Is This Thing On?
Copyright the Globe and Mail - January 22,
Newscasting is an unforgiving game - or is it? As Avery Haines joins the hall
of infamy of anchors and talk-show hosts who have incensed audiences with
ill-considered remarks, industry watchers are abuzz that she's a catch.
Saturday, January 22, 2000
What a difference seven days can pack.
Exactly one week ago, Avery Haines stumbled through an introduction to a taped
report on farm aid and fired off the most fateful joke of her life. At the
time, most Canadians hadn't even heard of the rookie news anchor, who had been
manning the morning desk on CTV's NewsNet for a mere two months. She cracked
that she was a "lesbian-folk-dancing-black-woman stutterer" with a
"rubber leg." When the tape accidentally went to air, the story fell
with a splat on the front page of the Toronto Sun.
An anchor's worst nightmare? Well, Haines was certainly fired with haste. And
now she's famous.
The phone at the Haines household has been ringing non-stop with requests for
interviews from all over the world. Barbara Walters and the gang debated the
scandal on The View, Inside Edition ran a feature and Reuters shot it out over
the international wires. On Thursday night, U.S. comedian Bill Maher hashed it
out with author Studs Terkel and other guests on Politically Incorrect. Even
Howard Stern wants to chat. (Haines turned him down.)
Haines says she never had any desire to be a celebrity. "Especially not
this way," she stressed on Wednesday morning, before taking a second call
from Rick Mercer, who was trying to convince her to fly to Halifax and do a
skit for This Hour Has 22 Minutes. But she's buoyed by the support.
"I know I'll get a job again," says Haines. "So I'm not too
worried about that." In fact, she's considering a move to the United
States, where she says the industry is "a bit more aggressive." She
met a U.S. agent a couple of years ago who tried to convince her to relocate
there, "I guess things are different now," she says.
Haines certainly isn't the first broadcasting personality to get fired for a
terrible faux pas. Consider a couple of Toronto cases, like Jeremy Brown.
Classical 96 FM gave the former entertainment and food commentator his walking
papers in 1996, after he said "tits up" on air. He's now working on a
couple of books and doing advocacy work for Parkinson's disease, but he's never
been back on the air. "I'd love to go back," the 68-year-old says.
"I haven't been asked."
Or how about the tragedy of veteran jazz DJ Phil MacKellar. In 1982, CKFM
listeners overheard MacKellar referring to blacks as "niggers" when
he took a private phone call without noticing that the microphone was on. He
lost his show and then died of a heart attack five months later.
But plenty use their notoriety to their advantage. After New York talk-show
host Bob Grant was dumped from WABC in 1996 for making racial slurs, he
resurfaced eight months later, bigger than ever, on a competing station with a
Freedom of Speech Award from the National Association of Radio Talk Show Hosts
in his hands.
Then there are some who can say just about anything, if they're popular enough.
Michael Coren has offended so many people it would be impossible to list his
misdemeanours. During his first week on air with CFRB in 1995, he lashed out at
the Toronto Arts Awards for honouring a woman "with something like a dirty
tea towel wrapped around her head." Forced to apologize? No.
Or think about Toronto's Brian Henderson (CHUM AM) and Dick Smyth (680 News).
Four years ago, they denigrated Jewish mothers on air. After the swell died
down, the two got away with a light tap on the wrist from the Canadian
Broadcast Standards Council.
"There are people who make mistakes," says Peter Goldberg, a New York
talent agent with the N.S. Bienstock agency, which caters to news announcers.
"Many get second chances, even third chances. Who's to say [Haines]
wouldn't? . . . If she sent a tape and a résumé here, I'd take a
Haines still doesn't know what to make of all the attention. "I don't feel
honoured by any of this. Sure, people recognize my name and my face. But not
because I've won any awards in journalism -- which I have. Or because I ask
really tough questions. All I know is that I'm unemployed. And I had a great
job a few days ago. The payoff hasn't come in yet. I'm not at the point where
I'm glad to be fired."
Well, not yet, anyway. Some of those phone calls have come from potential
employers. She hasn't received any offers yet. "They've been vague,
wanna-do-lunch kind of things," she said. But Haines will have no
problem bouncing back, says Jeff Ansell, a Toronto-based spin doctor, who
specializes in image rehabilitation. "I'm sure she will do very well.
She's doing all the right things and saying all the right things. She's
acknowledged the inappropriateness of her remarks and has apologized from the
heart. She has been very gracious toward the technician who pulled the wrong
switch. I thought that, in particular, was very classy."
