What's strange about a lawsuit is how it can activate everyone's sense of guilt and regret and human decency. There was really no way to say publicly how sickened you were by the vile rumors about Joan Esposito without repeating the rumors, so what could anyone do but ignore them?
And if you happened to be a little too human to be sickened by the gossip, or to ignore it--well, Esposito's lawsuit has now worked its reifying magic. So beat your breast in shame and get on with your life. Remember, Christ died for your sins.
Vox populi called us on April 30, leaving a message on our voice mail we still listen to periodically, so creepy it is. The message begins "Mike, when are you going to expose the mysterious surroundings . . ." and concludes "It might make for an interesting item, I might think."
Actually, this anonymous rumor mongerer was pathetically behind the times. "Rumor has it," he confided, "that Joan is pregnant and perhaps the child is not hers [sic] and perhaps the child is a race other than her husband's!" But Esposito's pregnancy had been reported in the local press back on March 19. And five days later a local radio personality had mongered the rumor all over town.
March 24, 1993. It's wake-up time in Chicago on the Killer Bee (aka B96, aka WBBM FM). Here's a partial transcript of that broadcast, just as it appears in the defamation lawsuit in which Esposito is asking for more than $8 million in damages from WBBM FM; CBS, Inc.; and JoBo (aka Joe Bohannon, aka Joseph Colborn).
Jobo: It's the Eddie and JoBo Show, it's Confession Wednesday. Went to the Bulls game last night. Watched the Bulls beat the Minnesota Timberwolves. Had a chance to do a little chat, Karen, with a couple of the Bulls before the game last night. Ah, well I'll tell you what, I'll tell you the rumor that's floating around and what I was told by a couple of the Bulls in just a second, but before we do that, let's go to line 2, hello are you there?
. . . All right, let me just cut to the chase on this, Karen. Would you like to hear what happened at the Bulls game last night?
Karen [Hand]: Okay.
Jobo: I'm not going to say who it was, but there is a very strong rumor. There is a newswoman in Chicago who we all know and love who is carrying one of the Bulls babies.
Karen: It ain't me.
Jobo: No. (Laughter.) Television newswoman.
Karen: Thank you, you didn't say that. And since you don't love me I guess that disqualifies me right away.
Jobo: You know what, I know the Bulls tastes in women, Karen, and I'm not going to say you're not an appetizing woman, I'm just going to say, you might not have the right stuff for Da' Bulls. But stop and think about this folks. This could be the story of the century.
Karen: This baby got ___, they'd like that.
Jobo: And Eddie and Jobo always have the inside scoop. But just stop and think about it. Go through the little Rolodex of newswomen in your mind. One of them is pregnant, carrying the Bulls baby. I mean you just--
Karen: Well, there is one that's pregnant but--
Jobo: Well, that's all we're going to say. It's 5:44. You can take it for what it's worth and . . .
Caller: I'm telling you from two different sources at two different times--
Jobo: Hey the rumor is all over. We've heard it too. I heard it from one of the Bulls last night. It's 5:44.
. . . 5:47, The Eddie and Jobo Show, the wild spot this morning on B96. Enough about the rumor. We're getting a lot of calls from all over. It's true. Well, the rumors are true. That's all--we're not going to deal in--enough of that.
. . . By the way, for Amy in Evergreen Park, no, the Bull the rumor's about is not John Paxson, so go back to sleep and calm down and I'm not going to tell you what newswoman it is. Okay, it's 5:54. We go to Buffalo Grove.
. . . We've had a Bulls rumor that's going around. We're just on top of it, baby.
. . . B96 in Chicago. Color Me Bad with Eddie and Jobo Show on Confession Wednesday. It's 6:40 asking the question which Chicago Bulls baby is being carried by which Chicago television newswoman. That's all we're going to say. You just sit there and scratch and you think about that, which Chicago Bulls baby is right now in the uterus of what Chicago newswoman. Just stop and think about that at 6:41. We are live in the star studded B96 studio.
. . . By the way, please no more calls on the rumor. It's a very prevalent rumor. This is almost like the Oprah Winfrey rumor. This may get that big.
