From Jim Gilliam's blog archivesMurdoch's TV news operation, pre-Fox News Channel
February 2, 2004 7:24 PM
Frank O'Donnell was the producer of Washington DC's Fox affiliate, WTTG/Channel 5's "10 O'Clock News" during the late 80s and early 90s. In 1992 he wrote a tell-all of the "wacky world" inside the news department at a pre-Fox News Channel, Murdoch run local TV news operation.
Confessions of a news producer:
I never dreamed I'd take a bullet for Ted Kennedy. But when I heard about Mary Jo Kopechne's cousin, I knew my career was about to go careening off a bridge.
For five and a half year's I'd been the producer of WTTG/Channel 5's "10 O-Clock News," which the station proudly trumpets as "America's number-one prime-time newscast." I'd survived four very different news director--a motley crew that often reminded me of the rulers of Rome depicted in "I, Claudius."
The current emperor, a 36-year-old woman with a Caligula-like disposition named Kimerly Montour, arrived at the newsroom on a warm mid-September evening after a reception in honor of the Washington Post's recently retired editor, Ben Bradlee. Wearing a canary-yellow outfit that set off her round, florid face, she marched up to the desks where the show's weekend producer, Gina Screen, and I were sitting. We braced ourselves. Montour's mercurial mood swings were legendary within the news department. A producer with "The Fox Morning News" had nicknamed her "psycho-bitch". And this evening, for whatever reason, the emotional surf was up.
"We're running a package on the Kopechne story?" Montour asked, referring to a lurid report from Fox's tabloid television show, "A Current Affair." The story, which featured and interview with Kopechne's cousin, gave "A Current Affair" an opportunity to engage in one of its favorite pastimes: Kennedy bashing. The Massachusetts senator was a longtime political enemy of our station's owner, Rupert Murdoch -- he'd once tried to force Murdoch to sell part of his worldwide media empire--and this wasn't the first time we'd been ordered to run anti-Kennedy propaganda.
"I left instruction that this was to be a package," Montour said, rising her voice, as people sometimes do after they've been to cocktail parties.
I knew the piece was garbage. It was little more than 22-year-old footage of Kennedy in a neck brace augmented by a plea from the cousin for him to apologize. The reporter who submitted it was Steve Dunleavy, a leader of Murdoch's Australian Mafia," a small band of tabloid tattlers who generate steamy headlines like HEADLESS BODY FOUND IN TOPLESS BAR. I was trying to minimize the titillation by running what I hoped would be a less offensive sound bite--a 20- or 30-second snippet from the interview rather than a full-scale report or "package."
But Montour was insistent. She was a protegee of Ian Rae's, a former publisher of the Star, the supermarket tabloid, who'd become the executive producer of "A Current Affair." Through Rae, another member of the Australian Mafia, Montour had become Murdoch's voice in Washington. And when Murdoch wanted something, he usually got it.
"We can certainly run at least two minutes on this, " Montour bellowed, "if we can give two minutes to this other shit"--a reference to the other news reports I'd scheduled for the broadcast. "I'll be very upset if I find out that we kissed this off in just 45 seconds," said Montour, who then stormed off.
The next day Montour called me into her office, livid that someone had called television columnist John Carmody, the Washington Post's "Captain Airwaves," to complain she'd ordered us top run the Chappaquiddick "exclusive."
"Of course, I gave no such order. I gave no such order," Montour said, repeating herself. "I never give orders on what to run. I gave no such order." Montour asserted that "when I got home and saw the piece on the air, I thought it wasn't very good. It was a bad call to run it."
I hadn't leaked the information to Carmody, but Montour assumed that I had. She added that "you had better think about who might have made those calls to Carmody and tell then it's against company policy to talk with the media. And tell them that if they disagree with company polices, they should go find a job somewhere else."
Maybe this is how the Fugitive felt.
Several weeks later Montour told me that I was being reassigned "for a trial period" to work an 11:00 P.M. to 11:00 A.M. graveyard shift. I resigned. By then, I knew life at Channel 5 more closely resembled Network than "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."
DURING MY NEARLY EIGHT YEARS AT the station, I'd seen the real inside story: the advent of tabloid television and its pervasive influence on both national and local newscasts, boardroom backstabing and pretty power plays, blatant attempts by Murdoch's managers to manipulate the coverage of Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Supreme Court, a fraudulent story about mass murders aimed at selling a movie, and a bogus "public service" program geared around a "gimmick" of giving rewards for crime solvers.
