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Saunders, Feder Play The Feud

By Marcus Gilmer in News on Feb 4, 2009 5:40PM

2009_02_04_saunders.jpg Things got down-right nasty at Monday night's meeting of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artist when NBC 5's Warner Saunders (pictured right) accused former Sun-Times columnist Robert Feder of bias. Extra sizzle: Feder was in attendance as a guest of the AFTRA. According to the Trib's Phil Rosenthal, Saunders' said in his incendiary speech that Feder underminded "the accomplishments of black talent while placing the spotlight on our deficiencies" and then added that inviting Feder was "like choosing David Duke to serve as mohel at a circumcision." Damn. Speaking to Mancow yesterday, Feder said, "From the very beginning, [it] became a personal attack." AFTRA Chicago executive director Eileen Willenborg defended Saunders' right to the speech, saying, "It was a forum for free speech to happen, and free speech sure happened."

According to Rosenthal:

Saunders alluded specifically to Feder's take on African-Americans such as NBC's Lester Holt, ex-anchor Diann Burns and WBBM-AM's Felicia Middlebrooks.

"What I was writing about in each case had nothing to do with the individual's race," Feder said.

Much of Saunders' remarks focused on Feder's treatment of him and his health woes in 2002 and 2006.

Saunders, who is retiring in May, defended himself, saying, "I simply wanted to confront him, face to face. I just spoke my truth in front of a person who I felt has been unfair to me and to black journalists in this city. … Very few people who are not in our skin can understand this."

Rosenthal also details the breakdown of a once positive relationship between the two:

A check back to 1992 found Feder calling Saunders "one of Chicago television's all-time greats," and, in 1993, a "community conscience."

But things were changed by a 2000 Feder column on an appearance by Saunders at Northwestern University. The anchor said those who cover TV don't know enough to write about it and accused a reporter of ageism.

Feder quoted him: "I'm always telling people in diversity classes that if somebody says something to you that may be racist or sexist or homophobic or ageist, confront them with it."