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Kilgore’s blatant conflict means he must leave Channel 2 – now

Channel 2, which supposedly “holds people accountable,” is embarrassing itself in the handling of Ed Kilgore’s departure from the station.

To put it simply in a way sports fans can relate, Ed Must Go. Now. Not after the end of the May sweeps. But today. Actually, he should have left Monday when I first made the suggestion in a Buffalo News blog.

It became clear Saturday that the veteran sportscaster has to leave Channel 2 immediately after local reporters confirmed that he was the host of a news conference for the HarborCenter project that featured Buffalo Sabres owner Terry Pegula.

Reached Monday afternoon, hours after the blog became the most viewed since I returned to The News, Kilgore said: “I have no comment.” Channel 2 General Manager Jim Toellner could not be reached for comment Monday.

Kilgore is a likable personality who deserves to go out with dignity rather than become a journalistic joke.

I’m told that sportswriters and reporters were floored Saturday at the sight of Kilgore introducing Pegula and all the dignitaries at Saturday’s news conference, which came only three days after Kilgore announced he was leaving the station May 24 to work for Pegula’s East Management company.

In Channel 2’s announcement of Kilgore’s departure last week, the station said “it is important to note” that Kilgore’s new job wouldn’t involve the Sabres, meaning he could continue to be objective in covering the team.

It was a questionable statement when it was made, and the assumption was that Kilgore wasn’t going to work for Pegula until he left Channel 2. At the very least, the double duty Saturday had the appearance of a conflict of interest.

The right thing to do would have been to treat Kilgore the same way the station treated former reporter Pete Gallivan when he announced he was going to work for Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The station showed Gallivan the door that day and gave him an on-air goodbye salute. He understood that journalistically he had to go because any story he could be assigned could involve a governor’s policy.

Even if Channel 2 didn’t feel compelled to have Kilgore leave immediately, Saturday’s performance was a game-changer. Kilgore appears to already be working for Pegula. If Kilgore had stayed in the background for a month before working for Pegula, the issue might not have been front and center. But by hosting Saturday’s news conference, Kilgore and, by extension, Channel 2 were throwing the conflict of interest in viewers’ faces.

Channel 2 really doesn’t see the conflict of interest of having Kilgore covering a team owned by his new boss? Really? Then its reporters should turn in their Red Coats immediately.

Ronald Smith, the former chairman of the communication department at SUNY Buffalo State, who remains a professor there, was surprised that Channel 2 would risk its journalistic reputation just to keep Kilgore on the air for about a month. (Full disclosure: I teach three courses at Buffalo State.)

“It’s really an issue of perception,” said Smith, noting that some viewers could view Kilgore’s reporting on his new boss’ hockey team as “tainted.”

“I’d err on the side of caution and not have him on the air, even though he may say he can do a fair job. The company is courting criticism to allow its ethics to be questioned. It is only a month. Why raise the issue when it is for such a short-term thing?”

Channel 2 could defend Kilgore by saying he criticized the Sabres last week after his new job was announced, describing them as a bad team with a great owner. But even that statement could be taken as a thank-you for getting his new job.

And don’t give me the line that “it’s only sports” and there is a different ethical standard, or that Channel 4 did something similar with John Murphy when he was hired by the Bills. That’s hogwash. Sportswriters and sportscasters take their professions seriously. It took decades to kill the old image of sportswriter or sportscaster who could be bought for the price of a beer or a sandwich.

Ethics matter. I remember years ago when Mike DeGeorge, once Kilgore’s backup at Channel 2, quit the Empire Sports Network when he didn’t like being told to emphasize the Sabres even when the Bills were making big news. I wonder if DeGeorge, who now is spokesman for Mayor Byron Brown and the city Police Department, would support Kilgore now.

Kilgore has been at Channel 2 for 40 years, is a Buffalo Broadcasting Hall of Famer and deserves to say goodbye to his fans as soon as possible.

Like tonight.

Channel 2 should immediately give him time to say goodbye and run a package that highlights his accomplishments over the years. It wouldn’t be hard to do because the station just recently put together a package for Kilgore’s 40th anniversary at the station.

It wouldn’t be as if Kilgore would be missed much if he left immediately. This is a relatively slow time of year for sports. The Sabres are unlikely to make the playoffs, and the Bills won’t play a meaningful game for almost five months. I’m sure Adam Benigni, Stu Boyar and Jonah Javad could handle this week’s NFL Draft. Even if Kilgore left the station today, Channel 2 still would have one more on-air sports staffer – three – than its two competitors.

It is hard to understand why the station would risk further embarrassment by keeping Kilgore around. If management is reconsidering how long Kilgore should stay on the air, it isn’t a close call. Kilgore Must Go. Now.