The back-and-forth is occurring against the backdrop of a proxy battle for Tegna. The company has rebuffed acquisition overtures despite the preferences of some of its privately held investors. One stakeholder — hedge fund Standard General — is calling for a shakeup of the board and had initially nominated Hoffman for a seat.
In a sequence of events which came fully to light earlier this month, Hoffman, who is Black, went to an industry luncheon in Washington in 2014 that was also attended by Lougee. The two spoke at some length during the event, Hoffman has recalled. At the hotel car valet afterward, Lougee, who is white, handed Hoffman a ticket, mistaking the longtime fixture in Washington media and regulatory circles for a valet.
Lougee apologized on the day of the incident and on other occasions, including after Hoffman withdrew his nomination to the Tegna board of directors. He cited the valet affair as one of the reasons he would not be able to work constructively with Lougee. Hoffman had been on a slate of nominees put forward by Standard General, which owns 9% of Tegna.
In a letter sent to Lougee, a copy of which was provided to Deadline, Hoffman said he was not offended by the original incident and accepted the apology. “Coming from a working class family where my grandparents were domestic workers, I consider being a valet to be an honorable job,” he wrote. “What I took issue with was your failure to disclose, or accept any responsibility for, your action until it was made public last week. You even attempted to suppress the mentioning of the incident itself by offering to pay me at the time (I sincerely hope you were joking).”
He continued, “You are the CEO of a major media company that touches and influences the lives of millions of Americans. As such, I am deeply concerned about your capacity to perceive a person of color as anything other than invisible, insignificant or in service to you. This lack of awareness and sentience is what experts today call ‘unconscious bias.'”
Lougee took responsibility for his actions in a memo to employees earlier this month and said Tegna would conduct an independent review of the incident. Hoffman said in a letter to Tegna’s board that the probe is not truly independent since it involves several company officials. An outside law firm has conducted only one interview, with Lougee, he said. Hoffman said he himself has not been contacted, wondering, “How can you have a thorough review without talking to a key person involved?”
A Tegna spokeswoman referred Deadline to Lougee’s previous letter when asked for a response to Hoffman’s latest charges. In addition to his apology, Lougee highlighted Tegna’s record of emphasizing diversity in its hiring practices. About 37% of Tegna’s new hires last year were people of color, the company said, and 25% of its 6,427 employees were people of color as of the end of 2020. “This unfortunate incident underscores just how important this work is for all of us,” Lougee wrote.
Spun off years ago from Gannett’s publishing assets, Tegna competes in a sector that has seen rampant M&A activity accelerated by dramatic changes in TV viewership. Station groups like Tribune and Raycom have been swallowed up in deals worth billions in recent years. Standard General believes Tegna should have more carefully considered potential transactions. Rival Gray Television and private equity firm Apollo Global Management are among those who made offers to buy Tegna, whose management team has insisted that it has weighed all offers.
Hoffman first spoke about the incident in 2015 during an interview with trade publication Multichannel News, but he omitted Lougee’s name from that account. He only cited the CEO by name when formally withdrawing from the nomination as part of the Standard General effort to gain board seats.