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Anchor Babe and the Unfairness Doctrine

Anchor Babe and the Unfairness Doctrine

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Published by Cecil Hickman
Ambitious network anchor with secret father and son stunned by firing during the Great Recession.
Ambitious network anchor with secret father and son stunned by firing during the Great Recession.

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Published by: Cecil Hickman on Jan 02, 2011
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09/07/2013

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Anchor Babe

Introduction Hello, everyone. I'm publishing a novel. It is the adventures of an ambitious woman with a secret father in a desperate race to find a cure for a disease that threatens her secret son. Along the way she battles the Great Recession, investigates mysterious national events, and suffers the collapse of her profession. She gets unexpected help from a team of college students who track down the truths behind the unfairness in life. My goal is to publish a new chapter every week with episodes inspired by real events. I invite you, the reader, to help by contributing any of the following: • Real stories of unfairness to fictionalize in episodes. • Images, video and audio to illustrate the fiction • Proofreading, fact checking and fill in the blanks. • --author

The Sucker Punch The worst day of a young life. Why did this happen? Not everything is black and white

Chapter One:  "You're Fired! A balding head pokes out the office door. Bland expression. Typical drone. "Mizz Grant, will you please come to the office ?" A couple of folks  glance up from their cubicles  just in time to see the target -- a mop of brunette hair framing impossibly large hazel eyes that peer from behind a desktop computer. "... be with you in a sec, Mike ...  finishing up some fact checking." Surprisingly, that seems to annoy him a bit, so Mike Milano steps further into the corridor. "Sharee, I really need to speak to you right now ... that other stuff can wait." More heads turn. A handful of producers and correspondents become curious.   Rarely do they hear Milano raise his voice.  He is not called Mono Mike without reason ... generally keeping his monotone personality parked behind a cluttered desk. Sharee stands up ... and up ... and up.  Her tousled mane   doesn't really match the custom-tailored gray cardigan  that wraps snuggly up her six-foot height. Make that six-feet-three as she slips her narrow foot into stylish heels. One of the gawkers,  the news show's recently promoted female commentator,  takes envious notice of her new rival's outfit.  Her mind checks off the price tags.   Gray cashmere cardigan cut long and cinched with a silk braided belt--$400.  Underneath, a charcoal black, fitted skirt and tunic with a faux turtle neck--$500.  The skirt slightly above the knees and hosed in black.  This ensemble plus accessories must have  cost $3000.      "Are those Jimmy Choo heels," she thinks, "That's athousand dollars there at least."

“It's an Armani original for sure Probably purchased from Nordstroms at Providence Place.” The news staff had begun looking at Sharee with new eyes ever since that episode with the Brazilian Bomber several months ago when his Entourage swept into the newsroom, beefy bodyguards first, effete hangers-on next, then the Heavyweight Champion of the World himself. The Daily Investigative News’ top producer had gotten an insider scoop about the Champ's personal life and had convinced the most well-known athlete in the world to come to the studio to answer some questions. Everything was set up for D-I-N's new star in the chilly main studio. As Roberto Silva paraded into the newsroom he did a kind of radar sweep, then spotted the blonde almost hidden behind the back desk. "I'll do your damn interview," he growled, "...but only with that girl !" The producer and the news director argued with the Champ's “yes” men. "Sharee is too new and she really doesn't know the whole story" they begged, "Michelle has already been briefed and she is our top news personality." Roberto had settled on the then-blond Sharee. A new look for her that was having spectacular results. "I don't give a damn if she is the Queen of Sheba, If you guys are going to rip me apart at least I am gonna choose someone I can feast my eyes on !" Sharee was rushed to the set. But first she made an important pit stop to the Dressing Room ... to powder her nose and, more importantly, to make a quick call to her old college news director.

