I confess: the first time I saw Rick Sanchez on TV, I thought he was brilliant.
Of course, at the time, I thought he was a new addition to Saturday Night Live, and that I was watching a brutal caricature of the personality-centric, vapid, faux-intimate performances that now characterize too much of cable TV news. He just did it so well--the easy switch from the chuckling exchange with an on-set colleague to the serious, I-care-about-you! look into the camera when he was discussing a serious news development. And “Rick’s List”--how could that be anything other than a parody of the self-centeredness of a news anchor?
Oh, but it was real. It was real when Sanchez rushed to the linguistic rescue, translating Spanish-language comments into English for us on air, as though there was no time for someone to do the voice-over. Yes, it’s great he speaks another language, and more Americans should. But he sounded as though he were single-handedly cracking al Qaeda’s secret codes.
It was real when Sanchez asked a guest what nine meters was “in English.” (Actually, the English do define length in meters. Maybe he should have translated “meter” to Spanish, to show how worldly and sophisticated he is.)
And it was real when Sanchez reported on the very serious, environmentally- and commercially-disrupting eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, the volcano in Iceland. Forget about all the flights that were grounded because of danger from the volcanic ash--Sanchez just couldn’t believe it could happen there. When one thinks of volcanoes, “you don’t think of Iceland. It’s too cold to have a volcano there,” Sanchez opined.
Now Sanchez is out of a job--not for embarrassing displays as a news anchor that insult the intelligence of such solid CNN colleagues as Candy Crowley, Dana Bash, and Nic Robertson--but for calling fake newscaster Jon Stewart a “bigot” and suggesting that Jews like Stewart don’t face discrimination. Further, Sanchez complained on satellite radio, East Coast elitists look down on Latinos such as himself.
The problem isn’t that news executives belittled Sanchez because he’s Cuban-American. It’s that they didn’t belittle him--and keep him out of the anchor’s chair--for the right reasons: He wasn’t very good. Networks (and to some sad degree, print media) have become so caught up in “branding” reporters that they forgot the more important truth. Anchors report the news; they are not supposed to be the news, or overshadow the news with their personality or musings. Walter Cronkite didn’t have “Wally’s List,” and he didn’t start out reports on the Vietnam War by chummily saying, “You’re not going to believe this!” He just reported the news. And while it’s good that more anchors’ faces are female or African-American or Hispanic, the job description should be the same. Even Stewart, who doesn’t present himself as a straight newscaster, does Sanchez’s job better.