Tuesday, October 05, 2010

I, Sanchez

The last time I worked with Rick Sanchez, during a fill-in stint he did on American Morning, he stood next to my desk for a few minutes and groused about the way CNN covered news. Not so much the stories it chose to pursue as what he felt was the needlessly byzantine series of standards and regulations at the network which, in his mind, was solely the product of institutional arrogance.

"Look at some of these people," he said, scanning the newsroom. "They take this stuff so fucking seriously -- like we're doing brain surgery or something." He then grabbed his crotch through his suit pants, flashed a wide smile and said, "This is what I think of that, you know?"

That was Rick all the way: brash, cocky, impulsive, occasionally crude as hell, with almost no knack for subtlety or concern for the trivialities of decorum. The proverbial bull in the china shop. Maybe that's why when I learned on Friday that he'd been fired for a couple of admittedly ill-advised comments he'd made during a radio interview, I couldn't exactly react with surprise -- not considering all I know about Sanchez after having worked with him on and off for the better part of the last two decades.

Let me go ahead and just get something out of the way right now. Regardless of the fact that I consider Rick Sanchez a friend and I've actually developed something of a fondness and appreciation for the qualities in him that others find so polarizing, this doesn't mean I'm going to blindly rush to his defense. That's not how it works, particularly when something he does creates a minor media shit-storm and therefore deserves to be evaluated as dispassionately as possible. That being said, I do think that while Sanchez's comments were, in keeping with tradition, breathtakingly artless and impertinent, he didn't say anything that he deserved to lose his job over. And I'd be making this statement even if I didn't know full well that what was going through Sanchez's mind at the time wasn't quite as inflammatory as what was coming out of his mouth. Once again, nuance has never been one of Rick's strengths.

By now you're probably well aware of what Sanchez said on Pete Dominick's radio show last Thursday that brought down the wrath of the network suits and officially ended his career at CNN just 24 hours later. No, contrary to the headlines that screamed from every direction -- the kind of incendiary reductionism that guarantees ratings or page views -- Sanchez didn't in fact shout that the Jews control the media. He absolutely called Jon Stewart a bigot -- an admittedly silly claim, likely based on nothing more than Sanchez's own hurt feelings -- and he certainly said that the people who run the television industry are "a lot like Stewart," but when you're talking about a fireable offense it's probably a good idea to take into account the fact that one or two words, even the way in which something was said, can change the entire meaning of what was said. Sanchez sarcastically implied that Stewart isn't a minority in the way that Sanchez himself supposedly is, and that the upper echelon of CNN and the TV business in general bears more of a resemblance to the Daily Show host -- white, liberal, "elitist" and, yes, Jewish -- than it does to a guy like Rick Sanchez.

And the resentment that oozes from every word of a statement like that speaks volumes about the motivation behind Sanchez's decision to say it in the first place.

Rick Sanchez has always viewed his rise to fame in almost mythic terms. He sees himself as the classic tough immigrant kid from the streets who defied the odds, took a whole lot of knocks, suffered through plenty of triumphs and traumas -- the latter, as it turns out, often self-inflicted -- and yet still stands tall. The guy they just can't keep down. You really can picture Sanchez on a stage somewhere, a tear running down his cheek as he belts out a karaoke version of My Way. Anyone who knows Sanchez understands that his resilience -- what his many detractors would likely refer to as cockroach-like -- is a major point of pride for him. This is a guy, after all, who infamously managed to get away with hitting and killing someone back in the early 90s while driving legally drunk; if talking your way out of something like that doesn't leave you thinking you're superhumanly charmed, nothing will.