Jobo: But which television newswoman in Chicago is carrying a baby that belongs to a Chicago Bull?
Karen: You're not going to give us the answer, are you?
Jobo: No, I'm not but no more calls because I can't--I can't even do it in person, I really can't. I just have very very strong strong sources within the Chicago Bulls organization. Your little fertile mind can spin all you want but up next.
. . . I will tell you this. It's not Linda MacLennan. It's not Adele Arakawa.
Karen: You tell us enough of who it's not, we'll figure it out.
Jobo: . . . This is from Jeff at Allstate says what's the story about one of the Bulls? Well, the story is, there is a supposed television newswoman in Chicago who is carrying a baby fathered by one of the Chicago Bulls and this is as much as we can tell you. We got time to slip in one more phone call on Confession Wednesday . . .
Esposito filed suit six months after Chicago awoke to this badinage, but she turned to former U.S. attorney Dan Webb much sooner than that. On May 6 Joseph Colborn obliged Webb by signing the following affidavit, Exhibit B:
. . . Some time in late February 1993 or March 1993, a caller to the show stated that she had heard a rumor that a local TV newsperson was pregnant with the child of a member of the Chicago Bulls basketball team . . .
"I am unaware of any basis whatsoever for this vicious rumor and deeply regret anything putting this caller on the air may have done to give currency to this rumor . . .
"The above statement is based on my memory of the incident . . ."
At the time this statement was submitted, says Webb, he hadn't heard what JoBo said on the air. "I've since gotten the broadcast," he says, "and the affidavit is false. It wasn't a caller."
CBS's only comment has been to point out that "the remarks made on the air on March 24 did not mention Miss Esposito or any Chicago Bulls player by name." But on April 29 Colborn sent Esposito a note, now Exhibit C:
"Joan--I've said some things that have hurt you and I apologize. Please accept my invitation to meet for lunch at your convenience. I'd like to talk with you in person. All the best--JoBo."
There's no better cure for hard feelings than a good lunch, especially when it's shared by a couple of pros who can kick back and laugh about the nutty business they're in and what it sometimes makes people do. But Esposito turned JoBo down.
When Esposito filed suit last month, unconditional support from Channel Five for its beleaguered anchorwoman was conspicuously nonforthcoming. If we hadn't wheedled one out of them, there might have been no statement at all.
But no wonder. Esposito contends that JoBo's broadcast did her harm. The tangible harm her suit alleges is this: "Ms. Esposito was engaged in contract negotiations with WMAQ-TV at the time. . . . As a result of the broadcast by Defendants of the allegations concerning the paternity of Ms. Esposito's child, Ms. Esposito's bargaining position was weakened considerably and resulted in her receiving a substantially reduced salary in her new contract."
In other words, Channel Five's reaction to the scurrilous rumors was to take advantage of them.
Esposito's agent, Richard Leibner, said the tone of any client's negotiations are no one's business, especially when they become a key part of a court case. "I'd have to be very drunk or very stupid to comment," he told us. We could not reach Esposito, but last June, after re-upping for four more years for what the Sun-Times's Robert Feder indicated was less money, she told Feder, "I'm happy here. The broadcast business is changing--there's no doubt about it. But I'm happy to stay here for another four years."
Finally the station came up with this: "WMAQ TV deplores those ugly rumors. Channel Five was very supportive of Joan through the difficult period she faced earlier this year. The rumors had absolutely no effect on her contract negotiations with WMAQ TV or her salary."
In short, we love her and it's poppycock.
Another sign the cold war's over: Last Friday Tribune editor Howard Tyner fired his military-affairs writer, David Evans, one of the most interesting and original reporters on the paper. Evans's dismissal shocked a lot of people at the Tribune, where no one is ever fired for mere performance. But it's apt to please a lot of the senior Pentagon brass, not to mention the military's civilian shills. We'll have more on this story later.
"All this talk about the hollowing out of the U.S. Army seems to have its parallel in the hollowing out of the staffs of America's greatest newspapers," Evans told us. "In both cases the public suffers."