NEWS- Cruise control: NBC29 rips own anchor (for talking)
What seemed like a relatively tame topic, a Hook story about two blonde former coworkers competing on rival television news programs, has exploded into a public airing of NBC29's personnel policies. And anchor Kristina Cruise has been sent home for talking to the Hook.
Cruise, who has been anchoring the noon and 5pm news on NBC29, spoke to the Hook last week about the friendly competition that might have started April 16 when former 29 anchor Beth Duffy goes on the air at cross-town rival CBS19.
"WVIR managers found out about it and threw a fit," says local blog cvillenews.com of the conversation. "Management told her to leave the building today because she is suspended and not allowed back until they decide what to do about the whole mess."
That was Monday, April 9, and indeed the Hook reached Cruise by telephone at home instead of at her desk in the Market Street newsroom. However, she declined to address the allegations.
"I think it's appalling," says self-described Cruise fan Avery Chenoweth. "She really does connect with the camera and makes you feel like you're there with her."
According to cvillenews.com, a new hire named Sharon Gregory will be taking over Cruise's noon and 5pm anchor slot, and Laura French, back from maternity leave, will anchor the news at 6 and 11pm.
"Laura French's return to the air will impact our line-up," NBC29 news director Neal Bennett told the Hook Monday afternoon before the cvillenews story hit the blog. He had not returned a follow-up call at press time Tuesday.
Waldo Jaquith, the blogger who writes cvillenews.com, says his report was based on two sources who alleged that although Cruise was being punished for talking, Gregory's ascendency to Cruise's anchor spots had long been planned, and everyone else in the newsroom knew it.
"If everyone knows, that would certainly indicate trouble with management," Jaquith says.
Ironically, Cruise, along with several NBC29 colleagues including Duffy, Norm Sprouse, and Stephanie Cornwell, had previously given extensive interviews to the Hook. Did Cruise just happen to catch NBC29 manager Harold Wright on a bad day?
Wright did not return a phone call from the Hook– indeed, he has never returned a call in the five years the Hook has been published. However, he has a habit, revealed for the first time publicly on the current cvillenews.com blog, of hiring journalists with alcohol-related driving problems.
In January, NBC29 extensively reported an allegation of drunk driving against a UVA football coach who retired over six years ago. Yet it made no mention of the driving histories of two recently hired tele-journalists.
Gregory, a 10-year veteran anchor at NBC29's sister station, ABC7 in Fort Myers, Florida, was arrested October 28, 2006, and charged with driving under the influence when she blew a .158 after attending a fundraiser, according to the Bonita Daily News. ABC7 and NBC29 are both owned by Waterman Broadcasting.
NBC29 weatherman David Rogers was convicted after running down two construction workers, critically injuring one of them, and leaving the scene of a July 10, 2003, accident in Cleveland, Ohio. He was sentenced to 10 months in jail, according to newsnet5.com in Cleveland.
Rogers refused a breathalyzer, but admitted driving drunk, according to newsnet5.com.
"Obviously, it was a huge deal for us," says Ken Bleile, safety director with Lake Erie Construction, the company that had hired college students Brad Davis and Jeremy Prelipp, who were injured when Rogers plowed his Land Rover into a construction zone.
"My son's skin, blood, hair on your windshield, hood and bumpers, and a mile down the road, you're worried about damage to your car," said Don Davis, Brad Davis's father, in a newsnet5.com story at the time. "Unbelievable."
"I have no comment on that," says Rogers. At the time of the accident, Rogers was employed by WCBS in New York, America's top television market. Charlottesville, sized between Harrisonburg and Bowling Green, Kentucky, is ranked #182.
"To have drunk drivers but not someone who talked to the media is a hell of a standard," says Jaquith, himself a hit-and-run victim.
Yet some argue that past incidents are not public fodder.
"I don't think it's necessary for the public to know about their DUIs," says Kevin Cox. "They read the news from a prompter. They're not making policy. I don't think it serves the public at all."
"I don't think it should [be made public]," agrees Rogers' victim, Brad Davis. "I think he's sorry. I think everyone should move on."
Reporting on the newsgatherers' pasts is "absolutely legitimate," says Avery Chenoweth. "Their experience with the other side of the law affects how they cover the news," he says. "It gives [Gregory] some seasoning that's good for the job."
Chenoweth also has a hard time understanding NBC29's alleged policy forbidding staffers from talking to other media. Last year, the venerable Richmond Times-Dispatch forbade its reporters to talk to Style Weekly and ended up getting lots of criticism for endorsing the First Amendment in print but not in practice.
"I'm always amazed at how news organizations are paranoid about the media," says Chenoweth. "It's surprising they didn't want her talking to the print media."
Even if Cruise's decision to give an interview for a blonde v. blonde story turned into a disaster, blogger Jaquith thinks there could be a happy ending for her after all. "CBS," he says, "would be crazy not to hire her."
Posing for this picture for the Hook for a benign story about Beth Duffy could have led to Kristina Cruise's ouster from the anchor desk– although NBC29 station management refuses to confirm or deny that.
PHOTO BY WILL WALKER