In an extraordinary on-air move, Nexstar-owned CBS affiliate WCIA in Champaign, Ill. ran a segment apologizing to viewers for the station’s coverage of the death of police officer Chris Oberheim. Oberheim was killed in the line of duty in May.
The apology featured an appearance from two parent company executives, who said that some of their coverage decisions were made in error.
The on-air mea culpa came after controversy in the community. One of the stories focused on a memorial service held for Darion Lafayette, the man suspected of shooting Oberheim. Lafayette was killed in a shoot-out with police. The station’s coverage at the time featured a photo of Lafayette with a halo and angel wings, an image provided by his family.
The coverage prompted community backlash and caused such an uproar that some local businesses reallocated their advertising dollars elsewhere. News director Rich Flesch and general manager Sharon Rachal have both quietly exited the station.
“We don’t simply want to say we’re sorry now, and then go back to normal operations thinking a simple apology would make everything OK,” said anchor Jennifer Roscoe.
In a nearly four-minute segment, Roscoe was joined by Nexstar svp and regional manager Traci Wilkinson and Andy Miller, director of local content for Nexstar Media. They took turns repeatedly telling viewers that changes have been made “to be sure an error like the one we made never happens again.”
Community reaction to the apology was mixed on Facebook.
“I’m honestly not bothered that they did a story on the perpetrator. He died and a family lost a member, and we need to remember that,” one viewer commented. “But showing the picture of him with angel wings and halo was inexcusably tone deaf. I will never understand how that made it to air.”
Miller, who is acting news director at WCIA, told viewers Nexstar has implemented training, feedback sessions and oversight of the remaining staff in an attempt to regain the community’s trust.
“Our company has very specific policies and procedures in place to ensure the editorial process,” said Wilkinson. “In the case of that story, they failed and for that we are truly sorry.”