Thursday, March 15, 2007

Idiot of the Week

It's been a while since we bestowed an "Idiot of the Week" award, but that doesn't reflect a shortage of worthy candidates. Unfortunately, this blog has focused on more pressing issues in recent weeks, denying that moment in the sun for deserving nitwits.

Happily, both the timing and candidate are perfect for our latest award of "Idiot of the Week" honors. If you live in the New York City area, you've already seen our recipient. His name is Steve Bartelstein, and until recently, he was one of anchors for the morning newscast on WABC-TV. It's a job that paid extremely well (in the mid-six figures, by some accounts), and required little in return, other than being able to read well from a teleprompter, look nice on camera, and interact with the other anchors on the set.

We note those qualifications because Mr. Bartelstein didn't exactly have impressive journalistic credentials prior to his assignment at WABC. Before arriving in New York, he was a sports anchor at CNN Headline News, delivering five-minute updates during network newscasts. As we recall, Bartelstein never covered hard news at CNN--and we're guessing that someone else wrote his sports copy --but that didn't matter. WABC liked what they saw, brought Bartelstein to the Big Apple to anchor their morning show, alongside former MSNBC anchor Lorie Stokes and meterologist Bill Evans.

Apparently, New Yorkers liked him too, because WABC's early morning newscast consistently topped the local ratings in recent years. Morning news is an increasingly important time slot for local stations, and Bartelstein's performance helped boost WABC's bottom line. As for Mr. Bartelstein, no one was suggesting that he fill in for Charlie Gibson, but he did receive a new contract last summer, and he was certainly aware that local morning shows have been the springboard for other network anchors, including NBC's Matt Lauer.

But somewhere on the road to TV super-stardom, Mr. Bartelstein developed some habits that didn't exactly endear him to station management, or the corporate suits at Disney. A sexual harrassment suit was filed against him (and later withdrawn). In 2005, he was suspended for two weeks after showing up late for work, and missing a local newsbreak. Last November, he did the same thing, reportedly missing another newsbreak so he could meet actor Samuel L. Jackson, who was appearing on Live with Regis and Kelly, a program which also airs from the WABC broadcast center.

Last Thursday, Bartelstein hit the no-show trifecta, sleeping through a scheduled update on that tragic Brox housefire that killed nine people. The anchor was apparently asleep in his office when he was supposed to be in front of the camera. After that, WABC decided enough was enough, and gave Bartelstein the boot.

For a confounding inability to show up on time--and blowing a truly sweet broadcasting gig--Steve Bartelstein is a genuinely worthy "Idiot of the Week." We wish him well, noting that with more time on his hands, Mr. Bartelstein can (presumably) catch up on his sleep, and find more opportunities to chat up celebrities.

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