Back on the set, the producer whispered some tips into her ear and shoved a list of talking points into her hands. Sharee took a brief return cell phone call ... listening intently while the make-up girl primped the champ. He was ...to put it bluntly ... eye candy for every woman in the world. The interview went very well. Sharee wasn't nearly as bitchy as Michelle ... but still managed to make Roberto squirm. Finally the interview came to an end and as Sharee made her thank yous, The Champ looked her in the eye ... and uttered this non sequiter, "Ahh ! _______________, you are not as dumb as you look !" Sharee clearly offended, snapped back, "No _____________ ?" and a few other choice words in a language no one in the newsroom had ever heard of. The Entourage and the Champ shuffled out of the building but not before Roberto stopped and pivoted back to talk quietly in a corner to Sharee Needless to say, the producer, the news director and the sports-spurned female commentator badgered Sharee to learn what he had said. "Well he apologized to me, and to make up for it...he invited me and a D-I-N camera crew to spend three weeks at his training camp outside New Bedford. AND he will pick up the whole tab !" Memorably, Sharee wheeled around and sauntered back to her cubicle as if nothing had happened. She had already made a couple of enemies in her new job ... no need to rub it in.

There is always a hush whenever Sharee moves around the newsroom, broken only by the clip clop of heels as she makes her way to the news director’s office  ... looking occasionally back to her desk ... as if she forgot to include a fact or two in her story. Sharee tries to guess what this is all about. Maybe it's a big thank you for the mini-series on the Champ who was as good as his word. Flying her and Julio, D-I-N's best videographer and Puerto Rican. I guess the news bosses felt Puerto Rican was close enough to Portuguese ... as the producer said flippantly, "Same shit different bucket." The champ paid for everything, even settling them in a motel near his training camp for the entire time. The rustic, you might say, spartan digs, were near the site of the upcoming Bay State World Invitational track meet ... on the campus of UMass Dartmouth. The champ liked to joke he could get much needed speed work done there. But back to the moment...back to the news director’s office.   The boss "welcomes" Sharee, his eyes downcast, normal posture in her presence.  His star staffer and top recruit has been on the job for only a short time yet this has become a familiar behavior.   There are two other people in the cramped room ... barely able to fit around the large desk.  Sharee recognizes the Human Resources Director and gets introduced to his assistant, a small older woman.  Mike refuses to look up.. studying every detail of his shoe tips shuffling awkwardly.  It is the Human Resources Director who...intones, "Mizz Grant.  You have been on probation for six months now. We thank you for your service.  Unfortunately we have decided to go in another direction with our staffing.  We cannot offer you  employment here at D-I-N !"

Chapter two--Red Flags Let's step back a second from the drama of this minitragedy. Back to the weeks that were wonderful ... the weeks when Sharee's star still shone brightly... but back also when the whiff of something ominous was in the air ... when the show honchos poured over the ratings and decided major changes were needed. Michelle Clark moved up to Main Anchor/Host. Before that, she was just one of several occasional commentators. Now she was the opening act, "Anger ! The story of our times. Unfairness and unemployment are its handmaidens. The jobless rate hovers above ten per cent ...ripping the guts out of consumer confidence ! ...and we have the President to blame !" Michelle read the teleprompter ... but then departed from script ... looking occasionally down at a sheet of talking points on her desk. She was in full ad-lib .... looking confidently .... directly... into the studio camera... to a bemused, amused America. It was the first time that a Point of View led the broadcast. Michelle took full advantage, yanking position points from her recently unsuccessful campaign for Congress. It was little more than a stump speech snaked with snarkieness. "Unemployment is unfair ... folks with masters degrees are pounding the streets. Unemployment compensation is running out ...running out after several politically motivated extensions ! The deficit is soaring. Foreclosure rates rising ... and housing prices tanking. It simply isn't fair !" Michelle suddenly stood up and paraded around to the front of the anchor desk ...then sat on the desk, lissome legs provocatively posed.

