In the early 1980s, Don Henley hit the charts with the song "Dirty Laundry," a sarcastic view of television news. It begins:
I make my living off the Evening News
Just give me something-something I can use
People love it when you lose,
They love dirty laundry
Well, I coulda been an actor, but I wound up here
I just have to look good, I don't have to be clear
Come and whisper in my ear
Give us dirty laundry
On February 4, Chicago Tribune media columnist Phil Rosenthal provided an insider's view of dirty laundry within the mainstream media. His column "TV anchor in the news with racial bias claims" starts:
The biggest story in local broadcast news Monday night had well-known names, controversy, plenty of TV reporters on the scene—and it didn't air on a single station that night.
WMAQ-Ch. 5 lead anchor Warner Saunders accused former Chicago Sun-Times TV/radio columnist Robert Feder of bias at the local American Federation of Television and Radio Artists chapter's annual meeting, where Feder was a guest.
Saunders, 74, brought a prepared speech to confront Feder before 100 or so at the Allerton Hotel.
Saunders said Feder diminished "the accomplishments of black talent while placing the spotlight on our deficiencies." Noting it was Black History Month, the Channel 5 anchor said inviting Feder was "like choosing David Duke to serve as mohel at a circumcision."
The comparison was loaded: Duke is a former Ku Klux Klan leader. Mohels perform Jewish circumcisions. Feder is Jewish.
"From the very beginning, [it] became a personal attack," Feder, who did not want to speak to the Chicago Tribune, said Tuesday to WLS-AM 890's Erich "Mancow" Muller and Pat Cassidy.
WBBM-AM 780's Craig Dellimore, AFTRA's local president and an African-American, was unavailable. But Eileen Willenborg, AFTRA Chicago executive director, said, "It was a forum for free speech to happen, and free speech sure happened."
WMAQ declined comment.
That's ironic. WMAQ, like many television outlets, routinely sticks its microphones in the faces of people - even grieving parents who've just lost a child - in search of footage they can show viewers. Yet when one of their major personalities attacks a newspaper writer for racism, the station doesn't have a word to say.
Apparently, neither do most of the mainstream media. A Google search today for news items on Warner Saunders turns up only the Rosenthal column and references to it. The Tribune in this instance deserves credit for reporting the news.
The media love dirty laundry. But some stuff is apparently just too soiled to air on television.