She’s been held up as a First Amendment martyr who was unceremoniously fired after she expressed her anti-war views in e-mails she sent from her private account. Television stations and Internet chat rooms reflexively rushed to her defense; her own lawyer compares her to Rosa Parks. But if Tamara Saviano, the former music producer for the Great American Country cable network, is a victim, it’s of her own poor judgment.
Last week, Great American Country (GAC), a CMT rip-off, canned Saviano, after she sent an e-mail to Charlie Daniels’ publicist explaining her distaste for the redneck troubadour’s open letter to Hollywood. Daniels’ warmongering letter lambasted actors like Sean Penn who have opposed the possibility of a war against Iraq, calling them “pampered, overpaid, unrealistic children,” as well as “pitiful, hypocritical, idiotic, spoiled mugwumps.” Say what you want about Daniels, and many people will, but he employs a colorful vocabulary.
Last Tuesday, Daniels’ publicist Kirt Webster e-mailed his client’s ode to compassion to various contacts in the music business, including Saviano. At the time, she produced two daily shows for the network. She e-mailed Webster back, telling him not to send her “propaganda like this” and to remove her from “this mailing list.” She added, “it’s offensive and it has nothing to do with music.” The e-mail included her company’s name, address and phone number.
That should have been the end of it. But Webster didn’t take the rejection kindly and sent her another e-mail asking whether she no longer wanted to receive any information about his client. From a private account that she nevertheless had previously used for business purposes, Saviano responded that Daniels letter was the “most offensive e-mail I’ve ever received.” (Apparently, she’s new to the medium.) “One of the reasons why we live in this country is for freedom of speech,” she wrote to him. “For [Daniels] to call anyone that disagrees with him a 'traitor’ is an insult to our constitution. I would call THAT anti-American. You can keep my name on your list as long as you don’t send me any bullshit propaganda anymore.”
Shortly after, Webster went to the suits at Great American Country, and they fired Saviano for merely expressing her dissent with the political ramblings of Charlie Daniels. At least that’s how she portrays it.
“This is unbelievable to me,” she told the Scene the day she was canned. “It’s chilling. They fired me for expressing a point of view that was different than a country singer.”
Her own lawyer, David Raybin, is even more dramatic. “This is why we are fighting the war forthat’s what we are over there forto support folks like Tamara so she can say what she wants to say. None of that makes sense if she was muzzled or punished.”
If Saviano was fired for merely expressing an opinion, she and her attorney would have a right to such outrage. But she did more than voice her opposition to some jingoistic diatribe. She made it clear she would be Daniels’ public enemy number one, a tenuous position to be in for a producer at a country music network who’s responsible for booking talent.
In fact, Saviano e-mailed friends urging that they boycott Charlie Daniels concerts and albums. “Let him boycott Hollywood,” she wrote. “We’ll band together and boycott him.”
She then e-mailed Webster, implying that she had e-mailed 2,306 people requesting them to boycott Daniels’ music and concert appearances and to pass the word along to everyone in their own address book.
That’s not exactly professional behavior. In addition to serving as the company’s primary booking agent, Saviano produced shows that feature music videos from Daniels. The singer’s publicist, who is far from blameless in this affair, had reason to worry whether Saviano’s apparent activism against his client was more than a private hobby. After all, she concedes she has input into what videos the shows play. What if she used that input to stop playing Daniels’ music?
Saviano says that her e-mail to Webster about contacting 2,306 people was sent “tongue-in-cheek.” She says she sent that e-mail to only a couple of friends. But there is nothing in the correspondence to suggest sarcasm. The number of people she said she contacted might be difficult to take literally, but Webster says he doesn’t know Saviano well enough to detect when she’s pulling his leg. They’ve never even had lunch, he offers by way of substantiating their lack of familiarity.
“How am I supposed to know she’s joking?” he says. “I’m supposed to be Cleo and be a mind reader and know that she’s kidding?”
Last Wednesday, a day after he e-mailed Daniels’ letter to Saviano, Webster went to Jim Murphy, the director of operations at GAC. He explains that he went over Saviano’s head, because he was concerned that Saviano might be intentionally interfering with “business and contractual opportunities” available to his client. The network was planning to air a special that Friday on Charlie Daniels called “Country on the Move,” and he wanted to know if Saviano’s feelings about his client would affect the show.
“Getting an e-mail like that about boycotting his music and concert appearances and knowing that she is the director of operations for GAC in Nashville, I had to clarify as a publicist that the special wasn’t going to be pulled off the air and that GAC the network was not against Charlie Daniels,” he says.
Murphy assured Webster everything was fine between GAC and Daniels. Apparently, the people at GAC talked to Saviano, but she continued to contact Webster. In fact, while she made it clear that she was speaking for herself and not for her company, she didn’t exactly elevate the level of discourse when she wrote to him, “I do not live in Nazi Germany. I live in America. And the likes of you don’t scare me.” That e-mail was sent during normal business hours.
That Friday, Saviano was fired. In a faxed statement, the company explains that she didn’t adequately distance her opinions from those of the company. “We recognize and respect an individual’s right to voice concerns or to take a political position, as long as the individual makes it clear that they are expressing their own views, not those of the Company.” The statement continues: “In this case, the employee was well known as GAC’s primary Nashville contact for booking talent, and did not make it clear that the opinions she expressed were hers alone, not those of the Company. We believe her actions threatened to seriously damage relationships key to GAC’s success.”
Despite its stiff corporate jargon, the company’s position makes sense: How can a music station employ a producer who threatens to organize a massive boycott against one of the genre’s most famous acts? And fails to make it clear, initially at least, that she is speaking solely for herself?
After the company sent her packing, it tried to bully her, telling her to apologize to “all parties” she contacted about Charlie Daniels. They even told her what to write. In exchange for severance pay, the company also wanted her to agree not to talk publicly about the circumstances of her departure. She didn’t sign that document.
Raybin, Saviano’s attorney, says that he’s considering a lawsuit, not just against Great American Country, but publicist Kirt Webster as well. “I think he’s the one who started this,” Raybin says. “He may be subjected to even more liability than the company.”
That seems unlikely. According to transcripts of their entire correspondenceprovided by WebsterSaviano repeatedly e-mailed Webster, expressing her disdain for Daniels, even when he didn’t respond. Webster says that he was ready to let the matter drop until she talked about organizing a massive boycott against his client.
Last weekend, WTVF-Channel 5 aired a story about Saviano’s dismissal, portraying her as a veritable poster child for the repressive environment brought about by a looming war. Since then Webster has fought back, trying to make sure his side of the story is covered. This week Saviano sent an e-mail to her friends saying that she no longer plans to talk to the media about what happened. “It’s turned into a 'he said, she said’ issue between me and Kirt Webster. That is NOT what this is about. This is about my right to do what I want, from my home, on my own time. Period.”
She certainly has that right now.
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