In retrospect, I can hardfly believe how naive I was in February 1984, when I came to Channel 5 to interview for a job as a writer.
I'd last worked as an editor for a wire service that had gone bankrupt, and my unemployment was running out. In a vague, hazy way, I thought some experience in television news might help with my real ambition, which was to work with Bill Moyers, either at CBS or in public television.
I'd never even seen Channel 5's news until the night before the interview, when I studied it in a crash course. It was mainly a hodgepodge of flameless fire, ghetto shootings, and car chases. The content, I noted, was in sharp contrast to Channel 4's late news, which led off with such national and international stories as the federal budget, the state of the economy, and civil strife in El Salvador.
Armed with this knowledge and some tips on television writing from a book I'd just bought, I took a writing test and met the station's news director, Betty Endicott. A former newspaper reporter, Endicott was from the old school of news; in fact, she could've been straight out of The Front Page, complete with a cigarette perpetually dangling from the corner of her mouth.
Though she was only in her early 40's, Endicott was something of a living legend. She'd been Channel 9's news director in the early 1980's, and some people in the business credited her with assembling the team that had produced Washington's dominant local newscast. She was trying to work similar magic at Channel 5.
Endicott told me that writing would make or break a newscast, and that she wanted the best. She appeared to be surprised when I explained how the content of her show differed from Channel 4's, but she hired me on the spot. "You're our new chief writer," she said. "Can you start tomorrow night?"
Hell, I didn't even know exactly what a television news writer did! But I quickly found out that for $ 400 a week they write all the stories while the six-figure anchors--guys like Maury Povich--are off drinking, gambling, or golfing.
Even so, a chill went down my spine the next evening, when lines I'd written were delivered perfectly by Povich, who was then the station's chief anchor. Did Neil Simon feel the same thrill when his script were acted out on stage?
In those days Povich was between marriages and seemed to cultivate the image of a roue.' He often arrived, as they used to say of senators, "in high spirits," sometimes with a woman in tow, about a half-hour before air time. "You can't get herpes if you don't sweat," he asserted. Once at the station, his main priority was to find out the point spread of the evening's basketball games.
Povich, who by then had been fired from anchor jobs in Chicago, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, appeared to revel in the risk of going on the air without having read most of the script. Sometimes he got burned. One evening one of my fellow writers made a typo. Povich solemnly intoned that surgeons had removed a "plip" from President Reagan's abdomen. As soon as we went to a Commercial, he screamed, "Who wrote that shit?"
The grave importance of our mission was underscored one day by Kevin O'Brien, a glib former salesman who'd become Channel 5's general manager. "We produce a product just like American Can Company," he said, "only we produce pictures and entertainment and they produce cans."
DURING MY SECOND YEAR AT THE picture factory, I worked alongside gregarious Frank Traynor, who'd become the show's producer in mid 1985. In local television news, a producer functions much like the editor of a newspaper; he select and arranges the news. Partly at may prodding, the prematurely gray Traynor was radically revamping the show to emphasize national stories rather than mattress fires and car crashes. And the more he revamped, the higher the ratings went.
In the process, however, he came under fierce attack from several of Endicott's midlevel managers, who left threatened by the changes. They'd belittle him to his face; behind his back, they'd tell Endicott that he was ruining the newscast. It reminded me of the things Haldeman and Ehrlichman did during the Nixon administration.
Endicott seemed removed from the battle. She was going through a bitter divorce and child custody fight, and she sometimes remained locked in her office, crying, while Traynor twisted in the wind.
Just as he appeared to be on the verge of being fired, though, Traynor told me, "It's wheels up!" He was escaping to a job in Baltimore. He'd lasted all of eight months at Channel 5.
I was so depressed that I was packing my own gear when Endicott emerged from her office. How would I feel, she asked, about becoming the show's producer? No change, I replied, explaining that I'd surely clash with her deputies over both the substances of the newscast and the style of the management.
"You must take the job," she gushed. "I'll back you. You'll have all the authority you need.
I hadn't learned a thing from Traynor's experience. I said yes.
IT WAS THE AGE OF AUGUSTUS, more or less.
In 1985 Murdoch had bought Channel 5 and six other Metromedia stations from overleveraged John Kluge for $ 2 billion. Murdoch had inherited a newspaper from his father and built it into an international media empire that included the New York Post, the Times of London, and the Star. Murdoch, who'd also purchased 20th-Century Fox, was gambling his kingdom on the belief that he could convert the studio and the television stations into the nation's fourth television network.
