FARGO — Karl Bohnak was a beloved weatherman for 33 years at a television station in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. He was also vehemently opposed to COVID-19 vaccines and mandates forcing employees to take them.
So Bohnak is no longer the beloved weatherman at WLUC-TV.
He was fired in mid-September after refusing to be vaccinated. WLUC's owner, Gray Television of Atlanta, announced to its employees in an August memo that, effective Sept. 15, "as a condition of employment, that every employee who occupies a 'manager' position in our company be 'fully vaccinated' against the Coronavirus."
The company followed with a memo stating all full-time and part-time employees, outside contractors, tenants and guests who enter Gray workspaces are required to be "fully vaccinated" as of Oct. 1.
In a Facebook post telling viewers he was fired for refusing to be vaccinated, Bohnak hit on familiar anti-vax themes like personal choice and a distrust over the safety of vaccines. He criticized the federal government and private business for mandating vaccines.
"Our way of life, our freedom and liberty, is collapsing before our eyes," Bohnak wrote, according to The Washington Post. "Those who love America and the freedom and liberty it stands for, must speak up. Hopefully, it’s not too late."
Interesting, you say. But why does the plight of a Michigan meteorologist have anything to do with North Dakota?
It so happens television station Valley News Live is owned by Gray Television. Valley News Live is under the same mandate as the station in Michigan, as are the other 150 or so U.S. stations owned by Gray.
So what is a strident right-winger who loves freedom and liberty and consistently speaks out against the efficacy of COVID vaccines, and who also happens to be an employee of Gray-owned Valley News Live, to do?
We're looking at you, Chris Berg.
Multiple sources say the host of conservative talk show "Point of View" is butting heads with Valley News Live over the company's vaccine mandate and is considering leaving the station rather than vaccinate. The sources say at least a couple of employees have already walked away from Valley News Live over the policy, including the longtime creative services director and brand manager who had more than 20 years at the station.
The person who held that job, Wendy Bernier, declined comment for this column when reached via text message. But Valley News Live posted a job opening for a creative services director on Sept. 23. Among the conditions of employment outlined in the posting: "Gray Television will require that newly hired employees, whether part-time or full-time, be fully vaccinated against the coronavirus by the first workday to the extent permitted by applicable law unless you qualify for a medical or religious accommodation."
The most visible employee who might be affected by the mandate is Berg. The half-hour "6:30 Point of View with Chris Berg" has aired weekdays at 6:30 p.m. on KXJB for about nine years. It is vociferously right wing and follows conservative North Dakota orthodoxy in its support of former President Donald Trump and false 2020 election conspiracy theories, opposition to COVID mandates and hesitancy toward vaccines.
Berg's Facebook and Twitter accounts are strewn with posts questioning the effectiveness and need for COVID vaccines.
Reached via text message Tuesday, Berg declined comment.
Valley News Live general manager Ike Walker did not respond to multiple inquiries seeking comment.
It's not known whether Berg has sought or would be eligible for a medical or religious exemption, but his stance on COVID vaccines leaves him in a sticky position.
If he chooses to not be vaccinated, which is indisputably his right, he'll lose his job at Valley News Live, which is indisputably Gray Television's right. Sources say Walker is trying to find a way to save Berg's job if he refuses the vaccine.
If Berg gets the jab, his credibility as a right-wing anti-vaxxer will be shot. If you spend months telling your audience on TV and social media to resist COVID vaccines and mandates, and then get vaccinated to save your job, your role as a conservative firebrand is pretty much damaged beyond repair.
For what it's worth, Berg announced on social media Monday that he'd be starting a new talk show on local right-wing radio station The Flag beginning Oct. 4. It will air from 4 to 5 p.m. weekdays.
It's only an hour, so is that just a part-time gig? Or is it a gateway to a full-time job if he chooses to not be vaccinated and loses his Valley News Live position? Asked that via text message, Berg declined comment.
Stay tuned, as they say.
Readers can reach columnist Mike McFeely at firstname.lastname@example.org