The producers watching the monitors sensed immediately that the show was changing directions in a way that could become a direct threat to many of their jobs. Why pay for a reporter, field producer, fact checker audio man, videographer, remote truck and crew, for a scripted show, when you can pay just one person--the anchor babe--to rant on the air for fifteen minutes. Of course not just anyone could pull this off. This tour de force took the right, almost mystical, mojo. The talisman-the recently dyed ravishing red hair --eye candy for high definition--the bust line, legs AND the partisan resume. She was the only one of the stable of “talkers” who had readily strayed from objective news analyst to subjective opinion maker. Only a handful knew the bean counters in the background would eventually put financial pressure on the unsustainable expenses of a news-gathering operation. The real risk of course was whether the audience would accept the format changes and more importantly ... accept Michelle, red-hair and all. Mike Milano also knew that this was a game changer. No one noticed that he had retreated, turned off his office light, shuttered the windows and begun furiously shooting out emails. "Hello, everybody. Well it's time to send out the escape tapes. The madness has hit us ! We are at the bottom of the slippery slope. Remember, I warned everyone. Once they dropped the Fairness Doctrine and scaled back Equal Time in the 80's ... we would be on our way to oblivion. Well oblivion has arrived !" Milano buried his head in his hands and teared up. Yes, cried. This is a man who never cried. He wept quietly, no one heard him ... but he really didn't care.

His entire worldview flipped. He predicted what would happen next. He would challenge the changes, of course, but his arguments would fall on deaf ears. His bosses would roll their eyes, the marketing and programming people would pooh pooh his concerns, the correspondents and producers would not back him up because they were too busy to see the threat. The public would not really care because they felt journalists were elitist snobs anyway and laced with liberal bias. Truth would be called a lie ! A new mishmash of consultants and accountants would celebrate cost-benefit, cheap citizen journalists, and ignore the Amateurization of America. Milano cringed when management brought in that professor--the naif with, for the nonce, news experience-to consult--or was it to expound-- on the use of Public Journalism. Then it was that program director out of Washington, who preached that daily journalism was dead...that news should be more “analytical” and that reporter-intensive coverage strategies were boring and way too expensive... and, though incorrect, more damning ... “...doesn't build audience...doesn’t attract revenue.” Milano would not tell family, not even his wife, to avoid needless worry or to know that he was worried sick. He would quietly send out his resume and begin networking, But Milano knew it would be much tougher to find something at his age and he would be lucky to get a news jobs at half what he is making now. The first round of downsizing was bound to begin very soon ... maybe in less than a year, Milano had already heard about the slide in advertising revenue in virtually every medium. He had long ago looked on with concern as internet change swept, first the music business with Napster, then commercial radio with the shock jocks, the catastrophe that infected the newspaper industry as Clear Channel-clones

gobbled up and spit out hallowed newsrooms while Craigslist continued to burrow through the bedrock of the business model. Milano reporters had always lived with the luxury of obliviousness, their professional belief in the separation of marketing and media had blinded them to the importance of the business side which was, in fact, the underpinning of everything they could do in journalism. The journalists’ model of the “separation of church and state”, i.e., keeping business separate from news, had already begun to erode with the disturbing changes in the world’s best newsrooms at the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and the even worse events at the Chicago Tribune. Milano could even forecast the struggle of journalism schools as jobs in the industry vanished. The wire services would shrink. Aggregators armed with algorithms would take the place of original human sources, and lead to the kind of reliance on digital information gathering which one old FBI hand had said created the national security holes that sank the World Trade Center on 9/11. But perhaps what was most stunning to this old marine was the direct threat to the democracy he fought for as a soldier in the first Iraq war, and supported his work as a field producer during the second Iraq war. Now that the the shouters and doubters replaced the scientific approach to news gathering ... where would voters get credible information? Or would this new breed of balloters even care? The accuracy of information was under siege and histrionics had taken its place. The Shock Jocking of television broadcasting became so profitable, that the mainstream news media shifted its core...like tectonic plates rearranging the continents.

