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Mar 2019

The WFAA8 Communist clause (but from the '80s, not the '50s)


Note to readers: WFAA8 was at the height of its powers -- both quality-wise and ratings-wise -- when your friendly content provider learned that the station still had an “I am not a Communist” clause in its standard employee contract. At this point, in the early 1980s, the country was far removed from the Joe McCarthy-led “Red Scare” of the 1950s. So yes, it was a shock. And yes, station management didn’t at all like being confronted not only with proof positive that the clause still existed, but with allegations that they didn’t hire a prospective employee after he crossed the Communist clause out before signing his contract. This article was originally published on Dec. 16, 1981.

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An award-winning investigative reporter from Utah contends he was first hired and then dropped by WFAA-TV (Ch. 8) because he refused to sign a “loyalty oath” renouncing the Communist Party and other “subversive” groups.

But Channel 8’s management says the reporter in question, Karl Idsvoog, was turned away because he seemed to be a “prima donna” who wouldn’t conform to overall station policy. The Communist Party provision was not the determining factor, say General Manager Dave Lane and Executive News Director Marty Haag.

According to Idsvoog’s version, he was hired last August as executive producer of Channel 8’s Weekend Journal. He resigned his position as director of Salt Lake City-based KUTV’s investigative unit and waited for an employee agreement to arrive in the mail from Channel 8. When it came, Idsvoog said he signed it after crossing out several provisions that he found unacceptable. Haag then phoned and told him the deal was off, Idsvoog said. Among the provisions Idsvoog refused to sign off on are:

***“I certify that I am not and never have been affiliated with or in agreement with the Communist Party or any group designated by the attorney general as being Communist or subversive.”

***“If requested, I further agree to take a polygraph test either before or at any time during my employment with the company.”

*** “In the event of my employment with the company, I agree to comply with all rules and regulations established by the company and understand that failure to comply therewith may subject me to disciplinary action, including possible discharge.”

Idsvoog said he refused to sign the latter provision because in fact he couldn’t “comply with” the Communist Party and lie detector language in the contract agreement. (A copy of the agreement, signed by Idsvoog, was obtained from him.)

“There is no way I could accept that,” Idsvoog said in a telephone interview. “I hold no animosity whatsoever toward Marty Haag and Channel 8. It seemed like a very solid, fine operation. They have their right as a company to demand certain things of employees. I chose to reject them. It’s a matter of principle. I am not and never have been a Communist. But supposedly we have some First Amendment rights in this country. I showed it (the Communist Party clause) around the office here and we sort of joke about it. My God, we found a place that’s more conservative than Utah. I was under the impression that Joe McCarthy died, but evidently he moved to Texas from Wisconsin.”

A spokesman for the U.S. attorney general’s office said the “subversive” clause in Channel 8’s contract is outdated.

“The list was abolished in 1974,” the spokesman said, referring to Channel 8’s language concerning “any group designated by the attorney general as being Communist or subversive.” The federal government had kept such a list from 1947 to 1974.

There also is a state statute regarding “loyalty oaths,” but the law is “no longer enforced” after being held “constitutionally invalid” by a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision, a spokesman for the state attorney general’s office said.

However, a private company “can do what it pleases” regarding contract language, the spokesman said.

John McKay, Channel 4’s general manager, and Bill Vance, news director at Channel 5, said there are no “loyalty oath” or lie detector clauses in their company contracts.

Dick Williams, a news director for 10 years and now a newspaper editor in Atlanta, said: “I’ve seen hundreds of contracts, but never anything like that (Channel 8’s). That’s unheard of.”

Williams was interviewed at the recent Radio-Television News Directors convention in New Orleans.

“I’ll be honest with you. I didn’t even know it was there,” Channel 8’s Lane said of the “subversive” clause. “If I had known he’d (Idsvoog) crossed that out, I would have wanted to discuss things further with him. If he was known to be actively involved with the Communist Party, I’m not sure I’d want him working at this station.”

Lane said Channel 8’s employee agreement was reviewed 15 months ago. At that time, the subversive clause was left in and the lie detector clause was added. The lie detector clause represents protection for the station against equipment theft, he said.

Haag claimed Idsvoog would have been hired if he had crossed out only the subversive clause.

“What Karl wanted was to be was his own boss,” Haag said. “The Communist Party thing was not the line in question. I didn’t care whether he lined through that clause or not. If he had not negotiated the way he did, if he had not lined through that thing on company policy, it wouldn’t have made any difference to me. I told him I need to find somebody who wants to work here more than he did. After a while, you begin to get vibrations about people. He has a helluva reputation as a reporter, but so does Reggie Jackson as a right fielder. I’m not going to hire a prima donna.”

“When I looked at all the things he had crossed through, I said that’s not the kind of guy we want to hire here,” Lane added. “He said the subversive clause had never before been questioned by prospective or current Channel 8 employee.

Idsvoog, the reporter who did balk, has signed a new contract with KUTV, Salt Lake City’s NBC affiliate. His previous investigative work has earned him duPont and Iris awards for excellence.

“If I didn’t have to sign a loyalty oath, I would certainly consider going to work there again,” Idsvoog said.

There apparently is no chance of that.

Email comments or questions to: unclebarky@verizon.net