By DAN FAGAN
Here’s what we know: Maria Athens, who describes herself on her Facebook page as news anchor and executive producer for Fox, ABC, CW, and Newsnet Alaska, is in jail. She was arrested and booked at the Hiland Mountain Correctional Center on Friday.
Athens was charged with Criminal Mischief, Assault 4, and disorderly conduct. MRAK reported: “Athens had been preparing to broadcast an explosive story about Mayor Ethan Berkowitz, but the station manager, who was said to be her fiancé, was preventing her from going forward with the story.”
On Friday, Athens posted a video at 12:08 pm on her fan Facebook page. Athens told viewers: “Breaking news, according to reliable sources, Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz has his male genitalia posted on an underaged girl’s website.”
I don’t know Athens and have never met her as far as I am aware. I have viewed some of her videos and they clearly carry a Theresa Obermeyer vibe.
Older Alaskans will remember Obermeyer as an eccentric, excitable, and passionate conspiracy theorist who would often make a scene at school board meetings.
If you’ve watched the Athens video, and I’m assuming most readers have, you’ll notice her excitement over the news she is teasing. If the story is true, and that is an enormously huge if, showing that much excitement and enthusiasm over a story of a young girl being exposed to the genitalia of an adult male tells us a lot about Athens.
And then there was her tacky and tasteless boasting at the end of the video: “You heard it here first.”
Journalist worth their salt fully understand their power to destroy politicians when they break incriminating stories about them that are sexual in nature. Athens’ gleefulness in her video is unsettling and disturbing.
After the video posted, my email machine and phone blew up with people asking me what I knew. I’ve since talked to several people and have heard some fairly crazy things. Not a single person I talked with would go on record so I can’t report any of it. To be honest, I don’t know what to believe at this point.
I do know what Athens did was wrong in enthusiastically and excitably teasing a story, without offering evidence to back it up and if true, would destroy a man’s reputation.
If Athens truly had the goods on Berkowitz, she should have calmly announced she’s working on a major story involving Anchorage’s mayor and ask the viewers to watch the evening newscast. But her hastily recorded tease with no evidence to back it up was a breach of journalism ethics.
Several Facebook commenters challenged Athens demanding proof. Initially, Athens responded to those requests with profanity dropping the f-word and insulting them.
She later posted a picture of a man who was nude from behind posting: Mayor Ethan Berkowitz #TakeThatHaters.
The video, which as of Sunday afternoon has been shared 974 times with more than 1,000 comments, is still up on Athens’ Facebook page.
The mayor’s office issued a press release stating the general manager of the station Athens worked for, Scott Centers, “has emphatically disavowed his employee’s comments.”
Yet as of Sunday afternoon, Centers, nor anyone with Coastal Television, has posted a retraction or clarification on their website. On Friday, at 9 pm, the station ran a rerun of a former newscast in place of the newscast where Athens promised to break her story about Berkowitz.
At this point the story is gone so viral, the mayor should call a news conference no later than Monday and answer directly questions from reporters over the video. He should tell us directly if the nude picture Athens posted was indeed of him and if so, how did she get it.
There may be no legitimacy to it and we all certainly should hope that’s the case. But the mayor’s constituents need to hear directly from him on this matter.
The Anchorage Daily News, as of this writing, Sunday afternoon, has yet to report on the very story everyone’s wondering about. Do you think there would be a media blackout from the paper if the story involved, say, a conservative Attorney General? Not bloody likely.
Channel Two News finally weighed in on the story on Saturday when Maria Downy posted to her Facebook page: “We did not report on the story since we don’t report on unsubstantiated rumors (which there were against both involved) but now it has led to criminal charges of assault against the reporter.”
But Athens was arrested on Friday afternoon and KTUU didn’t have the story on any of its Friday evening newscasts. What changed? As much as Downey and crew wanted to keep a lid on the story, they obviously changed course after they saw how viral it went on Facebook.
It’s painfully obvious KTUU and the ADN are pro-Berkowitz in their coverage. Refusing to cover the story confirms their ongoing built-in bias.
Athens is expected to be released from jail on Monday and at some point, she’ll have to back up her claims against the mayor.
If she doesn’t, we’ll all know this was nothing more than a publicity stunt by a journalist who should have never been hired in the first place.
Dan Fagan hosts the number one rated morning drive radio show weekdays on Newsradio 650 KENI. He splits his time between Anchorage and New Orleans.