KTVU news anchor Frank Somerville has once again been removed from the air, but this time a newsroom row — not the collapse on air — appears to be the cause.
According to the station’s sources, Somerville, 63, has been indefinitely “suspended” by Channel 2 management after a row with news director Amber Eckel over coverage of the Gabi Pettito murder case.
Sources said the spat occurred earlier in the week after Pettito’s body was discovered in Wyoming. Pettito, 22, was reported missing earlier this month during a cross-country camping trip. The FBI has issued an arrest warrant for Brian Laundry, Pettito’s 23-year-old fiancé.
KTVU was prepared to broadcast a live news report detailing the latest developments in the case, and Somerville wanted to add a brief catchphrase at the end of the report questioning the exceptional level of media coverage devoted to the story. The sources said he wanted to point out that the American media often disproportionately cover the tragedies involving young white women, while largely ignoring similar cases involving women of color.
Somerville has an adopted teenage daughter who is black.
The veteran broadcaster was told the slogan was inappropriate and seemed to push it again. There was no information on how heated the discussion was.
The sources said that the station’s management informed Somerville the next day of the suspension of work. A spokesperson for the station could not be reached as of Friday evening, and Eckel declined to comment.
It’s another strange development in a turbulent year for Somerville. During an infamous May 30 newscast, he repeatedly stuttered, stumbled on his words and seemed to have trouble reading the teleprompter. Days later, a spokesperson for Fox – the network that owns and operates KTVU – announced that Somerville would be taking an indefinite leave of absence in order to “focus on his health”.
Somerville was off broadcasts for more than nine weeks before returning in August to Channel Two’s “The Ten O’Clock News” without addressing his unusual absence. Since then, Fox and the station’s management have refused to speak publicly about the issue.
This latest incident, which comes just six weeks after Somerville’s return to the docking office, will undoubtedly fuel speculation about his future with the station. He’s one of the highest-paid reporters in the Bay Area, but his contract expired in March. Somerville has said in the past that he wants to work “another two or three years” and would like to end his career at KTVU.
Meanwhile, the issue of media coverage that Somerville had hoped to raise has received a lot of attention in recent days as debate has raged over how much is too much. MSNBC host Joy Reed criticized her own industry on her primetime show, calling Petito’s coverage an example of “missing white woman syndrome,” a term coined by the late journalist Gwen Eiffel to describe the media’s often unbalanced focus on women. And white girls. when they lose.