Mike Milano had pleaded with his professional associations to lobby for regulatory sanity over the internet so that it matched to the rules which radio, television, and newspapers had to labor under. Where were the libel laws, and the copyright protections that escorted intellectual property in every other medium? Now under a misreading of freedom of speech, people were allowed to yell fire in a theater... or even worse, build bombs on the internet, or incite attacks on the innocent. Milano labored under the weight of all this for fifteen minutes, then struggled to get himself together emotionally. Maybe it's time to consider retirement and let a younger breed rediscover sanity .... maybe even find a way to Refinance the First Amendment. Now back to the moment. Sharee can hear her God chuckling at all her public and even private plans...stuff no one at D-I-N knew about. Like the effort it took to relocate her secret son, find medical care, track down her wayward father, ferret out discrete addict support groups, haul all her stuff to the condo. It had taken all her savings, to buy the clothes she needed for the job, to pay for the trips to hospitals in Providence, Boston and Atlanta. It took even more emotional capital to reconnect with “Mom”. Professionally, Sharee also siphoned a lot of money out of her personal account to build a team of confidants. The blind mother in Providence who monitored emergency scanners, the grad students at Palisades College who did everything from fact-checking, to research, a stable of sources and informants-- out-of-pocket old school journalism was very expensive. All her planning, scheming and juggling... now coming to an abrupt halt !

Chapter Three--The Sucker Punch.

Sharee had heard of the Sucker Punch before.  Actually saw it in action in her first job out of college.  But she never thought it would happen to her, Nor did she know it could take your breath away like a shot to the kidneys or that it could recast the real world in a starkly pukish pallor.  She didn't know, as the H.R. flack prattles on, that the spoken word can become--suddenly-- abstruse. Time splits, diverges, veers away.  As if the three who know what has just happened are in a different dimension from the people outside in the newsroom --- who have no idea that their new star has just been fired.  "This can't be happening... wha..." Her mind muffles her mouth. Sharee quizzes the company reps, all variations of "why", with answers that bounce back curtly, that never vary from some predetermined script designed to dodge, evade ... and what's that big word, oh yeah, obfuscate.. “This simply can't be happening ! I was doing so well !” What was it Michaels told her when she got the original call from the network to come up as an August sub for a correspondent on vacation? "Be ready, you might be on the Jane Pauley fast track," her old college news director alerted her.  (Whenever one of his male former students seemed to be moving up the ladder he would use Peter Jennings as the example.  Both made their big network splash in their twenties.) 

Sharee certainly thought her career was taking off ... especially when she remembered moving up to the anchor job a month ago.  Was it just a month ago? Her mind continues to wander back. Milano had phoned her to come to his office back then. He was used to the brains and brilliance of everyone talented enough to make it to the network level, but still he was frequently ill-at-ease whenever he had to chat directly with Sharee Grant.  "Whew, what a day. What a Daayy !" He  stretched.  He always started with small talk, as if discussing his own managerial problems helped bolster his rank over subordinates, "... had to demote Ted.  Took him off weekend anchor and reassigned him to cover consumer safety stories. I told him over and over to get rid of that part in the middle of his head.”   “...with his pitch black hair, his white skin, looks like a bolt of lightning on the screen whenever he looks down at his copy to read !" Sharee froze.  Did he just make a funny?  Was he serious?   Why was he telling her this? Next came the kicker.   "You interested in the job?" Of course Sharee accepted, knowing this would invite more back-biting from the peanut gallery.  Summer subs simply don't move up to any full time news position this quickly let alone to an anchor job on a nationally syndicated show.  She had endured this before in Kansas City, when she moved up from floor director to main anchor in one year.  That was unheard of in a major market let alone in a career just one year out of college. 