The problem, of course, is that Sanchez has always been viewed as a lot of flash and bombast with no real substance. As a local anchor, he was brilliant -- really, the best I've ever seen. That's because he understood that television on the whole was largely bullshit and that local news -- particularly the kind done so well at WSVN in Miami -- was just a lot of superficial dazzle. He figured if you could talk and talk well, what you were saying wouldn't really matter. He deserves credit for what one producer we used to work with together jokingly called his unique ability to "demystify television." Given that WSVN was one of the first stations in the country to pull back the curtain and let viewers see the inner workings of its news operation -- and it was way ahead of the curve on this, doing a form of transparent media more than a decade before the digital revolution made that sort of thing absolutely essential for an outlet's survival -- Sanchez's eventual helming of a show that revolved around Twitter seems like destiny. Social networking fed the two qualities that were most undeniable in Sanchez: his ability to interact with viewers in a personal and off-the-cuff fashion and, of course, his inarguably impressive ego. There's no denying that he loved the notion that anybody could now be a journalist and that you didn't need the erstwhile kingmakers in the editorial adminisphere to tell you what was and wasn't news anymore; considering his background and his own self-mythology, this makes perfect sense.

Unfortunately for him and his crotch-grabbing indignation, the people at CNN did take the news very seriously, and while Sanchez's charm offensive had won him quite a few friends and admirers -- say what you will about Rick, he's a disarmingly nice guy -- there were also plenty of people at the network who felt like his shtick somehow sullied CNN's hallowed reputation. My attitude was always that when it came to fucking up the good name of the brand, Rick Sanchez was really the last thing CNN should've been worrying about; in fact, I actually considered Sanchez a bit of a breath of fresh air -- when taken in relatively small doses -- given that at least he understood that what we were doing wasn't the gold standard, capital-J journalism the network's promotion department would have the audience believe anyway. Apparently Jon Klein, the man who was largely responsible for CNN's well-documented slide from serious to ridiculous, also fell under the spell of Sanchez's wide-eyed enthusiasm, inexhaustible energy and complete lack of respect for the traditional way of doing things, figuring they were just what was needed to shake things up at stodgy old CNN. The trouble was a lot of people eventually saw Rick Sanchez as the personification of every embarrassing thing Klein was doing to the once-revered network; the fact that Sanchez himself willfully thumbed his nose at the elitist ethos plastered into the walls at a place like CNN didn't help matters.

Whenever anyone asks me what Rick Sanchez is like -- and it's a testament to the man's somewhat legendary status that I've been asked this an astonishing number of times -- I always say one thing: He's the easiest guy to work with I've ever met. Unlike a lot of other television personalities who straddle that insufferable line between narcissism and insecurity -- they believe the world revolves around them but they desperately need you to believe it, too -- Rick's ego has always been bulletproof, and it's counterintuitively made him a breeze to be around because he has nothing to prove. In his mind, he's 100% sure he's the shit and therefore he doesn't need you to remind him.

At least that's the way it used to be.

I think if you're looking for the seed that eventually blossomed into Sanchez's spectacular, albeit inadvertent, meltdown, it was this: something finally got to him. After years of wielding his confidence like a weapon and wearing the ridicule of his critics like a badge of honor, because he believed that any publicity was good publicity, he Peter Principled out -- if not by actually reaching his personal level of incompetence then by reaching a level at which a lot of other people thought he was incompetent. And in the savage Thunderdome that is today's media landscape, the mockery that can be heaped on you from every direction -- from those beneath you, beside you and far above you on the professional and cultural ladder -- can wither even those with the thickest of skin. Sanchez had become the personal punching bag of the host and writers of one of the most brilliantly acerbic -- and, more stingingly, most respected -- "news" outlets on television: The Daily Show. This was a show with tremendous cultural cachet -- and it had declared that Rick Sanchez was a fucking moron. A laughingstock.

If the criticism had only been coming from outside the four walls of CNN, chances are Sanchez could have shrugged off Stewart's taunts. But all it takes is a quick examination of what may be the most revealing part of the Pete Dominick interview to see that Sanchez felt that he wasn't getting any respect from the network brass either. Whether it truly is related solely to CNN's decision to put the new Eliot Spitzer-Kathleen Parker vehicle in the eight o'clock time slot rather than give it to Sanchez -- who filled in following the demise of Campbell Brown's show -- is anyone's guess. But Sanchez's comment that the "elite, Northeast establishment liberals" look at him and see "a guy who automatically belongs in the second tier" wasn't aimed at anyone but the bosses he felt were underestimating him, and it spelled out literally where he figured they saw him in the hierarchy of CNN talent. Unfortunately, though not surprisingly, Sanchez melodramatically played the Hispanic Immigrant, Steerage-Class card as the reason he wasn't a made man instead of considering the fact that he had a bad habit of making a boob out of himself on national television.

