Los Angeles television newscaster Mirthala Salinas, whose affair with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa prompted her transfer to Riverside, failed to show up for her first day of work Monday after a two-month suspension. A few hours later, Salinas’ employer, the Spanish-language Telemundo network, announced that she would not be returning.
Telemundo’s KVEA-TV Channel 52 and Salinas “have mutually agreed to end our employment relationship,” the network said in a statement.
“We are not in a position to make any further comment on our discussions with Ms. Salinas surrounding her departure,” added Telemundo, which is part of media giant NBC Universal.
Telemundo officials had suspended Salinas for covering Villaraigosa while the two were romantically involved and media experts across the nation accused Salinas of having a conflict of interest.
Station executives had expected Salinas to report for duty at KVEA’s Inland Empire bureau Monday morning. KVEA dispatched its communications director to the Riverside office to handle an expected onslaught of news crews covering her return.
Several crews did appear -- including those from sister station KNBC-TV Channel 4 and KVEA. They waited outside the bureau to capture footage of Salinas but left empty-handed.
Salinas was unhappy over her reassignment to Riverside, a factor that contributed to her decision not to show, according to a source familiar with the situation who would only speak anonymously. But KVEA felt the Riverside alternative was the best way out of an awkward ethics dilemma for the station, whose credibility was damaged by the romantic relationship.
Station executives believed the appearance of a conflict would continue if they allowed Salinas to work as a general assignment reporter in Los Angeles, where Villaraigosa is a visible public figure -- and a favorite subject of Spanish-language news outlets.
Salinas did not return phone calls for comment.
Villaraigosa declined to speak about her departure from Telemundo. “I don’t have any knowledge about that,” he said in an interview. “I just couldn’t tell you anything. I wouldn’t have any information.” The two are still seeing one another, according to a source familiar with their relationship.
In June, Salinas, serving as a fill-in anchor, reported on the evening news that the 54-year-old Villaraigosa was separating from his wife of 20 years and, a few days later, that they were divorcing. Salinas, 35, did not divulge to viewers that she was romantically involved with the mayor at the time.
On July 3, Villaraigosa confirmed the affair. Telemundo launched an internal investigation, which lasted three weeks and culminated in Salinas’ two-month suspension without pay. Last week, Telemundo announced that she would be reassigned to Riverside as a general assignment reporter.
“She should have been fired or she should have resigned right from the outset. That would have been the classy thing to do,” said Judy Muller, a former ABC news correspondent who is now an associate professor at the USC Annenberg School for Communications.
“This has been like taking the Band-Aid off real slow. C’mon, just rip it off,” Muller said. “She became the story, and when that happened, she was no longer useful as a reporter.”
Salinas had worked at KVEA for 10 years. Her contract with Telemundo was scheduled to expire in December.
KVEA is one of the most-watched Spanish-language TV stations in Los Angeles. The ethics lapse prompted a flurry of criticism by media watchdogs and within the newsrooms of the station and KNBC.
Telemundo President Don Browne singled out the episode of Salinas delivering the news about the Villaraigosas’ separation as a “flagrant violation” of the network’s ethics guidelines. Salinas and the station’s news director were suspended. KVEA’s general manager lost his job and is expected to be moved to another position in the company.
Telemundo executives had hoped reassigning Salinas to Riverside would help restore the station’s credibility. By working there, her superiors figured, Salinas would be out of the loop on stories in Los Angeles that involved the mayor.
In addition, her bosses felt the move would shield Salinas from lingering animosity from colleagues at KVEA and KNBC. Both news operations are based in the same Burbank building.