What not to do as a newscaster, demonstrated by Owen Conflenti

This one has me shaking my head.

As recently reported by MediaBistro’s TVSpy blog, KPRC-TV anchor Owen Conflenti recently made an obscene gesture while on camera, apparently directed at someone else in the studio. Mr. Conflenti thought his display of “the bird” was out of frame; unfortunately, he was quite wrong, as evidenced by the screenshot. The video’s missing (more on that later) but a lower quality copy is, however, available as part of the guyism.com story.

It’s one thing when an average person does something like this, but a professional newscaster should have a much higher standard of conduct. However, there are things that make this blunder in judgment worse: the absolutely abysmal handling of the incident from a PR standpoint.

First, as mentioned previously, KPRC-TV falls back on a ludicrous copyright claim for what is clearly a fair use of their broadcast. Due to the way YouTube takes down videos, there’s no way to even find the uploader and ask him/her to contest the copyright claim. (Hopefully he/she is out there reading this blog.) Shame on KPRC-TV for using copyright to interfere with the criticism of the on-air conduct of one of its news anchors.

Second, Mr. Conflenti and the VP of news at KPRC-TV, Deborah Callura  does what everyone in PR is trained not to do when confronted with an inconvenient question: say “no comment.” Ms. Callura could have simply stated something along the lines of “this is unacceptable conduct from an on-air personality and we will take steps to ensure it will not happen again.” Mr. Conflenti did eventually apologize (as evidenced by this follow-up story on TVSpy):

“I’m sorry to everyone for my offensive gesture on television last week,” Conflenti told the Houston Chronicle. “My actions were careless and unprofessional. I can assure my viewers it will never happen again.”

However, this didn’t happen almost a full week after the initial incident. This is an unacceptable delay for someone who is in the business of communications.

The silver lining to this cloud is that it’s a near-perfect case study for those entering the communications business, with a crystal clear lesson: don’t make obscene gestures (or use obscene language) when there’s any chance of you being on camera, and apologize quickly if you do and it gets noticed.

(An aside: I will admit my initial reaction was to find it a bit humorous. That does not change the fact that it is a story about unacceptable conduct by a communications professional, and I want to be sure my readers understand that.)