After the takeover, Bob O'Cannor, who'd replaced O'Brien as Channel 5's general manager, issued a memo to the station's employees. He said that he didn't "anticipate significant changes" from the new owner. Several weeks later, he was fired.
His replacement was none other than Endicott, who'd charmed Murdoch by hosting a gala party for him at a ski lodge in Colorado. For Murdoch, putting a respected newswoman in charge of his Washington station was a brilliant political move; it silenced critics who feared that he'd transform the station into a video version of his New York Post. He wasn't ready to do that--not yet.
Endicott was replaced as news director by Greg Caputo, a husky, hearty backslapper who'd washed out at a CBS station in Chicago. She later referred to him as a "terrible disappointment" because he left so many business decisions unresolved when he returned to Chicago in early 1987 to start a Fox news operation there.
Next through the revolving news director's door was Joe Saitta, who, as a vice president of Kluge's Metromedia, had once been Endicott's boss. Saitta was a firm believer in the bible of audience research who'd broken into management after being a producer at a Los Angeles station in the late 1960s. Though he talked in the laid-back, California cadences of Sonny Bono, Saitta was deceptively tough. In quick order, he fired Endicott's favorite sportscaster, sidelined several of her midlevel managers, and demanded that most of the top on-air performers have their hair dyed and cut at Eivind's posh salon in Georgetown.
Saitta commissioned audience research that basically corroborated my theory: that a newscast that focused on national news would draw a bigger audience. So we broadcast more national stories, and our ratings began to soar, to nearly double what they had been when I'd begun at the station several years before. More people in Washington were watching our newscast that were tuning in to Dan Rather, Peter Jennings, or Tom Brokaw. We also started to rack up prestigious awards: UPI's best newscast, Associated Press's best newscast, the Ratio and TV News Directors' Association's best news operation, even a local Emmy with my name on it.
No wonder this was a heady time for me. Though the producer's chair is a tremendously volatile spot--our sister station in New York went through five of them in two years--I remained in the good graces of Endicott, Caputo, and Saitta. In fact, Saitta once introduced me to a prospective reporter as "one of the gods."
Indeed, a producer does play God to a certain extent. It isn't a job for the indecisive or the faint of heart. Each day I had to squeeze the events of the world into about 43 minutes of air time. To do that, I had to balance the massive egos of our on-air reporters, whose fondest possessions are their mirrors, and have the audacity to tell our viewers at the beginning of each show, "This is the most important story in the world today." And if stories or live reports fell apart at the last minute, I'd have to improvise in the control room much the way Joe Montana calls audibles at the line of scrimmage.
It was easy to get cocky after a while. Once, when Mayor Barry showed up five minutes late for an interview, I sent word that he'd missed his slot and should get lost. (He responded by trying to stick his tongue down the throat of the hapless female reporter who relayed the message.)
My high-water mark was probably the night of the 1988 presidential election. I called audibles all night, ad-libbing from one live report to another all across the country. We didn't put a wrong number on the air, and UPI gave the show an award for outstanding news coverage.
By then, however, my career was already racing headlong toward the bridge. But I was too blind to see it.
THE PREVIOUS SUMMER, MURDOCH had named Ian Rae to take charge of Fox's news operations. In essence, he'd made him Saitta's boss.
A longtime print reporter, Rae had turned the Star into a big money-maker by adding color pictures. As a reward, he'd been tapped to run "A Current Affair" and to be the news director of our sister station in New York, WNYW. Short, ruddy-nosed Rae quickly brought the sleazy style of "A Current Affair" to the New York station.
The format was predictable and geared to appeals to the lowest common denominator. It consisted of hyperkinetic writing about sensational crimes, titillating shots of busty, bikini-clad women, and what a WNYW producer called "star fucking"--reports on dubious celebrities such as Ivana Trump.
Saitta turned up his nose at the approach and tried to ensure that our newscast remain insulated from the sleazy tabloid influence. But he was distracted by the bureaucratic battles he had to fight. In the summer of 1988 Rae's trusted assistant, Kimerly Montour, assembled a team of reporters headed by a blond New York anchorwoman, Cora Ann Mihalik, to cover the national political conventions. "Sam Nunn. Who's he?" Mihalik asked during the Democratic convention. Partly at my urging, Saitta kept her off our air.
During the Republican convention, we aired reports on the platform while the conventioneers were treated to a canned propaganda biography of Ronald Reagan. At about 10:20 p.m., roughly 20 minutes into our hourlong newscast, Montour called the control room. Didn't we realize, she barked, that we were under orders to run the Reagan biography in its entirety? We quickly blew out the rest of our show and aired the fawning tribute.
