It's over at Fox4 for reporter Rebecca Aguilar
03/05/08 11:46 PM
By ED BARK
Rebecca Aguilar's 14-year career as a Fox4 reporter has officially ended via a letter from an attorney representing the station.
In a telephone interview Wednesday night, Aguilar, 49, said she was checking her mail at mid-afternoon that day when she noticed an envelope under her front door mat. It informed her that Fox4 was exercising an option to drop her at the halfway point of a two-year contract that began on March 6, 2007.
"No doorbell, no knock on the door," said Aguilar, who had been on paid suspension since Oct. 16th following her controversial interview with an elderly West Dallas salvage business owner who had shot and killed two alleged burglars within three weeks time.
The interview had been hotly debated in both Dallas and around the country. Some accused Aguilar of "ambushing" a feeble old man; others said she had been aggressive, but not unduly so, in getting a story that rival stations also wanted on their newscasts.
The suspension came less than two weeks after Aguilar had accepted the Broadcast Journalist of the Year award from the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. Three other Fox4 staffers connected with the story belatedly received suspensions lasting less than a week combined.
"I just think it's really sad that I gave this company 14 years and I did about 6,000 interviews," Aguilar said. "And now I'm out of a job because of one interview? It's like in one swoop it ruined my reputation. It ruined my name."
Fox4 management has a policy of not commenting on personnel matters. That also was NBC5's position Wednesday after confirming that veteran early morning meteorologist Rebecca Miller suddenly was out of a job after 17 years at the station. All in all, Wednesday was a bad day for local TV's Rebeccas.
Aguilar said she's well aware that some people feel there must be more to her suspension than just one story.
"I think a lot of people deal in rumors," she said. "Did the news director (Maria Barrs) and I go out to dinner or hang out together? No. But she was my boss and I respected her position . . . There definitely have been issues I can't elaborate on right now that I don't regret bringing to the attention of management. But if I was not a good employee and a solid reporter, there's no way a company would continue to renew my contract year after year. So people can talk all they want."
Aguilar said that most street reporters are expected to "go out there and ask the hard questions. As journalists, shouldn't we able to do the same thing on the inside? We shouldn't live in fear. Because once you put fear into a reporter, how can you expect that person to pursue the truth, pursue the facts? We cannot as reporters be Jekyll and Hyde, one person on the inside, another person on the outside. Those plantation days are over."
Aguilar, who hired an attorney after the suspension, declined to say whether she'd take any legal action against Fox4. "Let me just put it this way," she said. "I'm going to use any method I can to regain my reputation."
A number of her now former Fox4 colleagues, as well as reporters at rival stations, made efforts to stay in touch with her throughout the long suspension, Aguilar said. Others quickly washed their hands of her.
"I am so proud that many reporters, anchors and photographers have stuck by my side," she said. "They have called to ask how I was doing. They have boosted my morale. I definitely learned who my friends were at Fox4. And I'm disappointed that I also learned the truth about those who I thought were my friends."
Aguilar, whose husband still works at Fox4, contends that the station may have "ruined my career."
"I don't know what future opportunities I'll have," she said. "I'm going to be in google world until the day I'm dead. But I hope the decision that management made at Fox4 doesn't discourage other reporters around the country from doing their jobs for fear of retaliation or because they don't think managers have their back.
"Because I found out the hard way."