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Re your Cheap Seats article on the retirement of Ken Beatrice (“Last Call,” 4/28): Well-intentioned, I suppose, as a sentimental tribute to Beatrice at his retirement, Dave McKenna’s account of how a Tony Kornheiser article almost ran Beatrice out of town missed some salient points about the timing and context of that story.
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As it happened, Kornheiser was a guest in my class at the University of Maryland College Park, Sports Culture, USA, on April 16, 1981, several weeks after his piece on Beatrice had appeared but just a day after the story broke about Washington Post reporter Janet Cooke’s having to surrender her Pulitzer Prize. In the classroom interview, my 80 students and additional guests, many of them journalism majors but sports fans all, were far more interested in Beatrice than in Cooke.
Four points emerged as Kornheiser answered questions. First, he said he had written the Beatrice piece on assignment, though he had little interest in the kind of “media personality” Beatrice had become.
Second, the copy had been turned in some time before it appeared, and the story—having little intrinsic value or wide public interest—would probably have been killed.
But, third, in a paranoid attempt at a pre-emptive strike against what Beatrice, on the air, had been calling a forthcoming “hatchet job,” the then-struggling Washington Star had been persuaded to run a warm and fuzzy puff piece on Beatrice (calculated, I suppose, to stir up some controversy and circulation).
Fourth, Kornheiser was furious about what Cooke had done, faking both her resume and the substance of her celebrated story, which cast his whole profession into disrepute. And he found some bitter irony in the idea that the radio host, who also faked his resume and material, got a public outcry in his defense and would, he accurately predicted, get a raise when he resumed his program after a leave of absence.
Coincidentally, I learned of McKenna’s column from a woman in the audience last Saturday at the Olsson’s in Bethesda, where I was reading from my new book, The Miller Masks, a story based on that very traumatic media week in Washington. In my version, “Sandy Ryweier” is incensed over what “Grace Kent” has done, less so about the public support for “Tim Dante.”
The narrator, however, only partly tongue-in-cheek, supposes that the difference lies in the public acceptance of sports as entertainment and fun and games, where all is permissible, whereas news must be held to a higher standard. Still, “Jesse Miller” says, it’s really all the same: Every performer—news reporter, news anchor, sportswriter, sports talk host, writer of fiction—must invent himself or herself every time he or she tells a story, however trivial or momentous.
Silver Spring, Md.