Later that evening I wrote Saitta a simple memo: "Let the record show that this was the first time Mr. Murdoch ever dictated the content of our newscast."
Even so, Rae clearly viewed Saitta as an impediment, and the boardroom machinations continued. Several days after the Republican convention, Rae boasted to one of our anchors that Saitta would be forced out of Channel 5 by January at the latest.
Saitta seemed to age 10 years during the next few weeks. Deep worry lines creased his face. He'd been in television management for two decades, but now he was lurching toward an uncertain future. He became distant, withdrawn.
Then one day he called a handful of his staffers together. He was developing plans for a new nightly program, he said, called "City Under Seige." The concept was simple: the half-hour show would focus on the District's war against drugs, including the evening's most lurid crimes and the search for the city's most-wanted drug pushers.
The show went on, in October 1988. Each night Ron Gardner (and later, Don Ellison) would stand in a darkened truck in our parking lot, a garish blue light flashing over his shoulder, to create the illusion that he was out in the streets. For a station that had resisted the Murdoch touch, it was quite a reversal.
Blood-splattered "City Under Siege" developed a hard-core following, especially among inmates at Lorton. It inspired some local youths to videotape themselves while they went on a violent rampage. It also won an Emmy for public service, and Saitta was saved. For a while.
WITH OUR CAMERA CREWS AND reporters diverted to "City Under Siege," our newscast began suffer. We were no longer equipped to report on late-breaking developments, and to fill our nightly news hole, I often resorted to running uncut reports from Cable News Network. Saitta seemed obsessed with selling the "Siege" concept to the higher-ups at Fox. Some people began to rumble about trying to convert it to a network show--"Nation Under Siege"--and trying to land G. Gordon Liddy as its host.
Less than two months after "Siege" began, Saitta was promoted to station manager, a position that formally installed him as Channel 5's second-raking officer, under Endicott was dying on cancer, and Saitta took over the day-to-day management of the station.
Soon as the news department began to drift, like a driverless car veering straight for the guardrail. Though Saitta retained the title of news director, he delegated most of the news to Ruth Allen Ollison, who had her own agenda.
Ollison, who was born in rural Texas, had scrapped her way from waitressing jobs to reporting positions at radio and television stations in Texas. Though she told Saitta in a memo that she'd "never really studied management," she'd also worked briefly as the news director of a Fox station in Dallas before Murdoch unplugged its news department.
Though she was comfortably ensconced at Channel 5, with a salary said to be close to six figures, Ollison had loftier ambitions. Starting in early 1989, she spent eight months campaigning (at Channel 5's expense) for the presidency of the National Association of Black Journalists, a trade group whose members include thousands of print reporters and broadcasters.
Ollison barnstormed to Philadelphia, Detroit, Hartford, Atlanta, Seattle, Minneapolis, and New York in search of votes. Meanwhile, her supporters on Channel 5's payroll spent their days distributing campaign buttons and faxing her position papers around the nation.
The newsroom was abuzz when we learned that Channel 5 had spent more than $ 10,000 on Ollison's cmapaign. Heads were spinning - and nearly rolling -- when her friend, reporter Angela Robinson, solicited contributions from the station's reporters. Endicott was furious. She thought the station had already paid enough for Ollison's campaign.
Then two things happened in August 1989: Ollison lost the election, and Betty Endicott died.
ENDICOTT'S DEATH MARKED THE end of an era. A tough, wisecracking newswoman with a voice like Jason Robards's, she'd begun as a reporter for UPI in St. Paul, Minnesota in an era when women were usually told that their place was in the house. She'd been a fixture on Washington's media scene since the late 1960s, when she was hired as a reporter by Channel 4. She'd hired me, promoted me, and been my defender. I viewed her death as if it were a death in my own family.
A more savvy student of television politics would have quickly sought a job elsewhere. But I was a neophyte, and inertia had set in. The wheels of management continued to spin as I lurched ever nearer the bridge.
Several days after Endicott died, Fox announced her replacement: Tom Herwitz, a Fox lawyer in his mid 30s who seemed to be addicted to bow ties. Unlike Endicott, Herwitz didn't have a news background. But he did have contracts in broadcasting and politics. Before he came to Fox, he'd been the assistant to the chairman of the FCC, Mark Fowler, while Fowler was working diligently to deregulate broadcasting.
