According to former Fox 5 TV production manager Paul Pontorno, watching porn in the office was a regular pastime for himself, his boss, and three other male colleagues.
Until last fall, Pontorno worked at WNYW, Fox television’s affiliate in New York. At lunchtime, the guys would slip into the office of his boss, Greg Franchuk, who was then vice president of operations and engineering. Sitting around a conference table behind closed doors, they watched porn videos that Pontorno described to the Voice as “the kind you would expect to find in a video store.” Oral? Anal? Virgins? Beasts? He declined to give specifics.
Pontorno claims that some of his colleagues taught him how to download porn files into secret partitions of his hard drive. One brought porn videos into the office. Another had a receiver for the company’s satellite in his office, which he used to watch the porn station Vivid. Still another liked to visit Nakednews.com.
According to Pontorno, he was singled out among these men and fired last October after a company investigation turned up porn files on his computer. Viewing porn is a violation of Fox’s policy on computer use; the company claims he was the only offender.
But that’s not the only injustice he says he suffered at the hands of Fox. Pontorno, who is Italian American, says that Franchuk routinely called him a “guinea,” “wop,” and “greaseball.” Pontorno had reported Franchuk several times to human resources personnel, and he believes the decision to fire him on a porn rap was an unlawful form of retaliation for objecting to the ethnic slurs. In February, Pontorno filed an employment discrimination complaint with the New York State Human Rights Division and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
Pontorno’s complaint offers a rare peek into the office culture at outwardly repressed Fox Television Stations, a subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which includes 33 affiliates nationwide. If the now unemployed Pontorno is to be believed, WNYW managers not only watched porn on company time but treated subordinates with “brazen and vicious disrespect,” including making rude sexual comments to women and to men about their wives.
“I want to expose what’s going on,” says Pontorno, “so nobody else can get hurt and these people can’t abuse their power. There’s a secret society there, and it’s got to be stopped.”
Pontorno’s lawyer, Patricia Mulligan, acknowledges that watching porn is a form of misconduct that can legitimately trigger termination. But “the fish rots from the head down,” she says—in other words, that misconduct was an accepted practice in the workplace. If Fox TV enforced its anti-porn policy equally, she argues, then Franchuk and the other alleged participants would be fired as well. Instead, she claims, the company has enforced the policy selectively and used it “as a club to hit people who are complaining about discrimination.”
Pontorno, who worked at WNYW for two years, says he had no performance problems in previous jobs and was “known for my people skills and treating people respectfully.” So Franchuk’s constant digs at his ethnicity were particularly galling, and they seemed to set the tone. For example, on more than one occasion, one news field operations manager allegedly said to Pontorno, “Did you know that Sicilians were spawned by niggers? Your great-grandmother and them did so much fucking.” (An echo of a line from the film True Romance.)
Pontorno complained first to the station’s then general manager, and later to a colleague of Jean Fuentes, Fox TV’s senior vice president for human resources, who works in the WNYW office. When Fuentes failed to follow up, Pontorno got on the horn with Dick Slenker, Fox TV’s executive vice president of engineering and operations, who allegedly called the slurs “unacceptable” and promised to respond ASAP.
In August, Pontorno took two months off to recover from back surgery. Upon returning to the office in October, he says, he learned that he was being suspended without pay. He says he later learned that an investigation launched at Franchuk’s behest turned up the porn files on his computer.
Franchuk and Fuentes, who are both named in the complaint, did not return calls for comment. When the Voice informed WNYW general manager James Clayton that Pontorno’s complaint details porn-watching by several named WNYW employees, he said, “We have no comment.”
A spokesperson for Fox Television Stations said, “It’s a shame that, rather than accepting responsibility for his own admitted misconduct, Mr. Pontorno has resorted to making scandalous allegations against others. Based on our own investigation, we believe those allegations to be absurd.”
Race to the Bottom
True or false: The New York Times Book Review is not the best place to review books that criticize the Times. True, according to Times book review editor Charles McGrath, who recently told the San Francisco Chronicle that an anti-Times angle was one reason he decided not to assign a review of Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism.
False, says Coloring the News author William McGowan, whose book argues that the crusade by the Times and other papers to promote cultural diversity, both in news reporting and newsroom hires, has produced its own form of repressive orthodoxy. “The Times‘ blackout of my book is the journalistic equivalent of the blue wall of silence,” says the author. “It shows how hypocritical they are in their calls for accountability in other places and how consistently they refuse to respond to criticism.”
McGowan, a former Newsweek reporter and current Manhattan Institute fellow, points to reviews that have appeared in The Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, Columbia Journalism Review, and so on. These tend to see his book as biased and flawed in its own right, but commendable for raising important questions.
Journalist Jim Sleeper is also disturbed by the Times‘ decision not to review McGowan’s book. Sleeper believes that his own review, which appeared in the L.A. Times, shows that “there is a way to do it fairly. Criticize McGowan all you want, but acknowledge the force of his argument.”
One has to ask, What did McGowan expect? His book depicts Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr. as the bogeyman who set the national agenda for promoting diversity, and throughout the book he takes whacks at the Times piñata. Any student of the Times knows the paper will not dignify that kind of harsh criticism with a response. Besides, a Times review that trashed McGowan’s arguments would sound self-serving, while one that praised them could be construed as an admission of guilt.
“We receive thousands of books each year and we cannot review all of them,” said Times spokesperson Toby Usnik. “We make our choices as best we can, with an eye toward what we think will appeal to a general audience.”