So with that in mind, when Jon Klein, Rick Sanchez's personal de Medici family at CNN, finally got shown the door two weeks ago, the clock may very well have begun ticking on the career of the man Klein even took the time to laud in his goodbye message to the newsroom. Maybe Ken Jautz and the new management were just looking for an excuse to get rid of him and, never one to disappoint, Sanchez slapped a giant banana cream pie of an excuse right in their faces. When you consider recent history, there's simply no way CNN wouldn't be willing to overlook Sanchez's minor transgression if he were somebody the network felt it couldn't live without. Need I remind anyone that Richard Quest was arrested a couple of years back with crystal meth in his pocket, a dildo in his boot and a rope tied around his balls and yet you can still catch him every afternoon pulling double duty on CNN and CNNi. Obviously it takes a lot to fuck your credibility beyond repair at CNN -- although it's certainly true that the last high-profile CNN dismissal was Octavia Nasr who, coincidentally, was also let go for making a comment that some claimed was anti-Israel.

The sad thing, though, is that whatever your opinion of Rick Sanchez, the speed and ease with which he was dumped may very well prove that the resentments he wore so brazenly on his sleeve last week weren't entirely unfounded. Maybe he was right. Maybe he never really was accepted at CNN, or by the pretentious media establishment in general.

I'd say that I almost feel sorry for him, because in spite of all the occasionally cringe-inducing quirks that make Rick Rick, I can't help but really like the guy. I'd say that, but I don't need to because I already know he's going to be fine.

Trust me, if history is any indication, you haven't seen the last of Rick Sanchez.

He'll have the last laugh. He always does.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for breaking that down a bit more. It's really informative to get a thoughtful perspective from someone who knows the business.

lisa said...

Tough but fair. I always got the impression Sanchez is a really good guy underneath all the showboating.

Tracer Bullet said...

Considering the things it is now perfectly acceptable for presumably respectable people to say about the president and his children, I'm sure Sanchez felt confident that he'd have to literally rape a child on-air to get fired.

A Bowl Of Stupid said...

As a local anchor, he was brilliant -- really, the best I've ever seen.

Sorry brudduh, but I'm calling bullshit -- that ain't exactly the way I heard it told.

While I find it admirable that you're sticking up for your mate (of sorts), your audience shouldn't be disillusioned into thinking that's how this ego-maniacal jackass is viewed by everyone in the industry.

Personally, I find it refreshing when I hear of these little gems where karma finally works it's magic.

Chez said...

No offense, but you know nothing about the way the television business works. You may not have liked him personally, as a viewer, but I've worked with a hell of a lot of anchors in my time and his command of a broadcast is just outstanding. He's very, very good at what he does -- at the local level at least.

Capt Clown said...

Wow. Your analysis here is about 10 times better than anything else I've read about it, and I've read a lot. Fantastic job.

Here are the 3 key points:

"I actually considered Sanchez a bit of a breath of fresh air -- when taken in relatively small doses"

"He Peter Principled out"

"...played the Hispanic Immigrant, Steerage-Class card as the reason he wasn't a made man instead of considering the fact that he had a bad habit of making a boob out of himself on national television."

And regarding that last quote: If he didn't have the superman confidence created from a lack of self-awareness of his faults (which lead to his downfall), he wouldn't have become as successful as he was in the first place.

Al said...

I'm pretty it wouldn't have been My Way, but rather Larry Graham's hit One In A Million You. ;)

/whatever happened to Neil Rogers?

CNNfan said...

Disclaimer: I am definitely not trying to defend controversial generalizations made about any group by anyone, nor question any employer's decision, nor otherwise offend any individual in any way, shape or form for any reason. I am only trying to open a dialog to discuss the next phase which is forgivability.

If you completely agree then you may continue reading, else you must immediately stop reading these comments now and never return to read these comments again.

What Chez said about Rick, "He absolutely called Jon Stewart a bigot " is not well grounded in logic.