Herwitz made himself a hero at Fox by persuading the FBI to cooperate with the Fox program that was on the cutting edge of tabliod television, "America's Most Wanted," which hired actors to re-create grisly crimes. "I love this show," said Fox's chairman, Barry Diller, soon after it went on the air. "It's such good television. It's fun." More important, it was a big cash cow for the fledgling fourth network, which was then losing $ 2 million a week on turkeys like "The Wilton North Report," "Mister President," and "Women in Prison."
Trash television shows were not only quickly imitated, they began to influence and degrade the quality of newscasts as well. People like Herwitz were blurring the line between news and entertainment. But you couldn't stop success. Whatever noble goals television news may have had about informing and enlightening the public, the bottom line had become king in a new era of corporate ownership. And no one revered the bottom line more than Murdoch.
When he took over Endicott's job, Herwitz said that his marching orders were to create other money-makers. His first attempt - an imitation "McLaughlin Group" called "Off the Record" - was a flop, but he had bigger plans. He wanted to start a two-and-a-half-hour daily morning news program, a show that would not only look good to Fox's corporate executives but provide a forum for the Capitol Hill and White House types that Herwitz - and Barry Diller - loved to impress.
Saitta was far from impressed. Bumped back to his job as news director, he was skeptical that there was a big enough audience to merit a morning newscast. He appeared to be dragging his feet. "Saitta tried to fuck me up the ass!" Herwitz later told the anchorman Morris Jones.
Herwitz doesn't countenance that sort of behavior. To show his contempt for his subordinates, he sometimes takes off his shoes during meetings and plops his fetid feet on the boardroom table, right in their faces. He'd show Saitta who was boss.
Seven months after Endicott's death, Saitta was ousted as news director. (Fox assigned him to help start newscasts at its UHF affiliates, such as Channel 45 in Baltimore). Herwitz tried to eradicate his legacy. He canceled "City Under Siege" and issued a public pledge (which he never carried out) to continue the sort of community coverage it symbolized. Like the Roman victors who plowed up ancient Carthage, he also dismantled Saitta's new, expensive pastel-blue-and-pink news set and even demanded that the blue oceans on our weather maps be painted a different shade to distinguish them from Saitta's.
In another change that I knew would harm the newscast, Herwitz removed longtime anchorman James Adams from his chair. A classy and charming man whose sincere manner appealed to viewers, Adams had won the Emmy for best local anchor in 1989. Audience research showed that he was our most popular on-air performer. But Adams, perhaps more than anyone at Channel 5, was the embodiment of the Endicott era. Herwitz demoted him to street reporter and inexplicably replaced him with the often tongue-tied Angela Robinson; years before, the newscasts weekend ratings had dropped after she was made an anchor.
And then, one day in mid March 1990, I received a call at home from Adam's longtime coanchor, Morris Jones. "We've got a new news director," he told me. "It's Kim Montour."
I'd reached the edge of the bridge.
IF MONTOUR KNOW HOW TO DO one thing well, it's to spout the party line. Soon after she arrived in Washington, she told Fortune that Murdoch is an "excellent journalist." This is the same Murdoch who once touted the bogus Hitler diaries as authentic, who consistently uses his papers to promote conservative politicians he favors, and whose scandal-sheet New York Post, which he's since sold, had been described by the Columbia Journalism Review as "no longer merely a journalistic problem. It is a social problem--a force for evil."
I drew a similar conclusions about our new regime when Montour ordered us to air large chunks of a segment from "A Current Affair" devoted to audio tapes that involved Richard Berendzen, the former president of American University. Several years before, Berendzen had been caught making obscene phone calls from his office. He was treated by psychiatrists who determined that he'd been molested as a child.
By the time "A Current Affair" obtained the obscene tape, Berendzen was old news. He was trying, quietly and privately, to rebuild his shattered life. But after talking with Rae, her mentor, Montour demanded that we not only run portions of the "Professor Pervert" tapes but hype them in news flashes throughout the evening. "I've got to take a shower and wash this slime off," said Screen, our weekend producer, after the broadcast. The station's switchboard lit up with calls from angry viewers who recognized that the story was the product of a scumball brain. Montour promptly blamed Screen for putting it on the air.
Faced with this sort of managerial mendacity, I retreated into a shell. Rather than quaffing the heady nectar of the gods, as I'd done in the Saitta years, I tried to behave as if I were the worst sort of brain-dead civil servant. Like Claudius of ancient Rome, I was hoping to wait out Montour's reign.
