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Julie O'Neill boldly going where few former TV anchors go

Former WCPO-TV anchor-reporter Julie O'Neill releases her "Bold" book on Amazon June 13.
Courtesy Julie O'Neill
Former WCPO-TV anchor-reporter Julie O'Neill releases her "Bold" book on Amazon June 13.

After releasing her Bold memoir today, the veteran anchor-reporter says she plans to sue WCPO-TV over not renewing her contract last year.

Unlike most TV news anchors and reporters, Julie O'Neill isn't going away quietly.

When WCPO-TV did not renew her contract last fall after 27 years, O'Neill rejected Scripps' $50,000 severance offer because the company insisted she sign a non-disclosure agreement prohibiting her from talking about her departure of the company.

So instead she wrote a tell-all book about her TV career — and her "Not So Grand Finale" at Channel 9 — released today on, titled, BOLD: The Secret to My BIG WINS To Help YOU CRASH Through Your Comfort Zone.

"I had to forego a lot of money to say what I want," says O'Neill, whose WCPO-TV contract expired nine days before her 55th birthday. Or, as she puts it: She was let go nine days after she aged out of the 25-54 demographic TV stations use to sell advertising.

Courtesy Julie O'Neill

Not taking the severance "in favor of maintaining my right to free speech may not be the right one for everyone, but it was the right one for me," she writes in the book. "After much prayer and contemplation, I came to the realization that I just didn't have it in me to give a company control over what I can and cannot say."

"My best friend says this is the boldest thing I've ever done. I told her maybe I was put in this position because I'm just crazy enough to push away the cash on the premise that one small voice can make a difference," she writes. O'Neill hopes the book launches a public speaking career through her julieoneillspeaks website.

Most of the 154-page memoir is filled with stories from O'Neill's career about interviewing Mother Teresa (now St. Teresa); Merv Griffin (the talk show host and Wheel of Fortune creator) and Bill Clinton (before she bumped him and spilled his coffee); working at Miami Fox affiliate WSVN-TV with future cable TV news stars Shepard Smith and Robin Meade; and covering breaking news or anchoring at Channel 9 since 1995. The former Miss Baton Rouge started her career in her hometown as an intern at WAFB-TV in Baton Rouge, the nation's No. 93 TV market.

Many readers, however, will go directly to Chapter 13, "The Not So Grand Finale: How I Got Kicked Off The Stage." In great detail, she reveals how, as she headed into the final year of her contract in 2022, new News Director Barry Fulmer and General Manager Jeff Brogan didn't see her as "a first-string player in my game. The bosses did not see me as the future," she writes.

It began in January last year when the Bengals, led by Louisiana State University grad Joe Burrow, were headed to the Super Bowl. O'Neill, who grew up in Baton Rouge and graduated from LSU, was passed over for the assignment in favor of co-anchor Adrian Whitsett, who had been at the station less than 18 months.

For several months her bosses "largely ignored" her, then "the cold criticism started regarding my on-air performance," she says. The news director said she stumbled over words and laughed too much. "There was no mention of my good moments on the air … I got scowls and glares from him. The contempt for me was palpable," she writes.

Eventually she was called into a disciplinary meeting, with the station's head of human resources present, during which the news director "accused me of not taking his performance issues with me seriously. He said I had not made the changes and improvements he'd asked for."

Several weeks later she was summoned to a meeting on Sept. 13 where Brogan read a letter about O'Neill's "failure to follow direction and unacceptable professional conduct." At issue was O'Neill telling viewers at 5 a.m. about "an employee's medical condition," referring to a meteorologist who had just recovered from COVID. O'Neill notes that the coworker twice had posted Instagram videos detailing her COVID symptoms, and writes that "more people probably knew the employee had COVID from her social media than were watching at 5 o'clock in the morning."

The company's letter said that O'Neill's "disrespectful and unprofessional" behavior was "incredibly concerning to the team" and "created reputational risk for the team, for the show, and for the station." She was told her contract would not be renewed when it expired Dec. 31 last year.

O'Neill doesn't use the word "gaslighting" in the book "because it's getting overused, but there was gaslighting involved," she says. In other words, her bosses were citing instances to make her question her judgment or reality, she claims.

"We all have our insecurities, and we second-guess ourselves, but in those months I was feeling like I wasn't talented and never was. I was embarrassed and ashamed. I was believing things that simply were not true," O'Neill tells me. "Even as coworkers would say, 'Julie, it's not you.' And so in the book I talk about how you have to have people you trust who will give you the truth, and then you have to believe them.

"And I've found out that a lot of this goes on everywhere. I'm not the only one who has experienced this, and somebody needed to talk about it. I felt that was important," she says.

Today she still feels "a sickness in the stomach when I think that someone would put in writing that your behavior was a reputational risk for the team and disrespectful. It's not who I've ever been, am now, or ever could possibly be. I'm the cheerleader. I'm the encourager. I'm not those things. I've never, ever been disrespectful to another employee. I was the one going in trying to be the peacemaker. I resolve things.

"Am I a little scatter-brained sometime? I'm sure I wasn't a perfect employee and nobody is, but the things that they were saying, and the way it was making me feel, was not accurate," she tells me.

O'Neill wrote the book in two months late last year while being paid by Channel 9 to stay home. The hardest part was the Channel 9 chapter. "I rewrote it at least 80 times," she says.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has offered mediation to her attorney, Randy Freking. She says she's not interested.

"We haven't disclosed anything to Scripps yet, but you can say that a lawsuit is forthcoming. That's the plan," she says.

O'Neill also says her old WCPO-TV contract prohibits her from working for a competing Cincinnati TV station for one year. So you won't see her on TV unless she's being interviewed about her book.

"Not every state allows non-competes, but Ohio does. And that's on my list. I'd like to get that changed," she says.

Sounds like a bold move by someone trying to make a difference.

John Kiesewetter, who has covered television and media for more than 35 years, has been working for Cincinnati Public Radio and WVXU-FM since 2015.