WXYZ has a public relations disaster, due to the mishandling of anchor Malcom Maddox, accused in a federal lawsuit of lewd sexual behavior and harassment by former reporter Tara Edwards.
Maddox has essentially been suspended three times over the past few years for the same allegations involving Edwards. Not wise employee relations. Not smart public relations.
He should have been fired from the get-go. Having failed to do so, Scripps Media Inc., the parent company, should have had the smarts to settle out of court with Edwards before this week's bombshell lawsuit.
She alleges, among a number of things, that Maddox asked if he could spit in her mouth and urinate on her during sexual activity. She also accuses him of sending a photo of his penis.
The ex-Detroiter, now living in Texas, says management never did enough to stop Maddox's obnoxious behavior.
Maddox was suspended for two weeks without pay in 2015 for inappropriate behavior tied to Edwards. He was put on leave again last December when Rev. W.J. Rideout III publicly accused him of sexual harassment and said the station covered it all up.
After three weeks, the ABC affiliate concluded that Rev. Rideout's allegations involved Edward's previous accusations and that Maddox had already been punished.
So they let him return to the air, thinking all was good.
'To Avoid . . . Distraction'
Then Edwards sued Wednesday. After a long day of hand-wringing, management announced: "To avoid any further distraction from this core mission, Malcom Maddox will be off the air for the time being."
"When the events from the 2015 investigation were raised again in 2017, Scripps itself investigated, strongly encouraging employees to share anything they knew about the prior situation or possible problems since then," the company said. "Nothing was reported that warranted additional discipline."
Geoffrey Fieger, the attorney representing Edwards, on Thursday declined to reveal discussions with WXYZ before the case was filed. But he told Deadline Detroit that the station's attorney, Elizabeth Hardy's "evaluation of the case is laughable."
"Did they have opportunity to resolve this case, absolutely."
But the station was "given bad advice, really bad advice," he said, adding that there's plenty evidence the company failed to respond properly.
Hardy did not immediately return a call from Deadline Detroit for comment.
Two Empty Anchor Seats
At this point, Maddox's status is unclear. The company simply said he'd been removed from the air.
Matt Friedman, co-founder of the Farmington Hills public relations firm Tanner Friedman, says Maddox's career may not be over -- but is unlikely to be revived here in Detroitan"I don't see how they could put him back on the air in this market without anyone watching him and not thinking about the allegations."
The timing is bad for WXYZ. Popular anchor Stephen Clark just retired, Friedman notes, and now Maddox has just been yanked off the morning broadcast -- creating a gap of two familiar faces.
Meanwhile, WXYZ has to deal with the public relations fallout and what could end up being a sizable payout.
Hopefully, lessons have been learned.