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KVOA FACES DECISION IN ALEXANDER INCIDENT

Although no charges have been filed, KVOA Channel 4 may soon be facing a judgment call over a touchy situation involving noon and 4 p.m. news anchor Allison Alexander.

On the afternoon of Feb. 14, Tucson police responded to a call reporting "a prostitute and her john having sex" in a car parked near 14th Avenue and Lester Street in an area known for prostitution. (A copy of the 10-page police report is available at tucsonweekly.com.) It was there, a few minutes' drive from the KVOA studios, that police encountered Alexander and Capt. Barrett Baker, public information officer for the Tucson Fire Department, together in a vehicle.

No citations were issued and names were redacted from the police report, but numerous sources have confirmed it was Alexander and Baker who were questioned. In fact, when the Tucson Weekly requested the police report, it did so using their names. The result was the report of the Feb. 14 incident. Both Alexander and Baker denied to police they had engaged in sexual activity, and neither has responded to the Weekly's requests for comment.

KVOA has dealt with disciplinary issues in different ways. The local NBC affiliate forced 26-year station veteran Martha Vazquez to resign following a misdemeanor shoplifting incident in mid-February 2012. However, former reporter Brandon Gunnoe was allowed to stay with the station following a DUI conviction shortly after he was hired.

Alexander's situation is a bit different because no charges have been filed or citations issued. However, she could conceivably be in violation of KVOA's loosely interpreted morality clause.

"You, whether on or off the job, shall conduct yourself with sobriety and decency, with due regard for social conventions and public morals so as to not cause injury or damage to KVOA or any of its sponsors, which may shock, insult or offend the community or reflect unfavorably upon you, KVOA or its sponsors," the contract language states. "In event of the breach of the standard of conduct prescribed by this provision, whether or not information in regard to such activity becomes public, KVOA may terminate this contract upon 24 hours notice to you."

Either the company believes Alexander's claims that she did nothing wrong or is hoping the incident will go way. Alexander, who took a two-week vacation beginning March 4, anchored the noon newscast on Feb. 14, but Tom McNamara stepped in to handle duties at 4 p.m., an especially unusual occurrence during sweeps period, when it's critical that anchors and reporters be in their assigned slots.

Alexander and Baker could conceivably argue they were sharing story information, but that seems curious at best, given the location and the amount of time spent in the car prior to the 4 p.m. newscast. The neighborhood resident who called Tucson police to report the incident said the same car had been seen in that location "every day for the past week."

Even if you take Alexander and Baker at their word—that they were two friends who did nothing more than hug and chat in an alley—it seems like spectacularly poor judgment by the two, who are both married to other people. What could they possibly be discussing that wouldn't be better talked out over coffee in a public place?

Other than the Weekly, traditional media have so far left this story alone despite the fact that every media outlet in town seems to have the police report in hand.

The media has already set a precedent in covering the sexual improprieties of public officials. Earlier this year, every significant traditional media outlet in town reported the demotion of Lt. Diana Lopez of the Tucson Police Department after she sent sexually suggestive videos and photos of herself to a colleague.

While we could take the high road here and suggest that TPD's decision to announce the results of its investigation was the impetus for running that story, we'd be kidding ourselves if we denied that the hook was sexually suggestive photos. In fact, most news outlets went into detail about what the photos and videos showed.

But stories involving TV personalities create a quandary for TV news outlets, and this is where a judgment call that might reflect badly on KVOA comes into question. Local stations, unlike their print counterparts, did not run any stories related to the Vazquez situation and usually tend to shy away from stories involving employees of competitors.

"Reporting on alleged misdeeds by a direct competitor presents an ethical challenge," said KGUN Channel 9 news director Forrest Carr in a Facebook post about the station's decision not to cover the Vazquez story. "It gives the impression that the report might be motivated, in whole or in part, by a desire to make a competitor look bad. Ethical news reporting does not allow hidden agendas, real or perceived. So, misdeeds by a direct competitor must rise to a pretty high level in order to overcome that perception. Had it been our own anchor, we would have felt compelled to report it, but in this case, not otherwise. Newspaper reporters don't face this problem, given that they compete only indirectly with TV, which leaves them free to pursue the story."

However, this situation involves a Tucson Fire Department captain who was questioned about an alleged activity that occurred on company time and while he was in uniform, and who drove to his meeting with Alexander in a TFD vehicle. If he should be reprimanded, TV news outlets would have to weigh their eagerness to cover the Lopez incident against their unwillingness to report on the behavior of a competitor.

More by John Schuster

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