TV watchdog threatens suit over firing flap

By Diana Lynne

A watchdog group used to leveling its political might at the television industry to suppress violence and graphic sexual images during family viewing hours has trained its guns on its former executive director, threatening to sue him for speaking out about his abrupt firing. Yet in a seeming paradox, the organization continues to fund-raise using the ousted director’s name.

The Parents Television Council, or PTC, threatened to take legal action against Dennis Mansfield for “actionable” comments he made in an article published by WorldNetDaily last week. The article touched off a firestorm of reader reaction.

“[Mansfield’s] characterization of the firing is not right. If he chooses to make a further issue out of this, we’ll set the record straight in court,” Mike Russell told WND. Russell is vice president of Creative
Response Concepts, or CRC, the firm handling public relations for PTC.

As WorldNetDaily reported, Mansfield believes
it was a minute-long prayer invoking the name of Jesus Christ that got him abruptly fired from PTC a mere two months after being hired.

“PTC doesn’t want to be perceived as a right-wing religious group,” Mansfield told WND, asserting that his firing was meant to assuage liberal, non-Christian donors whom he says withdrew contributions of tens of thousands of dollars following the prayer.

Mansfield didn’t deliver the prayer himself. At the closing of a Nov. 14 awards ceremony and fund-raising event, he invited colleague and Episcopal minister Ted Baehr to offer a prayer for PTC president Brent Bozell who was recovering from a heart attack.

Following the event, Mansfield went on vacation to celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary and returned two weeks later to a terse e-mail informing him he was fired and must vacate his office immediately. No explanation was offered.

“I’m confused that a fine organization like PTC would dismiss its CEO and not give a severance package and then launch legal action against me,” Mansfield said.

Baehr, chairman of the Christian Film and Television Commission, accused PTC of religious bigotry and questioned why Mansfield should be fired when he wasn’t the one who delivered the prayer. “It was a normal, ordinary prayer,” he added.

In response to WND’s article and the subsequent flurry of calls and e-mails, CRC released the following statement:

“It is beyond preposterous to suggest that Brent Bozell can be associated with any form
of religious bigotry and that anyone who knows Mr. Bozell either personally or professionally knows that this claim is completely baseless. Further, after reading Mr. Mansfield’s comments as reported by WorldNetDaily, attorneys representing the Parents Television Council do, in fact, believe Mr. Mansfield’s
comments are actionable. Our attorneys are now fully engaged in a process that very likely will see litigation brought against Mr. Mansfield by PTC.”

A letter from PTC attorney Curtis Herge to Mansfield goes further, calling his statements that his firing was the result of the prayer having offended non-Christian audience members who are also financial contributors “false” and accusing Mansfield of uttering them while knowing them to be “fabrications.”

“The causes for your discharge from employment by PTC are known to you. They had nothing to do with the prayer; and Parents Television Council, Inc. does not object to the appropriate invocation of the name, Jesus Christ, in any forum,” Herge wrote.

Mansfield insists he’s still in the dark over the reason for his firing and questions why PTC is keeping it a secret, even from him. He told WND he stands by his earlier comments, but clarified that his suggestion that families not donate to PTC was directed toward faith-based families.

“I absolutely think the mission of PTC is right and noble and good. … I would ask families who want to continue to support PTC to do so. But American families of faith who think they’re giving to a faith-based organization need to know that it’s not,” he said.

PTC is a non-profit organization affiliated with the Media Research Center and, touts more than 700,000
members and, according to Mansfield, pulls in between $15,000 and $20,000 a day in donations.

PTC’s mission as stated on its website is to “discourage
the increasingly graphic sexual themes and dialogue, depictions of gratuitous violence, and profane or obscene language that have crowded out family viewing options.”

Mansfield is a leading Christian conservative voice in Idaho who has been involved in political activism
for more than two decades. He founded and headed up the state’s Focus on the Family affiliate for 10 years and made an unsuccessful bid for Congress in 2000. Just prior to joining PTC, Mansfield
succeeded in getting a referendum on the state legislature’s repeal of term limits onto the November ballot.

When Mansfield joined PTC in September, he brought with him a list of 4,000 families who’ve supported his efforts through contributions over the years. Paradoxically, PTC apparently intends to reap what Mansfield’s activism sowed in Idaho – even in his absence.

According to Mansfield, a mass mailing to the 4,000 families on his list, dated the day he was fired was sent out and arrived in the recipients’ mailboxes across the state of Idaho and the Pacific Northwest yesterday. The mailing, which WND received a copy of, consists of a letter from Mansfield, himself, “begging” supporters to make special end-of-the-year gifts to “rescue” Bozell’s planned “three-month blitz.” The letter states PTC is $212,000 short of the funds
necessary to finance the blitz, which will include “an intensification of PTC’s campaign to push the Federal
Communications Commission into truly enforcing the law against TV indecency.”

“I’m deeply offended that two weeks after my firing, they’d send out a mass mailing … asking all my years and years of supporters to give to PTC. They certainly wanted me out of the office quickly but wanted my list of supporters to linger,” Mansfield told WND. He explained that he had seen a draft of the
letter before he went on vacation but stressed that he had instructed PTC on the day he was fired that they were not authorized to use his list.

Russell told WND the general process for PTC’s bulk mailings is for them to be in the pipeline for at least two weeks and as much as three to four weeks before the drop date. He also explained the letters are pre-dated because this schedule is known.

When asked why the mailing would not have been stopped once the firing took place or whether PTC would be concerned about a letter going out ostensibly written by Mansfield and containing his signature after his dismissal, Russell responded, “It’s debateable whether it was stoppable because the post office would have already had it. … These things happen. There is a timeline that has to happen.”

“I’m sure they’ll argue that it was already in the pipeline when they fired me,” Mansfield said, “but I’m stunned that they would use this list at this time knowing fully they were going to be firing me.”

Still, Mansfield stresses that he holds no ill will towards Bozell.

“I think Brent Bozell is one of the most articulate voices for the conservative cause in America. I have
nothing but great respect for him. But I’m concerned about who he’s getting counseling from. … I believe his counselors failed him,” he said.

Earlier story:

Watchdog group fires CEO after prayer