Strictly for the sake of conversation about forgivability which eventually has to come. Technically... No, Rick didn't actually call Jon Stewart a bigot. What he actually said was, "I think Jon Stewart is a bigot." Even setting aside the comedy element and that Rick took back and has since apologized for the word "bigot" which he said he thought. Logically, supposition is not truth. For example using the same logic, if Rick said, "I think Jon Stewart is a trillionaire." the fact that he said he thought it, would not make it true, regardless of how controversial it is to say or joke about.

Another big factor to consider on the forgivability scale is the fact that the radio comedian trapped Rick with leading questions containing the objectionable material about jews, which the hostile comedian, or group of comedians INTRODUCED, and were looking for, and therefore share responsibility. At least Rick objected to the introduction of this objectionable material. Unfortunately it came after the unanswerable leading question trap snapped shut.

Chez said...

You hit it on the head, Capt -- as well as spelling out quite a few major success stories of our time: he has no self-awareness when it comes to his faults but a lot of confidence in his abilities.

Randy said...

All I can say is... "Do you know who I am?"

toastie said...

I was going to say, "But he seems to have no self-awareness". Do you think that the fallout from this, or anything, will ever give him that? Ironically, it seems like Elliot Spitzer's acute self-awareness helped make him a palatable choice as an on-air personality following his personal and professional trainwreck. And that he's a Jew. :D

Michael J. West said...

One of the best pieces you've ever written - on DXM, anyway.

So, Chez, have you spoken to Sanchez, or tried to, since this whole mess?

SouthFL gal said...

Am South FL native. Watched Rick on local tv for yrs. Most here were happy to see him go as his brash opinionated style was even too much for Ch 7's salacious news. To see him on CNN got us thinking Rick must have matured, got refined and possibly took on a more serious and credible mantra to boost him to national spotlight. Unfortunately his Tiger stripes are still evident. I agree with you when you say if CNN felt he was indispensable to them, they'd find a way to keep him. He just gave them the hook on which to hang their bye bye hat.

Maryalice said...

Awww Rick, gonna really miss you.

Thomas B said...

I've always liked Rick. I found him to be never less than entertaining, and his little bouts of numbskullery were always impressive.

My favorite was when he marveled at the Icelandic volcano, musing on air that he thought it was too cold in Iceland for there to be a volcano there! Even President Obama had to give him a ribbing for that one. Maybe Obama and the Daily Show both giving him shit threw him over the edge?

Great writing as always, Chez. I think this is one of my favorite pieces of yours. Looking forward to reading Dead Star Twilight tonight on my long-ass flight! Hope you're well - cheers mate.

Anonymous said...

I agree with most above: thanks for putting it in larger

I always liked Rick, too.
Thought it way too quick to fire him. The guy you wrote of is sort of how I figured he would be, on a more personal level.
Ive known peeps with similar qualities and always found them entertaining, in the least. Ill miss Rick.

I hope he doesnt go to faux.
I think that would be a big mistake.
thx chez.


djesno said...

never eat spinach with a stranger!

Alanna said...

CNN is the most finicky bitch in the whole damned world.

Keep the Holograms, kids. Give Spitzer a fucking prime time show. "What are you...a politician?"

Feel badly for Rick. But you know how it goes. "Let my People Go" mentality is the baby blanket most Jews hold near and dear. Read the line to a most important Passover hymn "Dayenu":

"it would have been enough for us"

The song is essentially explaining that all things that Jews were allowed to own and behold and experience after the mass exodus from Egypt "would suffice" as justification of their worthiness of God's love and gifts from Him. And if they had only received one such "gift", it would be have been enough.

Just extrapolate this theory 10x over to those who control media outlets today.


I rest my case (and disclaimer: I'm a Jew.)

darryl said...

I do not agree with or condone the comments Rick made and I have read the multitude of comments/reports since his firing.
I have to say I was surprised when I read this. I hope you won't take this the wrong way-- I was surprised that this is one of the fairest assessments of him. Not that I think you can't be fair. Just unexpected due to the easy chance to take a shot at him.
Rick polarizes people in front and behind the camera. I believe part is unintentional and part is done knowingly .
Rick is the king of "recreating" himself and I believe you are absolutely correct that he will return in yet another perhaps larger version of himself in tv.
The religious implications to what he said are sad and now I read how some people he offended are using it to imply his voice is the belief of most Cuban-Americans, which us sad and wrong.

michael santomauro said...

