Ben Ashford, Daily Mail, August 27, 2015
Warped TV reporter Vester Lee Flanagan exasperated bosses with his ‘stiff and nervous’ delivery, his inability to use a teleprompter–and by wearing a President Obama badge during an election report, Daily Mail Online can reveal.
Management at WDBJ dubbed the failed newsman the ‘human tape recorder’ because he frequently parroted what interviewees had told him rather than doing his own journalism.
Flanagan, 41, clashed repeatedly with photojournalists, belittling them in public and intimidating them with his violent temper, according to internal reports.
He was also censured for wearing an Obama sticker while recording a segment at a polling booth during the 2012 US Presidential Election–a clear breach of journalistic impartiality.
The complaints are outlined in court papers seen by Daily Mail Online that include a scathing performance review carried out prior to his termination in Feb 2013.
The station filed the documents to rebutt a wrongful termination claim which he had brought, claiming he was the victim of discrimination because he was black and gay. The station won the case.
Flanagan earned a dismal 1 out of 5 score in several categories for his poor communication skills and a failure to show respect to colleagues.
The veteran multimedia journalist was also criticized for missing deadlines and producing reports that were ‘lean on facts’ and left viewers confused.
Flanagan shot dead two of his ex-coworkers during a live TV segment Wednesday morning before committing suicide.
Viewers of the small CBS affiliate in Moneta, Virginia, watched as he gunned down 24-year-old reporter Alison Parker at close range before turning the weapon on cameraman Adam Ward, 27.
After carrying out the shocking on-air execution he fled in a rental car and committed suicide, but not before tweeting a list of complaints and a chilling first-person video of the killings.
Those complaints echoed a May 2014 court filing in which Flanagan sued the station in Roanoke General District Court, seeking unpaid wages and damages for alleged discrimination.
In a sometimes-rambling account of his time at WDBJ Flanagan accused co-workers of racially harassing him by placing a watermelon around the office.
‘The watermelon would appear, then disappear, then appear and disappear, then appear and disappear again only to appear again,’ he wrote in a May 2014 letter to presiding Judge Francis Burkart.
‘This was not an innocent incident. The watermelon was placed in a strategic location.’
Flanagan also claimed he was assaulted by a photographer, subjected to a hostile working environment and wrongfully terminated.
He demanded a jury comprised entirely of African American women and independent investigations by the FBI and Justice Department.
‘I realize this is the ultimate “David vs. Goliath” scenario . . . however I am neither intimidated or fearful,’ he added.
Burkart dismissed the case in July 2014 after a detailed rebuttal from WDBK bosses who argued there was not a ‘single allegation of fact’ to support Flanagan.
Furthermore they submitted pages and pages of complaints and internal emails detailing Flanagan’s poor news judgment, flawed delivery and fiery temper.
‘Your on air performance . . . continues to be stiff and nervous,’ News director Dan Dennison told Flanagan in a December 2012 email.
‘You hold onto scripts with both hands; even when you have a teleprompter in the studio and never refer to them .
‘This is an unnecessary crutch. Given your level of experience doing live television, our expectation is that your on-air performance should be better.’
Dennison also slammed Flanagan, who reported under the name Bryce Williams, for acting like a ‘human tape recorder’ and taking press releases and interviewees on face value.
‘Your job as a news reporter is to dig for the truth and the facts,’ he said. ‘You have a tendency to repeat instead of report on many stories which leads to thinly sourced material and a lack of substance.’
Dennison also wrote to Flanagan in November 2012 to admonish him for wearing an Obama badge while reporting on voters hitting the poll booths for the US election.
‘It has come to my attention that while standing in line on Tuesday, preparing to vote, you were wearing a President Obama sticker on your clothing.’
Dennison described the badge as a clear violation of journalist ethics and company rules that ban employees from participating in partisan politics.
‘This demonstrated a basic lack of understanding of your role as an on-air journalist at the television station and poor judgment,’ he said.
Flanagan’s temper was also a constant worry for bosses at WDBK, who listed a series of violent confrontations between the volatile reporter and his colleagues.
In April 2012 the California-raised Jehovah’s Witness lost his temper and verbally abused two co-workers inside a live truck, leaving them feeling ‘threatened and extremely uncomfortable.’
On May 30 he broke off three times during an interview to berate a photographer for not framing the shot as he wanted.
And six days later he accused a cameraman of taking a shaky shot and started arguing in front of shocked bystanders, according to the complaints.
After getting ‘very angry’ and storming off while filming another July 2012 report Flanagan was warned he would be fired unless he sought help from the company health advocate.
‘This is a mandatory referral requiring your compliance,’ Dennison told Flanagan. ‘Failure to comply will result in termination of employment.’
After continuing to argue with colleagues and averaging just 2.9 out of 5 in his June 2012 performance review, Flanagan was fired in February 2013 due to his ‘unsatisfactory job performance and inability to work as a team member.’
According to the court documents Police were called to remove him from the building after he told staff: ‘Call the police. I’m not leaving. I’m going to make a stink and it’s going to be in the headlines.’
He did precisely that Wednesday when he filmed himself fatally shooting his former colleagues Parker and Ward.
Both were among a long list of former colleagues he wanted to subpoena for his court case.
His third victim, their interviewee Vicki Gardner, was in stable condition Wednesday night after surgery for her gunshot wounds.
In a 23-page ‘manifesto’ letter sent to ABC News two hours after the shooting, Flanagan claimed the Charleston, South Carolina church shooting earlier this year was the final straw that prompted him to buy a gun.
But his erratic and sometimes downright bizarre behavior didn’t start there.
A source told the Telegraph that Flanagan, who reportedly owned two cats, would throw the animals’ feces from the balcony of his Roanoke apartment.
When authorities arrived to the dwelling following Wednesday’s horror, they found the door smeared with cat feces and the apartment soaked in their urine.
Footage taken inside the place show the refrigerator plastered with pictures of himself in dated modeling photos and headshots. Also in the apartment was a collection of sex toys authorities believed were covered in ‘human material.’
Also revealed after the gripping murders was Flanagan’s propensity toward irrational rages, especially toward men.
Not surprisingly in this tale of technology meets tragedy, there is video evidence of one such rage. A YouTube video emerged Thursday showing Flanagan arguing with a man who berated him for driving ‘like a lunatic at more than 100mph’–just a few weeks before Flanagan murdered two people live on air.