A former Philadelphia TV station general manager this week described highly paid news anchors like Larry Mendte and his former CBS3 colleague Alycia Lane as "very special types of performers."

Looks like he sure got that right.

The FBI investigation into whether Mendte spied on Lane's personal e-mail account offers just the latest evidence that some local TV personalities act more like soap opera stars than news broadcasters.

But once these "anchors" become The Big News at 6 and 11 p.m., they often are quickly replaced by the next young talent.

Mendte's professional credentials warrant better than that, as does his record of good works for charitable causes like Alex's Lemonade Stand.

But Mendte sure stumbled badly if he - as allegedly indicated by the FBI probe tracking his computer footprints - peeked at Lane's e-mail.

It's a natural subject for gossip mags when someone hacks Paris Hilton's cell phone, but an entirely more serious matter for such alleged snooping by a TV broadcaster whom viewers are supposed to trust.

It is a federal crime to pry into another person's e-mail inbox. It's also the sort of lapse in judgment that rightly scuttled Lane's CBS3 career when she allegedly threw a hissy fit at NYPD officers last year. (Lane is suing CBS3 over the firing. The alleged e-mail hacking may further fuel that suit.)

As for the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office targeting the alleged e-mail privacy breach, it's a safe bet they're not seeking a headline in media gossip columns.

Whatever conclusion the investigation reaches, the feds are sending an important message about hacking into another person's private files.

The motives for snooping into Lane's online dealings may prove to have been merely to satisfy someone's curiosity.

But with e-mail breaches - as with those involving financial records - the potential for identity theft is all too real. So it's a worthwhile mission for the feds to protect online communications.

The fact that Mendte would be held to the same standard as any other citizen for any alleged wrongdoing also sends the right message to the public.

A full accounting of the e-mail snooping awaits. And no charges have been filed. But if the allegations prove true, it appears Mendte's investigative skills could have been put to better use had he just covered real news.