What happened to Oliver Stone is a good case study. The Wall Street Journal reported this past summer that Stone said that “public opinion was focused on the Holocaust because of ‘Jewish domination of the media.’” Stone also said that the Jews “stay on top of every comment, the most powerful lobby in Washington. Israel has f—– up United States foreign policy for years.”

Like so many others before him, Stone groveled: “In trying to make a broader historical point about the range of atrocities the Germans committed against many people, I made a clumsy association about the Holocaust, for which I am sorry and I regret. Jews obviously do not control media or any other industry.”

How Jewish is Hollywood? That’s the question Los Angeles Times columnist Joel Stein asked two years ago just before Christmas. In answer, he wrote:

“When the studio chiefs took out a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times a few weeks ago to demand that the Screen Actors Guild settle its contract, the open letter was signed by: News Corp. President Peter Chernin (Jewish), Paramount Pictures Chairman Brad Grey (Jewish), Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Robert Iger (Jewish), Sony Pictures Chairman Michael Lynton (surprise, Dutch Jew), Warner Bros. Chairman Barry Meyer (Jewish), CBS Corp. Chief Executive Leslie Moonves (so Jewish his great uncle was the first prime minister of Israel), MGM Chairman Harry Sloan (Jewish) and NBC Universal Chief Executive Jeff Zucker (mega-Jewish). If either of the Weinstein brothers had signed, this group would have not only the power to shut down all film production but to form a minyan with enough Fiji water on hand to fill a mikvah.”

Needless to say, Stein was not fired for writing this, nor was he rebuked in the least. As we have seen time and again, there is a glaring double standard about alluding to Jewish power in the media. Jews are free to reference it, but woe unto the non-Jew who wades into those shark-infested waters.

Joe Sobran who died this past week had this to say about Jewish media power:

“Jewish control of the major media in the media age makes the enforced silence both paradoxical and paralyzing. Survival in public life requires that you know all about it, but never refer to it. A hypocritical etiquette forces us to pretend that the Jews are powerless victims; and if you don’t respect their victimhood, they’ll destroy you. It’s a phenomenal display not of wickedness, really, but of fierce ethnocentrism, a sort of furtive racial superpatriotism.”

In 1996, reprinted in the May 27th issue of the New York Times, by Ari Shavit, an Israeli columnist describing his feelings on the killings of a hundred civilians in a military skirmish in southern Lebanon. Shavit wrote, “We killed them out of a certain naive hubris. Believing with absolute certitude that now, with the White House, the Senate, and much of the American media in our hands, the lives of others do not count as much as our own.”

Michael Santomauro

Aaron B. Brown said...

I just read this over at the Huffington Post, kick ass piece on Ricardo (Rick) Sanchez, Chez. As you know, I grew up in South Florida watching Rick on Channel 7 because it was the best produced show on the air and Rick has personality as well as being a real character. And I think the guys character is evident as well, he's hard not to like. I hated WSVN with a burning passion, they were Fox news before there was a Fox news, but I watched the station because when push came to shove, you knew you'd get a fair shake from Rick most of the time.

In the world of television and media Rick is something of a samurai, preferring to charge in headlong, lopping heads as he goes. Kind of an endearing quality in a business populated by the calculating ninja types who usually employ the knife to the back in the dark technique. In that atmosphere Ricky was and is a refreshing change of pace, and rather morally superior in my book if I may say so. But I never knew the guy personally, that's just the impression I got from watching him for 30 some odd years, and hearing various stories around the Dade Broward area.

I was delighted when he got a show on CNN, I had pretty much stopped watching the network altogether aside from breaking news until Rick's List came along. I was happy when it started showing up in prime time recently. I don't know the numbers but I imagine Rick's ratings were pretty good for them to do that, putting him up against Olbermann. This caused me to switch back and forth between networks and I think MSNBC needed some competition.