She was certainly doing well for the first four months at the network.   Several of her stories made the A block of D-I-N...three even  got picked up by the nightly news shows.   Yeah, they had been great gets--bona-fide scoops.   She had used her old college journalism training to create her own beats.  Beats were frowned upon in this shop.  So on her own time, she would drive over to her three beats, including the federal courthouse in Providence,  during the lunch hours on Tuesdays.  It was during one of those stops that she happened to sit next to a young woman sitting on a bench outside courtroom 2A.  She was an ordinary looking but physically fit bottle blond wearing  casual but classy _________ blouse and slacks.   Sharee knew from her modeling days that this modest looking outfit was made of expensive material that must have placed it in the 500-hundred-dollar range. They chatted about fashion, hair dyeing and even exchanged phone numbers.   Sharee heard from her a few days later and   agreed to meet at Cafe Nordstrom at Providence Place for lunch and maybe a little window shopping.  "Yeah, I think I am going to grow my hair back to its natural color," Sharee toyed over a salad at the crowded eatery while  omitting the real reasons ... wouldn’t everyone be surprised if they really knew who she was. "I only went blonde because I thought it might get me a full time job at Daily Investigative News.  Then I stopped by Nordstroms to buy a couple of outfits for the new job ... I cleared out my savings and spent $5000." "My God !"  said Cindy, "What if you didn't get the full time gig?  I don't spend that kind of money on clothes in three years!  I'm always telling Frank not to buy me expensive stuff.  

He's always trying to get me jewelry.  Hey, I'm not that kind of girl." "Neither am I," Sharee looked away as a couple of suits have taken notice of her ... recognizing her from somewhere that they can't quite place.     Of course she rarely drops by this time of day.  She always marvels at how well-known people seemed to pop in every now and then. Clearly Sharee was becoming part of that club, the faces, after  rocketing from fill-in to probationer to weekend network anchor.  Not only that, but she is reconnecting with her father for the first time since she was a kid. He lives in a condo about 30 miles east, in New Bedford.   Mr. Gomes had left the family long ago and settled back in the area while  he had gone back to graduate school.  It's also where a large community of Cape Verdeans lived.  He finally felt at home after stops in the Cape Verde islands, Sierra Leone, London and Florida where he lived with Sharee's mom.   Sharee was feeling as good about the latest developments in her private and public life as Cindy felt bad about hers.    "They are forcing me to testify against Frank" Cindy whispered. Frank was her boyfriend, Frank Rocco, the much older cousin of  Nick "Bones"  Bonaro,  the reputed head of one of the last of Federal Hill's crime families.  That morning a federal grand jury had indicted Frank on ten counts of Medicare fraud.     Cindy must have had reason to fear for her life.  She was a vibrant 26 year old when Sharee had chatted with her before ... now she was mush, visibly aging from the stress. 

For some reason, she began spilling the beans to a reporter whom she'd just met... all about her love affair with the same guy she would have to testify against if she wanted to avoid a handful of fraud charges as an accomplice. Cindy is a licensed mental health therapist, who started her own practice when she had gotten tired of working her butt off for someone else, for little or nothing. It was around that time that she was introduced to an elderly businessman named Frankie, who had dealings with the Medicare system. He offered to finance her dreams while she managed the business side.  Seemed there was a potentially lucrative government push to incentivize women to own small businesses. They met over dinner several times during the next three months.  He was, despite his age, a very charming fellow.  At close to 70 he was still a very vigorous man and flush with money.  After dinner he would always have an after party at his condo.  A dozen or so people over to play cards, or sit around yak-king about how to save the world.   At any given point he would talk about the adventures of his past life ... his many travels ... his fears during military service and combat ... his time in Hollywood and the stars he brushed elbows with.   Once he reminisced about a dinner with five film stars of the one movie he had ever had a financial interest in.  They were nibbling at a fancy restaurant in Italy.  He ticked off the names of the stars sitting around the table ... each one of them in the process of becoming a legend.   Frank told stories in that august gathering in his typical expansive ways ... his arms flailing about ...inevitably leading to a clever, even thrilling, climax. One was so stirring ... that he had to jump up .... his napkin detached and dropped from under his chin ... both arms

