Tegna president and CEO Dave Lougee has apologized for an incident involving former top FCC staffer and ad association executive Adonis Hoffman that the latter found disturbing and was part of the reason Hoffman withdrew his candidacy for a Tegna board of directors seat.
The result is that the Tegna board hired an outside law firm to investigate the incident and human resources reviewed Lougee's human resources file. Lougee has apologized, and Hoffman told Next TV that he has accepted that apology. Hoffman added in an email: "I honestly hope this account will remind us to really see the humanity in others, beyond their role in society or station in life and not stop at their race or color."
In a letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the Tegna board said nothing in the review "or otherwise" has suggested Lougee has ever been accused of any incident of a similar nature, but added, "nevertheless, we care about even one such incident and view this as a reminder of the importance of continuing down the path of our strong commitment at Tegna to issues of diversity, equity and inclusion." The Wall Street Journal reported Hoffman's withdrawal earlier.
"Although I would welcome the opportunity to bring decades of legal, policy, regulatory and corporate experience in service as an independent director to the shareholders of Tegna, Inc., I do not believe the conditions and circumstances surrounding this nomination align with my interests or Tegna's," Hoffman said in withdrawing his nomination, though he said he stood by his assessment of the company in an April 2020 Broadcasting+Cable op ed.
Hoffman told Multichannel News that the conflict was the primary reason for his decision, adding: "The incident was a matter of principle."
Of the conflict, he said: "Given the duty of care, loyalty and responsibility required of all directors, I have serious concerns that my ongoing advisory counsel for other companies could conflict with my duties as a TEGNA director, should I be elected. In addition, while there may be measures to avoid actual conflicts of interest, I am equally concerned about the appearance of conflicts, which could affect sensitive interactions within existing client relationships."
The incident was related to an interaction with Lougee in 2014 that Lougee acknowledged this week, according to a Tegna SEC filing. Following an industry event, where Hoffman and Lougee were seated together, the two men encountered each other outside, and Lougee mistakenly thought Hoffman was a parking valet. Tegna said Lougee "immediately acknowledged the incident and has stated that he made a mistake for which he had apologized immediately at the time of the incident."
Hoffman had related the incident to Multichannel News in 2015, without naming Lougee at the time: "I attended an industry luncheon and was seated at the head table next to the keynote speaker, who is the president of a prominent TV-station group [whom Hoffman now identifies as Lougee]. We ate together, chatted at lunch and then he gave his speech, which was a good one. I even asked a question from the floor during Q&A. At the end of the luncheon, I went out to the hotel entrance to stand on the side to wait for the car, and the TV president came over to me. I smiled at him and he extended his hand with what I thought was his business card — except that it was his valet parking ticket. He thought I was the valet. I could not believe it. So I moved about six inches from his nose, looked him in the eye so he could really see me, and said, 'Do you really want me to get your car?' Flustered and somewhat embarrassed, he said, 'Oh, I thought you were the parking guy.'
"Not ready to give him a pass, and wanting to have a little fun making the point, I said, 'We just had lunch and conversation at the head table, and you come outside and ask me to go get your car. You know I won’t let you forget this.' So I guess the moral of the story is that even at high levels of achievement, the content of your character does not always make it past the color of your skin. I guess we have a ways to go when it comes to diversity."
Lougee sent an e-mail to Tegna staffers Monday, reprinted below:
I want to address an incident from 2014 that is likely to be in the media.
As you may know, a TEGNA shareholder has nominated candidates to serve on our Board of Directors. One candidate, Adonis Hoffman, recently withdrew his candidacy due to what he said were conflicts of interest, but he also cited a 2014 incident with me that took place following an industry event.
It’s important that you hear from me what happened. As I was leaving the event and looking for my car, I ran into Mr. Hoffman and mistakenly thought he was a hotel valet.
Mr. Hoffman was understandably offended and upset. I immediately apologized to him and felt terrible. I don’t condone racism of any kind, I take full responsibility for this mistake, and am truly sorry for the pain I caused Mr. Hoffman.
As we have made clear on numerous occasions, our Board and management team have made it a corporate priority -- and I have made it a personal priority -- to further strengthen our commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. This unfortunate incident underscores just how important this work is for all of us. TEGNA has taken specific actions to ensure our people, content, and company reflect the communities we serve, and we have established numerical goals to drive continuous improvement in the years ahead. More information is available in TEGNA’s 2020 Social Responsibility Highlights.
As this report shows, we are making important progress but there is so much more to be done.
Again, I wanted you to hear this directly from me. I hope my mistake doesn’t make you doubt my sincerity or that of the entire leadership team in our strong focus on improving diversity and inclusion at TEGNA.
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Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.