Michael Telek is a 27-year-old news producer who, until yesterday, worked for the CBS affiliate KDKA in Pittsburgh. He was fired after a Super Bowl news segment used a chyron that labeled Tom Brady as a “known cheater.” As was obvious to pretty much everyone, the graphic was a joke—and not inaccurate—but Telek was fired anyway. (He’s already looking for a new job and can be found here.)
This conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
Hey Michael, first off, I’m sorry you got fired, especially for such a silly thing.
Yeah, I was shocked, I think everyone pretty much was. Even some of my managers were like, “Oh, I feel sick about it.” I thought, “Well then don’t fire me.” But I’m not going to badmouth KDKA or anything, I liked working there and the people I worked with.
Can you walk me through what happened since the segment aired on Monday evening?
So, I’m a producer, I write the news and decide the order, choose what graphics show up, etc. For the 4 p.m. news, the kicker is usually soft and sweet. We get these packages that come down from corporate and it was just like, Here are the two teams in the Super Bowl, pretty boring. So I wrote the intro about the six rings and then changed it up. I mean, it’s Pittsburgh, we hate the Patriots, we hate Tom Brady, so it was a little wink for fans. Then I kept going on with my day. After the news, I left at 5 p.m.
At 5:05, my boss calls me in and she was like, You need to be here now. [My manager] said, “What were you thinking, it’s all over social media, people screenshotted it, why did you do that?” So I explained about Deflategate and everything and basically just told her my thinking. They said, “Well, we can’t have that,” and all this stuff. So anyways, on Monday they said they were going to write me up and said it would be on my record. So I’m like, “Okay, cool.” Tuesday, I went to morning meeting as usual. After the noon news, as soon as that was over, no one was talking to me. So I realized something was wrong but I thought maybe there was an eight percent chance I get fired. They said at 3 p.m., we’re going to have a meeting. Then at 4:30 they actually sat me down.
My manager takes me into the office, and she said that there had been an investigation. She said, “Because you did that deliberately, you no longer work at KDKA. Today is your last day.” So I said, “Okay,” and left. I went home and hung out with my friends. They set up a Gofundme for me. [Ed. note: Telek says he will donate the money from the fund to a charity in Brady’s name as soon as he lands a new job.]
So you didn’t get the feeling that this came down from CBS corporate or anything?
No. I mean, I think it would be crazy if CBS sent word down to fire some little producer at a local affiliate because of something that was on the screen for two seconds.
What’s the reaction been like?
So many places picked it up, I even saw Breitbart wrote about it. Then today I saw the Sports Illustrated story today saying, like, “The guy who created the ‘Known Cheater’ graphic has been fired,” and I was like, “Oh, this is what this feels like.” But mostly everyone has been positive, and recognized it was playful and stuff. The Boston station [that covered it] was playful with us, asking for comment. They asked if we’ll be airing the Super Bowl, since the Steelers hadn’t been there in a decade. The only thing I’m worried about is that I just bought a house.
So what’s next for you?
I’m going to go around and apply for jobs. This is my fifth or sixth year in TV news, but it’s a lot of stress for not a lot of pay. If I hadn’t just bought a house in Pittsburgh, I’d look around more, but I’m stuck here now. Maybe I’ll try something different. I’ve always wanted to do investigative work and obviously I want to work in sports, so we’ll see.
Do you have a Super Bowl prediction?
I’m gonna bet on Tom Brady without a doubt. I love Tom Brady, I think he’s the best. It was supposed to be a little wink for all the Steelers fans. But apparently it went too far.
The [Rivers] casino has a job fair on Saturday, so I’m going to be there. And I’m going to place a bet on the Patriots, because we’re connected forever now.