frozen in a victory pose, to punctuate the punch line ... when he looked down and realized that his fly was open.   Well, you had to be there but it was much funnier when he told the story.   Cindy was taken with all this.  They worked closely on establishing her business.  He had a way of attracting angel investors while she recruited the staff, leased a building near a cluster of prominent medical practices and applied to be on the referral list for various health insurance plans. Like all small businesses ... it struggled during the first year.   Frankie advised her to hire a marketing and development person to help drum up business, and recommended a woman who had contacts with area medical clinics.   Suddenly, patients started rolling in and the  medicare applications for reimbursements began to clog up the process ... so they had to hire a medical records person to handle the workload.  Frankie had run across these new employees in his previous businesses.   Three years into the effort, the money began to flow in, so much so, that Cindy observed a change in the lifestyle of some of the new people on staff.  While she continued to wear the middle-class clothing of a typical licensed mental health therapist ... she noticed the new hires began coming to work dressed to the nines.  She became suspicious when the medical records person drove up in a BMW.   But business was so good, that Cindy and Frankie opened up another clinic in town thirty miles away ... then another ...and another.  Pretty soon they had ten clinics in the region ... yet, the patients and the money kept pouring in.  

At this point in Cindy's story, the distressed young woman gave Sharee a disk.   "Please hold on to this.  It's the only thing I didn't hand over to the federal prosecutors." She whispered,"It's an off-thebooks record that we began to keep, detailing our actual costs in providing mental health therapies,  and the changes we made to requests for Medicare reimbursements for drugs, and physician care." Cindy then admitted that she had become so overwhelmed with the explosive growth of their business, that she had begun to take shortcuts to handle the massive load of paperwork, signing off on patients to whom the practice had given little or no medical care. Some were referrals of people so mentally debilitated, that it wasn't possible for them to understand what a therapist was talking about.  

Next week, Cindy was dead ... from "natural causes"

Needless to say, she didn't have to testify and eventually the case against Frank was dismissed, as other elements in the case collapsed.   Sharee had enough stuff from Cindy to piece together an exclusive! Actually, that was only one of fifty stories  Sharee was working on when Mono Mike called her to his office to offer her the weekend anchor position.   That, and the anchor job, convinced everyone in the newsroom that her career was on the fastest of tracks.   Oddly enough, many of the stories had to do with the hiring and firing practices of major companies.  How the public made that leap from the Rocco story was beyond her, but she became fascinated with the under-covered angle of discrimination in the work place.  

But neither Mike nor the rest of the staff knew about the other major story she was working on.  The one generated from an innocuous conversation at the Shawmut Diner.   The story that led to the White House and the War. As for Sharee's own job prospects, as good as things seemed to be going, there were certainly red flags.  For example that day when Mono Mike called her into the office a few weeks ago.   "Human Resources wants to talk to you about something.   Get on down there and get back for the daily news meeting" The Human Resources office was on another floor, down where the business office and sales departments were.   Sharee got lost several times trekking through the warren.   "We were wondering why you applied to go to the National Black Journalist Convention in Detroit.  We have a couple of other folks who wanted to go, but we can only afford to send two.   The Human Resources Director was more than curious.  Why was this young and attractive, yet obviously white, reporter wanting to go to this type of  meeting.  The executive sized her up.  Tall, stylish, professionally dressed.  Paler than snow, with muted red lipstick and bright blonde hair.  Maybe she wants to cover the event for a story, he thought.  Sharee stared back for several uncomfortable moments, then reached into her purse and pulled out a photo.  She looked at the HR director again then dropped her professional demeanor and smiled sheepishly...saying quietly" "This is my father," she said haltingly,  "My biological father"  The network executive registered a look of silent astonishment ! 

"His name is Galen.  Dr. G.A.E.T Gomes to be exact. PhD in Nuclear Physics.  He was born in Sierra Leone but grew up in the Cape Verde islands"

All the executive saw was the dark face ... he blanched.  He could not reconcile the black face in the photo with the image of the very white-looking young reporter standing there in front of him.   The session ended.  He said he would give her application due consideration. Later that week, Sharee decided to go back to her natural hair color ... as if it was important to return to her "roots."  So here's the replay:  three weeks later Sharee is summoned to the news director's office. Photos of Mono Mike’s family, posed shots with big shots, ornate certificates, littered on the one shelf above his cluttered desk. Surprisingly Mono Mike is there, but so are two other people.  The director of Human Resources and his assistant, an older woman who never speaks.  Just nods and listens.  "Ms. Grant you have completed your six month probationary period.  Unfortunately, we have decided not to offer you full time employment here"

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