Some might say Haines was also remarkably savvy when she raced to her old
employer, Toronto radio station CFRB, where she worked for 11 years, to explain
her predicament and take phone-in calls -- only one hour after she got the boot
from CTV. And after countless interviews, she also wrote a first-person piece
for the front page of the National Post. "It was my first time writing for
a newspaper," she says. "I've already done radio and TV," she
adds laughing. "Maybe [print] is my next opportunity."
Haines says she wasn't trying to spin anything; she's just being open and
honest. But is that enough? Gabor Apor, a communications consultant who once
helped former Ontario premier David Peterson smooth out his ruffled edges,
predicts that Haines will find another job within a few weeks. He's not so
sure, however, that a Canadian network will be willing to put her in front of a
camera. "The easiest thing is to enter another market. . . . The fast
break was best. It's yesterday's news."
For Haines, who was born in New Mexico 33 years ago and still has an American
passport, a cross-border move would be easier than for most. Her husband,
Steve, is a freelance set decorator. "So he's mobile," she cheerfully
notes. "I feel Canadian through and through. But I love my career. . . .
I'm not closing my door to anything."
Bill Carroll, news director at CFRB and Haines's former boss, agrees that
Haines should move on -- straight to the top. "She's always been
exceptionally talented," he says. "But now she has the notoriety.
There would be instant ratings for any station that picked her up.
"I told her she's crazy if she stays here. In fact, I'm about to phone her
with the number for an American TV agent right now. If I were her, I'd be
trying to pick which climate she'd like to live in. She's that good."
Odds on Avery
The chances of Avery Haines making a quick recovery are excellent, with her
newfound celebrity status having upped the ante. But where she'll land is
anybody's guess. Herewith, a book of odds to consider before laying down your
CanWest Global, 3 to 2
Best bet. The maverick network would love to steal the thunder from its bitter
rival, CTV. "She's a superstar now," one high-ranked executive
enthused. Besides, Haines has much better, um, everything than Susan Hay.
"I'd have to give it some thought," said Ken MacDonald,
vice-president of news. "I think she's very capable and very talented.
CITY-TV: 5 to 2
A tossup. The bold silver stripe in Haines's hair would add the perfect balance
to the station's kaleidoscope of staff. Moses Znaimer wasn't offended by her
sense of humour. "She sounds spunky and forthright . . ." he said.
"Tell her to give me a shout if she's eager." But then again, why
would Haines want to limit herself to a local newscast?
Note from Jeff - Haines was hired by City TV in
Talk640: 5 to 1
Hazardous. The brash Toronto radio station needs a new morning host after
Michael Coren was let go earlier this month at the end of his tumultuous
six-month contract. Some suggest his departure was sealed with a dust-up before
Christmas with station manager Pat Cardinal, which was overheard by several
staffers on a newsroom speaker phone. Cardinal didn't return The Globe and
Mail's phone calls. Perhaps he's had his fill of controversy.
CNN: 10 to 1
The windfall. Why not? Network founder Ted Turner loves ballsy women (before
they turn Christian, that is) and he certainly knows what a foot in the mouth
tastes like. The network already has Pat Buchanan. And with a roster of about
75 anchors, turnover must be high. Go for broke.
CFRB/The Mix: 15 to 1
The safety net. "She's welcome back here any time," boomed Gary
Slaight, president of Standard Radio, who gave Haines her first job right out
of college. A comforting idea, but too much like moving back home with the
ABC: 20 to 1
A wild card. Haines has already attracted the attention of Barbara Walters's
top-rated daytime gabfest, The View. Eighty per cent of the audience threw
their support behind her in an on-air poll. But network spokeswoman Eileen
Murphy says that if Haines had made the same gaffe on one of their stations,
"There would've been some sort of action taken." Would they hire her?
Murphy wouldn't speculate.
CBS: 30 to 1
A random shot. This is the broadcaster that employs Howard Stern. But the suits
in New York Have just reached a settlement with former WARW Washington, D.C.,
morning host the Greaseman, a.k.a. Doug Tracht, who was fired after expressing
his dislike for a Lauryn Hill song by saying, "No wonder people drag them
behind trucks." So they'd likely shy away. Jeffrey Kofman, a former CBC
reporter who flew the coop to join CBS Evening News, isn't impressed with
Haines's infamy. "She didn't even make it on [industry gossip Web site]
http://www.tvspy.com," he sniffed. (She did.)
CBC, 50 to 1
The long longshot. Desperately earnest, seriously strapped for cash and under
pressure to improve its regional representation, Canada's public broadcaster
wouldn't dare risk the wrath of the country's taxpayers on an irreverent
steeplechaser from Toronto. The suggestions was politely rebuffed by CBC
spokeswoman Ruth Ellen Soles: "CBC-TV news has a rigorous hiring process
and anyone interested in a journalism career here would need to meet our hiring
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