I bit my tongue daily with Montour and her top aides brainstormed ideas that spanned the gamut from the lurid to the ludicrous. Montour heartily endorsed a suggestion by executive producer Patrice Jordan to "supplement" our daily news coverage with "special stories" during Christmas week. Starting on Christmas Eve - a time when many people are not only celebrating but mourning the loss of departed family members - Jordan wanted to return obituaries of such figures as Ralph Abernathy, Malcolm Forbes, and Mitch Snyder. Somehow I managed to bury the idea.
I was less successful with the Klan Murders. In October 1990 two reporters from Fox's entertainment division in Hollywood showed up at Channel 5 on a top-secret mission. They were following up report from a "Deep Throat" source who contended that in the 1960s the Ku Klux Klan had kidnapped dozens of blacks from Washington's streets and then tortured, murdered, and buried them in a mass grave in Fauquier County.
Talk about a sensational plot! It ranked up there with Elvis sightings. And the timing was impeccable--right on the eve of a controversial Klan rally in the District.
There was only one problem: it was all a scam.
One of the entertainment reporters admitted that he didn't believe the fanciful tale. "Deep Throat," he said, was a Beverly Hills lawyer who was trying to interest Fox in a movie about the alleged massacre.
I told Montour that any story we broadcast ought to mention the potential movie deal. "We're going to act as if we don't know anything about that," she replied. We led our broadcast with the bogus "exclusive." Weeks later, after conducting lie-detector tests, the FBI concluded that the matter required "no further investigation."
In retrospect, I should've realized that Montour would never buy the doltish demeanor I was trying to affect. Besides, I kept slipping. "You publish magazine articles? Wish I could do that," she once told me over multiple glasses of wine. "Went to an Ivy League school? Wish I'd had that sort of an education."
Montour's cultural deprivation sometimes made its way into our assignment process. She was trying to redirect our late-evening coverage toward a variation on Murdoch's "star fucking." This meant attempting to videotape what she called "glitterati" - members of Congress or cabinet officials - at cocktail parties. (We'd done exactly this sort of reporting years earlier, with Chuck Conconi, then of the Washington Post, as the correspondent, but Saitta's audience research concluded that our viewers really weren't interested in it.)
Ga-ga over glitter, Montour insisted that our camera crews go to a cocktail party for staff aides to Representative Morris Udall instead of to an awards ceremony for Marian Anderson, the pioneering civil rights activist. "It's just some opera singer. Just some opera singer," Montour repeated over and over.
THE STAFF'S OUTRAGE AT THE SPIN Montour attempted to put on the Clarence Thomas nomination ultimately helped to trigger my departure from Channel 5.
At about 8:30 p.m. on Sunday, October 13, on the eve of the Senate's climactic vote, Montour ranted to Screen about a news "update" that had made reference to the lie-detector test that Thomas's accuser, Anita Hill, had passed. Montour demanded that Screen make last-minute revisions to the evening's newscast to describe the lie-detector test as "a publicity stunt."
At least Montour was consistent in her pro-Thomas approach. Several days earlier she'd instructed reporter Niles Lathem to make sure that one of his reports included a sound bite from "A Current Affair" that attached Anita Hill, and she castigated our veteran Capitol Hill correspondent, Brian Wilson, for reporting that Thomas had "ducked" questions about abortion during his confirmation hearings. "We have to be careful," Montour told me. "Thomas's supporters would say he answered all the questions thoroughly. We don't want to piss off his press people."
Wilson, a tall Texan, was seething. A closet conservative in a profession dominated by liberals, he took great pride in his even-handed coverage of politics. His pride took a pounding when he learned that his reports, which were dispatched by satellite to Ian Rae's station in New York, were being doctored to remove anti-Thomas comments by senators.
He was a tinder-dry Texas prairie ready to erupt when I told him that Montour had ordered me to rum the "A Current Affair" report about Ted Kennedy and Chappaquiddick. "That's bullshit," he said. "Somebody ought to call Carmody."
And somebody did.
On a cold, rainy Thursday a month later, Montour called me into her office. Ever since Carmody's item had appeared (he'd quoted an anonymous Channel 5 staffer as calling the Montour-ordered story "sleazy entertainment, not journalism"), she'd continually attacked my competence, both privately and in from of my colleagues. Now she said she wanted to move me, for "a trial period," to the overnight shift.
"Great idea," I replied.
She looked disappointed.
I knew it was my cue to take control of the steering wheel and drive over the bridge to a life away from Channel 5.
Murdoch's TV news operation, pre-Fox News Channel (02.02.2004)
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Thu Apr 15 2004 10:08 AM