Monday, July 21, 2008

Back to You, Part II

In early June, we noted the latest chapter in Philadelphia's sordid TV news scandal. It began almost a year ago, when KYW-TV anchor Alycia Lane e-mailed some bikini shots (and saucy comments) to her "good friend," NFL Network host Rich Eisen.

Unfortunately for Ms. Lane, the exchanges fell in the hands of Mrs. Eisen, better known as TV sportscaster Suzy Shuster. When the e-mails were subsequently leaked to the New York Post (and other media outlets), Lane became a laughingstock. When she was later accused of striking a New York cop, Channel 3 dumped Alycia Lane.

But the question of who leaked her e-mails remained unanswered, until a couple of months ago. That's when the feds announced that Lane's former co-anchor, Larry Mendte, was under investigation for illegally accessing her e-mail account and (presumably) forwarding them to his friends in the media. As we noted at the time, the revelation was particularly stunning. Mendte and Lane had worked together for several years, helping lift KYW out of the ratings cellar.

But for more than two years, Mendte routinely accessed his co-worker's e-mails, from his Philadelphia home, his vacation home, the TV station and a fourth, undisclosed location. Monday, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Philly announced that Mr. Mendte will be charged with one felony count of accessing e-mail without authorization.

Mendte, who was fired by KYW last month, is expected to plead guilty to the charge. He could be sentenced to up to six months in prison, under federal sentencing guidelines.

Investigators say Mendte installed a small device on Lane's computer keyboard, allowing him to capture the passwords to her e-mail accounts. With that information, the former news anchor accessed his co-workers e-mail hundreds of times over a two-year period. The last intrusion reportedly occurred in late May, just three days before authorities raided Mendte's home and confiscated his computer.

According to the feds, Mendte and the e-mails were the primary source for stories about Lane that appeared in the Philadelphia Daily News, written by gossip columnist Dan Gross. The columnist was not named in the complaint, and he was not interviewed by the FBI.

Meanwhile, Ms. Lane is pursuing a wrongful termination suit against CBS, which owns KYW-TV. Revelations about Mendte and his spying have given her case a boost, and caused more headaches for her former employers. Lane's attorneys claim that Mendte set out to "destroy" his former co-anchor, after she signed a new contract with the station. By some accounts, Mendte and Lane commanded annual salaries of more than $700,000 each.

Ms. Lane's career, in tatters just six months ago, is showing signs of revival. Many observers believe she will win her case against CBS, or force the company into an expensive settlement. And, recent revelations about Mendte's spying have now cast Ms. Lane as a victim; her "homewrecker" status of last summer is all-but-forgotten. Despite her bone-headed "bikini photo" stunt, look for Alycia Lane to land on her feet, and with a fatter bank account to boot.

As for Mr. Mendte, his reputation and career have been destroyed. Luckily for the disgraced newsman, he's married to another successful anchor, Dawn Stensland, who works for Philadelphia's Fox affiliate. Ms. Stensland also enjoys a six-figure annual income. That should allow Mr. Mendte to enjoy a comfortable retirement--after he gets out of the slammer.

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