberal values.
In August, the liberal-leaning Salon headline read, “Tea Party takes over Alabama Public TV.” The story went on the say, “Conservatives in Alabama are trying to use public TV to air overtly religious content—and winning.”
“This whole story line is a lie, bought by the capital press corps and national media,” said an APT employee. “Allan was no liberal hero, he had only one ideology and that was what pleased Allan.”
The liberal verses Religious Right was a narrative first reported by the online blog, Current.org. This organization it seems to have had ties to Pizzato’s daughter who lives and works in Washington, DC.
In May of 2012, Pizzato’s daughter, Anne Pizzato Brachman became the director of government affairs at the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, (CPB).
According to the website, “Since 1968, CPB has been the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting and the largest single source of funding for public radio, television, and related online and mobile services.”
APT, CPB, Current.org and the Pizzato family all have shared interests over the years.
After the Pizzato firing CPB followed the Current.org led and published a story entitled, “Alabama Outrage,” the story begins by saying, “The firings of two long-time public broadcasting executives at Alabama Public Television has led to outrage, consternation, mass resignations and questions about whether the political appointees of the Alabama Educational Television Commission were seeking to force the station to broadcast programs based on creationism,” the same line promoted by Current.org.
This has led staffers to question the media integrity, “Several of us reached out to the media and said, ‘This is not the story, look over here,’ but we were ignored,” said a former employee. “People I trusted as good journalists turned a blind-eye to the facts, I don’t know if they were lazy or just cowards, but it hurt.” The frustration runs deep among current as well as former employees.
“Allan had always enjoyed his relationships in DC, he felt important there,” said an employee. “Once he had his daughter up there he found a way to use money given by Alabama donors to create his own little special place, if you know what I mean.”
APT has two sets of books, one that keeps track of the funds provided by the state and the other is an account of the money raised by donations.
The Washington, DC, bureau is paid for from APT Foundation, which accounts for the private donations and those books are not as easily available to the public and therefore not open to real scrutiny.
“This is where Alan hid the real treasurechest of spending, his ‘Beg-A-Thon’ money,” said one past employee.
July 10, 2011, at the time of the so-called layoffs of the remaining personnel at the Montgomery APT facility, Mike McKenzie, a spokesperson for APT, said that the Washington, DC, bureau was paid for from APT Foundation funds and not state funds that have been cut, necessitating the closing of the Montgomery bureau and the layoff of 19 APT employees statewide. It was also stated that the DC bureau had an operating budget of $236,510 for its two employees.
“Pizzato, could have kept Alabama staff if he had used the DC money, why didn’t he do that?” asked one of our sources.
Most point to Pizzato’s ego, others suggest his daughter was another consideration.
Perhaps it was the fact that Pizzato made it known almost from the beginning that he had no love for the news division of APT. “Allan, who came from corporate broadcasting, always told us that the news division was going to have to figure out how to make news profitable,” said a former news producer. “Every time he came to Montgomery, it was like Darth Vader entering the building with the black cloak billowing behind him.”
This former staffer makes it clear that he has no love for Pizzato but thinks he did some good things in Birmingham, “He just didn’t like the news portion of APT.”
The former staffer say Pizzato would constantly remind Montgomery employees that their jobs were always in danger or that some jobs were “shaky.” “I remember one time this guy —that Pizzato thought was an idiot because of one misstatement—asked in a meeting if his jobs was shaky, Pizzato looked at him and said, ‘You’re jello.’”
Many past and current personnel seem to characterize Pizzato’s relationship with most of the Montgomery bureau as hostile.
A former employee said that one such hostile relationship led to Pizzato firing a veteran APT journalist man over the phone while the man was on leave at a family member’s funeral.
In the next installment, more about firings and the dismantling of APT news