Snakebitten or self-bitten?
Both -- which is why KTNV-TV, Channel 13, is riddled with teeth marks all over its tattered tush.
Since last summer, veteran anchor Ron Futrell was canned following a traffic kerfuffle that amounted to zilch -- charges stemming from an alleged hit-and-run were dropped in December -- then reporter Jeff Gradney overstimulated himself out of a job after trolling for sex partners on craigslist. Rikki Cheese is the newest news reporter-turned-newsmaker, slapped with a DUI charge near Lake Mead.
Credit Channel 13 with this much: In L'Affair Futrell, they didn't turn headline heat on the arrest of one of their own for five days, but offered up grilled Cheese in only three. (Gradney's unreported-on-air craigslist caper was indiscreet horniness -- he posted a photo of himself and a gal pal performing the horizontal dance of love -- not a crime.)
Unlike Futrell and Gradney, Cheese remains to report another day, confirmed by station Vice President and General Manager Jim Prather while refusing further explanation. Cheese did not respond to a request for comment.
Futrell praises his ex-co-anchor as a "great reporter and a great friend" whom he does not begrudge an ongoing gig. But his own ouster's an open wound, inflicted when management convicted him of "serious misconduct," though the law never did. "I told them, 'You're firing me for a traffic ticket' and in the end, it wasn't even that," Futrell says. "You can get arrested for anything. I watch their promos about how they stand for people in the community, pointing out right and wrong. But if I called 'Contact 13' and complained, would they listen?"
Local TV insiders are whispering about, as one put it, the "inconsistent response" regarding Cheese. Was it a race/gender reflex, more politically permissible to boot a white man than a black woman? Did Channel 13 recover from its embarrassing bout of premature elimination after what Futrell calls "a tremendous backlash"? Or are some employees pure Teflon?
Consider: Print reporters have been nailed for DUIs, but bylines are relatively anonymous compared to TV faces. With a higher profile comes higher risk of professional beheading. More than words, facts or actions, TV news turns on images and visuals, not just for stories, but for staffers. What's seen often is more crucial than what's known. The photo of Gradney enjoying the fruits of his personal relationship was accessible online. And Futrell's vaguely creepy, Mel Gibson-esque mug shot hit both the Internet and newspaper. Their sins weren't so much what they did as what they looked like doing it, a misfortune Cheese somehow escaped.
Fairness suggests that, having been convicted of nothing, they find refuge at other stations. "I'm doing other things," Futrell -- who now runs LocalsLoveVegas.com -- says. "But I'd be interested in talking." But fairness has never been one of life's guarantees.
That truth can jump up and bite you right in the tush.
Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0256.