When Boozecasters Make the News
Speculation on Diane Sawyer's election night "drunkenness" ran high—but it's nothing new. Talking heads have a long history of slurring their way into our living rooms.
Was ABC's Diane Sawyer drunk on election night? Unsurprisingly, her reps say no. “Diane’s fine, she’s exhausted,” said a spokesperson. “Diane's been up for days and she's had many sleepless nights. She was covering the hurricane and then preparing for the election broadcast.” Reasonable explanation, though "exhausted" is often a PR code for snoggered. Fix readers took a snap poll and were highly skeptical—with 59% deeming that the anchor was indeed under the influence. Whatever the cause, her slurred request for ABC's election theme song when President “Orama” won Minnesota has earned Sawyer an eternal spot in the pantheon of (alleged) boozecasters.
Local reporter Annie Stensrud put Mankato, Minnesota, on the map in late 2011, when a video of her slurring her way through an entire newscast went viral. She starts off strongly, but after barely maintaining composure through the weather forecast, her speech degenerates into a slow-mo stutter. “Other events today included holiday card-making, tree lighting and Play-Doh for the kids it, all aimed at to get decrease people to Christmas spirit there [sic],” she reports. Was she really drunk? Who knows? That she was arrested for DUI just a few weeks afterward the notorious newscast, Stensrud said her stuttering was in fact a result of the anti-anxiety meds she was taking. And the DUI? She was driven to drink because her infamous newscast had been laughed at as far away as Germany, she claimed.
Meteorologist Walter Kelly was in a sunny mood during this freeform jazz odyssey of a seven-day forecast in 2009. He rambles on about how impressive the weather is, describing people enjoying a pleasant Memorial Day as “happy, slap-happy zombies” who are ecstatic about “the whole thing, meat and potatoes, you know, that time when you were out camping?” With his dance moves and use of “woooh” as punctuation, many have found it hard to believe he could have this much fun without a little help.
Broadcasters' ability to flip into on-camera mode is legend—but we rarely see the transformation take place unless someone screws up. Like in this 2009 broadcast. One station cut a few seconds too early from its anchors' somber summary of the death of a rookie cop to reporter Scott McKane. Viewers are treated to him saying, in a wistful Clint Eastwood manner, “...got an ice-cold cerveza.” He then flips into "sober" mode to give his report.
When the video of Serene Branson's totally incoherent live coverage of the 2011 Grammys went viral, some netizens made drunk jokes, others made blonde jokes. Even more were horrified that people were laughing at a possible stroke victim. “Well a berry very heaveh ah heavy do it birdtation tonight,” says Branson, with perfect reporter cadence. “We had a very dares darrison bite'n'let's go hit terish tazen mushfulabit the head the pit.” Happily, it wasn't a stroke, but a special type of hereditary “complex migraine”—according to Branson's doctor. She was accepted back into the CBS fold, where she still works today.
Jessica Savitch had a reputation for being highly-strung, beautiful, ambitious—and having a nose for drugs. Some said it was cocaine, others codeine—still others thought that she just got high on the pressures of her job. And her success was hard-won: "First I got hit with 'You can't have the job because you're a woman,'" Savitch said. "Then I got hit with 'You only got the job because you're a woman.'" Watching her final broadcast before a car accident caused her death from drowning in 1983, it's hard not to suspect that she was on something. Her incoherent reporting clashes bizarrely with her clear, practiced enunciation. Unconfirmed as it is, it's still a sad reminder that while intoxication can amuse, it can also be deadly serious. Savitch's trailblazing legacy includes, among other things, inspiring Will Ferrel's Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy.
Bryan Le is a Staff Writer for The Fix.