Rick Sanchez Preaches About News Judgment? Yes, He Did.

When a tropical storm bears down and local politics just seem boooring, we should all be grateful we have guys like Rick Sanchez around to entertain us.

Last night, the CNN talker looked into the eyes of America and ripped Fox News for its despicable coverage of the Shirley Sherrod story. Sanchez spoke earnestly of reporting the news rather than distorting it, of the importance of good news judgment, and of never allowing political ideology to get in the way of good journalism.

It was good stuff, possibly even better than the other highlight of the evening, when Larry King asked Hugh Hefner if he was still having "threesomes." Anyway, here's a snippet of Sanchez's sanctimonious speech:

Confused? Damn straight. Watching Sanchez lecture the country on journalistic standards is downright surreal. This is the same Sanchez, after all, that spent a couple of decades lowering the standards of local television news in South Florida? And didn't he do most of his damage at WSVN, the local Fox News affiliate?

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These days we have Jon Stewart to point out the foibles and inanities of Sanchez, but before that it was left to the local media. Sanchez was famous here for playing up every crime and natural disaster, pumping up the ratings with fear. The Herald called him the "favorite uncle" of the "if-it-bleeds-it-leads format" and complained about WSVN's "lurid ... crime-soaked newscast" and penchant for "paranoid warnings about neighborhoods under seige."

Sanchez played a starring role in an in-depth story by Sun-Sentinel writer Bob Knotts on the state of local news in South Florida, where "hype is truth and crime is king ... [and] news judgment and good taste are the latest victims." From the story:

Rick Sanchez, the anchor of a thousand expressions, wears his troubled face now. This is the one he reserves for intoning words like ''horrifying'' and ''violent.''

Another jarring adjective is ready to burst from his lips: ''What drives a person to commit cold-blooded murder?'' he asks, teasing an upcoming story on the Channel 7 news.

Nearly 10 minutes later a report airs about the minds of murderers. Killers, the story reveals, have pent-up rage. Often, they were abused as children.

When it ends, Sanchez offers viewers his reaction: ''A timely story,'' he pronounces.

Opinions, traditionally avoided by anchors, regularly pass through Sanchez's clip-on microphone. He makes no pretense about aspiring to Walter Cronkite's most-trusted-man impartiality.

After a story about uncontested Cuban elections, there is this Sanchez reaction: ''If you'll pardon the commentary, what a sham! What an insult to the Cuban people. If it wasn't so sad, it'd kind of be funny.''

Anti-Castro stories are an important ingredient of Channel 7's ratings recipe, appealing to Miami's large Cuban community. But violence is the staple.

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Yes, Sanchez was always ready to rally the Cuban faithful into a frenzy. Hell, he helped create the whole Elian Gonzalez circus. Readers wrote in with complaints about Sanchez, one calling him a "disgrace to journalism," another saying he needed to find work as an actor in soap operas, another comparing him to Jerry Springer.

He ginned up any hint of trouble into potential disasters, including a 1993 train wreck during which Sanchez "insisted on engaging in speculation that could only serve to increase the anxiety of viewers," Tom Jicha wrote at the time. One particularly disgraceful moment for Sanchez came in 1990 when he made false claims about the dangers facing a jetliner that had blown out a tire on takeoff. While it was a fairly commonplace occurrence, Sanchez claimed on the air, falsely, that the plane dumped fuel over the Everglades to avoid "exploding on impact" and, again falsely, that it was preparing for a belly-landing, according to the Herald at the time. An Eastern Airlines spokesman put out a press release the next day calling Sanchez's report "easily the most inept, amateurish and inexcusably sensationalist coverage of an aircraft incident in my experience."

The Sentinel called it "classic Channel 7 mountain-out-of-molehill journalism."

We could go on and on here, you get the picture. Later in last night's CNN telecast, Sanchez was back up to his old tricks. He said he had personally discovered that, gasp!, there were white supremacists living in America! Then he had the requisite shocking interview with one of them. The supremacist's views were indeed revolting, but click inside to see footage of one moment during the interview where it was difficult not to agree with him.

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