Of course when I heard about the shakeup at CNN, and then he had what for him was a rather minor meltdown, I figured Rick realized he was about to get fucked, and Ricky never waits for anyone to fuck him, erstwhile-like he always fucks himself first, beating them to the punch. And a few days before this all blew up Rick actually mentioned leaving the network in an example he used talking about Lebron James, which I thought was rather odd. Obviously he knew he was out after Klein left.

So now there's nothing worth watching on CNN, aside from bland Anderson Cooper and even blander Wolf Blitzer. Maybe if Anderson came out of the closet and started wearing a tutu on air, I'd start watching him regularly again. =)

I'm sure Rick will get a job somewhere, I hear he's already getting offers from Al Jazeera haha but if he goes to Fox our love affair will be over, I refuse to watch a rat fucking propaganda network that's out to do away with democracy and openly declare this the new American Empire, I prefer to cling to my illusions just a little longer, I've got a kid. Whatever happens I know Rick will show up again he's a survivor, but I wonder if he'll ever get back to the level he was at on CNN, which was easily the biggest job his career. Whatever hell they were putting him through it was a foolish thing to do because now he's got a start all over again, and that's tough when you're in the appearance of credibility business. I wish Rick and his family luck and hope to see him on air again soon.

Thanks for this piece Chez.

Anonymous said...

My friend who works at CNN said Rick was the coolest guy. He was so nice to his team, was an excellent leader and was really funny. I loved his show. When he made a mistake, he would always fess up and joke about it on air. He wasn't your typical boring anchor robot. I think if he just hung in there, he would have gotten John King's time slot.

toastie said...

All of the love for Rick Sanchez has started to win me over. I actually spent brain cells on my drive to work this morning hoping he lands on his feet. I came up with an idea. In all seriousness, what about a show on Comedy Central? He could bring his List there, poke more fun at himself and the news. No worries about tarnishing a brand name. Great PR for everyone.

Alanna said...

Michael Santomauro - I got most of it but some of your argument (in particular the comment from the Israeli columnist) appears to be grasping at straws.

This is the situation with Hollywood Jews + domination in Media: Get called a "kyke" a few times on the playground and watch how you would swing your balls 40 years later.

Sure, it's not right but at this point, if you don't want to piss off any Jews then don't get into media, don't practice law, don't expect to run a hedge fund or work in finance and don't become a dentist.

DJ said...

The Daily Show has tremendous cultural CACHET. Not "cache."

Chez said...

Thank you very much for the correction. My mistake.

aar33178 said...

I've known Rick since childhood and I can tell you that he's a solid family man and a person of high moral standards. He's also a shrewd observer of media trends, as evidence by his tweeter-based show.
This story is actually less about Rick than about the sorry state of media in general and CNN in particular, witness the Juan Williams firing from NPR.
The best thing that happened to Rick was not getting that 8:00 pm time slot; it is a graveyard. Did he desire to be Bill O'Reilly's next victim? Now, with an airhead like Parker and Client Number Nine, CNN's fate is sealed.
I wish Rick had not played the race card, as he should have known that cuban-americans are not considered hispanics(???) by some for political reasons.
I also wish so many of the young would not confuse "The Daily Show" with a legitimate news presentation.
Also, the hysterical types who posted about "faux news" should get off their ideological high horses and read this statement carefully:
Thre are more liberals expressing their points of view on Fox than there are conservatives doing the same in any of the other networks.
And that's a fact.

Chez said...

While I appreciate your comment and your opinion, and agree that Rick's a good guy, you tip your really bad hand in two ways: A) by saying that Rick's adoption of Twitter was a product of his being a "shrewd observer of media trends" rather than the reality, which is simply that he likes and is good at being the center of the conversation (not that there's anything wrong with that) and B) by calling Kathleen Parker an airhead. Sorry, pal, but she's anything but. She has a Pulitzer, which, as much as I love him and really do respect his talents, is more than I can say for Rick.

CNNfan said...


That's what they should've named the show:

Mr. Spitzer & Ms. Pulitzer

From now on, I am going to call the show:

Spitzer Pulitzer

for short