THANK YOU, Alycia Lane.

The local-TV news anchor, who was arrested after allegedly scuffling with New York City police last weekend, is providing the latest dose of our favorite guilty pleasure:

Reveling in the character flaws and missteps of the privileged and prominent.

We devour every detail of what could be - and, in this case, if the allegations are true, should be - Lane's undoing because, of course, it makes us feel better about ourselves.

We may not be glamorous and our lives may not qualify for the gossip pages, but we'd never use epithets and hit cops and throw our weight around like she allegedly did this past weekend.

So we can feel smug and superior, though on some level we know better, of course; all of us are capable of behaving badly given enough stress or mind-altering substances or a combination of the two.

In this case, Lane allegedly threw a tantrum in New York City, striking an undercover female officer in the face and calling her a "dyke" - allegations that Lane denies.

But there's even more reason we're reveling in this particular scandal.

Lane, the perfectly coiffed, composed and comely news anchor, is the consummate symbol of the packaging of reality that's overtaken our culture.

And her antics in New York provided a welcome glimpse behind the curtain.

Unfiltered reality is a refreshing alternative to the poll-tested, focus-grouped, PR-processed fakery that's become our steady diet.

Politicians stay on message. Events are slanted by political spin. Products and high-profile people are marketed in glossy packages.

We're eternally being manipulated by hucksters of one kind or another.

And nothing captures that superficial substitute for reality better than so-called "journalists" bathed in flattering light, shot from complimentary camera angles, on impressively designed sets, reading from TelePrompTers.

The image of the poised and perfect Alycia Lane allegedly cursing and hitting a cop is welcome relief from the controlled image we see every night.

Not to mention the sight of her being released from jail, looking haggard and very un-anchorlike.

You can argue that Lane is as much a victim of the culture of artificiality as she is a perpetrator.

She didn't make the rules. And you can't blame her for taking advantage of her beauty in a profession that thrives on such superficialities.

As Gov. Rendell said in a radio interview yesterday:

"I do have some empathy for people like Alycia who are in the news because they're under the microscope. Do you think if Alycia was 60 years old and had gray hair that you'd have heard about this?"

True enough.

But being arrogant, intolerant and throwing her weight around is a different story altogether.

New York police allege that Lane tried to pull rank by telling the police officer she was a reporter, and then used the lesbian epithet and hit her in the face.

Then Lane called Rendell the next day supposedly to explain her side of the story.

I take issue with defining local news anchors as journalists, since all they do is read the headlines. But since they carry that professional title, there are obligations and responsibilities required of them:

* It's not OK to call a politician when

you're in trouble.

* It's not OK to use demeaning epithets that reflect disrespect and prejudice.

* It's not OK to act badly when so much of the news is about public officials acting badly; how embarrassing for Channel 3 to have Lane reading those stories on the air.

The fact is, if the allegations are true, Lane should be out of a job.

Even in a world in which reality is a custom-made commodity, credibility still counts for something. *

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