Just Aggressive or Too Rude to the President?
By Jeff Siegel
Jeff Siegel is a writer in Dallas.
One of San Antonio's best-known television reporters says he was fired February 28 because he asked President Bush a tough question. His news director says the incident was just one more reason to dismiss a reporter who had already burned a lot of bridges.
The exchange between Brian Karem, a four-year employee of KMOL, and Bush came February 27 at a news conference that concluded a seven-country U.S.-Latin America drug summit. Karem and his boss, News Director Ron Harig, agree about what happened. Their dispute centers on Karem's behavior at the news conference, which Karem called aggressive and Harig labeled overly aggressive.
Karem had been assigned to interview foreign reporters covering the summit for a story on how other countries saw the event. He was not assigned to ask questions of the presidents at the news conference; another KMOL reporter was. But Karem says the foreign reporters told him the same thing he had previously heard from state and local police: that the summit was a waste of time.
So Karem took a seat at the news conference, got Bush's attention and tried to ask him to comment on reports that police had called the summit a "joke." An irritated Bush told Karem that this part of the conference was for questions directed to the other presidents. He then tried to recognize another reporter. But Karem persisted, and after trying several times to cut Karem off, Bush finally gave in and allowed him to ask Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari his question. Bush did not respond, and Karem did not use Salinas' reply in his story that night.
The next day, Karem says, he was dressing for work when Harig called and told him not to come in. The two men met later in the afternoon, and Harig fired Karem.
"I was flabbergasted, quite frankly," says Karem, a print reporter in Indianapolis and Louisville before moving into television. "I'm not going to say I'm not an aggressive reporter, because I am. I've had confrontations before, but the station has always backed me. But just because I asked the president a tough question, I got fired."
Says Harig, who hired Karem shortly after arriving at KMOL in 1987: "The infuriating thing about this is that Brian has misled the national media about this, hiding behind the First Amendment. Nothing could be further from the truth.
"This was the latest incident in what has been a long string with Brian," he says. "His conduct has often been unprofessional, and this has been the last straw."
Harig declined to discuss specific incidents, saying they were confidential personnel matters. However, he did say Karem had a history of "stormy, ugly incidents with colleagues and sources."
This is not the first time Karem has made news. In 1990 he elicited a jailhouse confession from an accused cop killer. Karem spent two weeks in jail rather than reveal the name of the person who helped arrange the interview, although there is doubt as to whether his source sought anonymity.
"Brian did not enjoy the respect of his colleagues," says Robert Wynne, who covers television and radio for the San Antonio Light. "He's seen as a hot dog. His fatal flaw is that he is addicted to the limelight."
Karem says he has no immediate plans. "I just hope to find a job."
Siegel is a freelance writer in Dallas. ###