It has been a bad spring for TV newsfolk, and not just in Philadelphia, where CBS3's Larry Mendte is under investigation by the FBI.
Two Bostonians are off the job, one after doing an Alycia Lane imitation with police at the airport. A Tampa executive was pinched in a raid at the Fantasy Land Adult Video Store. A New York anchorwoman bellowed an obscenity on the air.
And, in California, an old Philadelphia friend, sports guy Rod Luck, was suspended from his reporter job after being charged with domestic violence.
Their travails are part of a pattern that plagues people in the fishbowl of the high-pressure TV news biz, where legends of dramatic downfalls abound.
Talk-show host Christine Chubbuck blew her brains out on the air in Sarasota, Fla., in 1974. Network anchor Dan Rather got so angry one night in 1987, he stalked off the set and left CBS with six minutes of dead air. Anchor Bill Bonds, as iconic in Detroit as Jim Gardner is here, and better-liked, battled alcoholism his entire career and suffered numerous embarrassing missteps both on- and off-camera. You can see one of the classics on YouTube (
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Both executives and on-air people feel tremendous competitive pressure, but Steve Cohen, WCAU vice president and general manager for most of the '80s, and now Luck's boss in San Diego, says news anchors have the hardest time.
"Of course, some of them are fighting alcohol and drugs," Cohen said in a phone interview yesterday from the offices of KUSI-TV, "but there is also pent-up emotion about the status of their life and where they are in terms of career, and the dangerous pressure put on them by being visible every single night, as a certain type of person, all the time.
"These people get paid so much because they are fundamentally very special types of performers. Laurence Olivier couldn't have made it if he had to play Hamlet, three performances a night, exactly the same way. The public forgets that these are just regular people, and when that on-air effort becomes contradictory to who they are, it can cause problems."
Sometimes, there are big consequences, sometimes not. At the New York CBS affiliate three years ago, reporter Arthur Chi'en uttered one of the seven deadly swear words while live on the air and was fired. On May 12, WNBC-TV anchor Sue Simmons, who has been at the New York station nearly 30 years, swore in similar fashion doing a promo. She was promoted the next week, as the troubled station decided to play to its veteran strength.
On the other hand, Comcast on May 22 fired veteran newsman Barry Nolan from its CN8 station in Boston for an off-camera protest of the awarding of a local Emmy to Fox's Bill O'Reilly.
Boston wunderkind Randi Goldklank is still in rehab and on suspension from her job as vice president and general manager at perennially top-rated WHDH, the Boston Globe reports. Police were called when the city's youngest (at 40) and only female TV news boss staggered off a plane (coming from Philadelphia) April 20.
"Do you know who the [expletive] I am?" police say she shouted at them. "I'm a big shot in Boston and I'll have your [expletive] jobs." Police said she told medical personnel she had had "about three dozen drinks."
Robert Linger, general manager of the Fox affiliate in Tampa, was arrested for lewd and lascivious conduct, along with five other men, on May 16. Things are tough in Tampa. Another station manager there resigned last winter after a controversial traffic incident.
As for Luck, 58, a reporter for two KUSI newsmagazines, South San Francisco police charged him with two misdemeanors for allegedly punching a woman in the couple's hotel room near San Francisco International Airport.
His Philadelphia TV tenure ended in 1982 after reports of another FBI investigation, this one into the possibility that he was taking kickbacks from Atlantic City casinos to push their boxing matches on air. No charges were ever filed.
Luck was an unorthodox TV sports anchor who started here on the legendary weekend broadcast that launched the meteoric career of Jessica Savitch. She was 36 when her tumultuous life, and her career, then in steep decline, ended when her date drove their car into the New Hope canal and they both drowned.
She got no shot at retribution, but most TV newsfolk can bounce back from embarrassment, Cohen said, if they don't cause too much fuss.
"The public is very forgiving. Once the public sees that people have thought through what they've done, the public can be very willing to open their arms to the people that they care about."