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Tony Kornheiser’s acting like a bad guy with a dark heart again. Earlier this week, he went after Mike Wise on Dan Snyder’s sportstalker, WTEM, spending much of his show ranting about a week-old column from Wise for no obvious reason. Kornheiser mocked Wise for wondering if the Redskins would win another game this season before the Denver game. Kornheiser behaved as if Wise had called Dewey over Truman. There was nothing funny about Kornheiser’s rants. (The Great Dan Steinberg Steinographs the unfunny hate here.)
Kornheiser, of course, really didn’t give a rip about Wise’s column. He just wanted to rip Wise.
Full disclosure: I think Kornheiser’s a bad guy with a dark heart.
‘Course, I only met him once, for about 10 minutes about 10 years ago at a Washington Post holiday party. It’s one of my favorite party stories, right up there with having Alan Greenspan wonder if he’d shown up at the wrong event after encountering me and my thrift-store wardrobe at a book party, and getting attacked by Buddy Holly’s shop teacher during a night out in Lubbock.
Tell the Kornheiser-and-me one again? Sure!
Kornheiser had gotten a Post editor who now makes appearances on his radio show to invite me to the party, so he could attack me for something I’d written that he didn’t like. When I arrived he cornered me and pulled an old column of mine out of his coat pocket that he’d been carrying around for a while and waved it in the air while yelling that I’d “never write for a real newspaper.” I could tell from the way his co-workers acted after he finished yelling that they’d seen his bizarre act before.
And not long after that party Kornheiser got me fired from a $75-a-week freelance job with the Washington Post’s sports section because of something else I wrote for Washington City Paper.
Kornheiser got me canned for writing about a February 1981 story he wrote for the Style section of the Washington Post called “Ken Beatrice: Facts and Fears on the Airwaves.”
Beatrice was a beloved oddball back then, with a popular nightly sportstalk radio show. Kornheiser was much newer to D.C. than Mike Wise is now, and, to use the angle Kornheiser used during his rants against Wise, didn’t understand what Beatrice meant to this town.
But Kornheiser had learned that Beatrice had fibbed about his college football career, and that Beatrice’s PhD was from an unaccredited university, and used those tidbits to write 4,000 of the meanest words to ever appear in the Post. Beatrice weighed less then Karen Carpenter, and on good days looked more frail than the average intensive care ward patient, yet Kornheiser spent much of the story reveling in how much distress he caused Beatrice during “at least eight hours” of interviews. Even if he’d never gotten weird on me at a holiday party or gotten me fired, his Beatrice story was enough by itself to leave me believing Kornheiser’s a bad guy with a dark heart.
One passage of Kornheiser’s piece:
[Beatrice] was not looking well.
Pale. So pale and waxy that he could have been on exhibit at Madame Tussaud’s.
And gaunt, like he hadn’t eaten in weeks.
Nervously, he wiped his right hand hard across his forehead and through his dark hair, matting it. There were white flecks at the corners of his mouth. When he went to light his pipe his hands trembled. He took in great gulps of air. It seemed like he was drowning.
In fact, he seemed terrified.
About the prospect of this story.
Kornheiser was trying to hurt Beatrice, and he succeeded. Beatrice had a nervous breakdown after Kornheiser’s story ran and had to leave the airwaves for a while to convalesce.
Listeners begged Beatrice to come back to his radio show, and he eventually did.
Despite knowing he’d caused Beatrice physical harm, Kornheiser never backed off Beatrice. When Kornheiser got a show of his own on WTEM a decade later, he used it to continue to bully Beatrice.
I listened to Kornheiser’s radio show on Monday, and he sounded pretty frail himself. He sure seemed hurt while talking about Jon Gruden, his replacement on “Monday Night Football,” being re-signed to a long ESPN contract, the deal Kornheiser was never offered. So he tried to work out his wounds by going after Mike Wise, who he’s been saying mean, unfunny things about for years. Just like he did Beatrice back in the day. But now Kornheiser sounds too weak to even be a good bully anymore. He just comes off as sad.
Back to me: Over the years, because of his multi-media successes, I’ve probably been asked more about getting fired because of Tony Kornheiser than about anything I’ve ever written.
So I don’t like seeing him falling like this. Pretty soon nobody’s going to want me to retell the story of me and Tony Kornheiser.
Oh, well. The one about me and Buddy Holly’s shop teacher’s more fun, anyway.