A two-sentence email from WFTV News Director Matt Parcell notified colleagues that long-time TV reporter Kathi Belich was “no longer working at WFTV.” The internal WFTV email, obtained by West Orlando News, was sent to the news department and department heads at 2PM on Friday afternoon, just before the holiday weekend.
That’s it. After 24 years at WFTV Channel 9 News, Belich’s departure was reduced to a two-sentence email from the news director.
The news comes after Belich recently found herself in a major controversy involving her coverage of the campaign for Orange-Osceola State Attorney. Belich clearly had a connection to Jeff Ashton, who was defeated in the August election by new incoming State Attorney Aramis Ayala. Belich gained TV fame during the Casey Anthony saga and since that trial, she had provided Ashton with favorable coverage, while recently targeting his opponent harshly.
However, WFTV falsely reported a conviction record for Ayala’s husband just before the election. The dirty politics story was an ugly display of local journalism, especially considering WFTV and Belich were made aware of the incorrect information regarding Ayala’s husband hours before the story originally aired.
“Last night, WFTV Channel 9 falsely reported that my loving husband David has a gun conviction on his record. This simply is not true,” Ayala posted on social media on August 24th, days before her election against Ashton. She demanded a correction and a public apology.
WFTV finally did air a correction and apology right before voters headed to the polls.
“It was heartbreaking to see a loving father, friend and partner hurt by terrible reporting,” Ayala wrote on August 29th.
While Belich may be the fall person after the controversy, it is clear that News Director Matt Parcell also shares part of the blame – and arguably, he is more to blame as news director – along with anyone else at WFTV who was aware of the false report hours before it aired.
Ayala’s campaign lawyer hit WFTV hard in the aftermath and the TV station could very well likely be facing a lawsuit, or major settlement, because of the false report. Ayala ultimately became the first African-American elected as state attorney despite the late campaign attack.