Neither tough guy nor TV folly work for me

  • Julie Muhlstein / Herald Columnist
  • Monday, November 6, 2000 9:00pm
  • Local News

jWallace Benton is to Julie Muhlstein what the chi-chi dessert tiramisu is to a lime Popsicle.

He’s a columnist, you know, who writes for the New York Ledger. I ran across him just once, on a windy night a couple weeks back. Once was enough to know that this Benton fellow is out of my league.

The night I saw him, he was sipping Bushmills Irish Whiskey and barking at one of his sources that "there ain’t no off the record." While I’ve imbibed the former, I can’t recall ever uttering the latter.

I’m certain I never snapped "there ain’t no off the record" in my interview with the Marysville Strawberry Festival queen. I didn’t play hardball with the 81-year-old golfer who shot a hole in one. The woman with an office full of Snoopy souvenirs survived her brush with my aggressive reportage.

Nope, I ain’t no Wallace Benton.

The good news for me is that journalistic style isn’t the only thing separating us. I’m still here, blowing the lid off the quirky, the human, or unwanted stories other reporters cast aside like so many empty Bushmills bottles.

Benton? Goodbye. Adios. As competition goes, he is toast.

Sure, the tough-guy columnist exposed a New York politician as a one-time anti-war radical whose 1960s rock throwing struck down a cop. But the hard-boiled Benton was no match for a TV network hellbent on ratings.

Am I the only one who caught NBC’s new series "Deadline"? The peacock network aired only four episodes of the drama, which starred the wonderfully watchable Oliver Platt as a scribe in expensive suits. "Deadline" was canceled last week and was replaced at 9 p.m. Monday with a repeat of "Law and Order."

For someone who makes a living tapping out newspaper columns, the show was an amusing fantasy that bore no resemblance to life as I know it.

Take Benton’s boss. Remember Lilith, Dr. Frasier Crane’s wife on "Cheers"? For "Deadline," actress Bebe Neuwirth morphed into a sexy editor. While Platt’s character was digging up the buried past of a New York politician, the editor in her 3-inch spike heels was carrying on an affair with the guy.

When a reporter told her, "if you play Hokey-Pokey with a politician, it’s going to end up in the paper," she shouted, "Not my paper."

That stuff happens to my editor all the time, when he’s not tied up polishing stories, coordinating election coverage or attending the string of meetings required to put out this paper every day.

The show’s crackerjack columnist spent the good part of an hour running around the Big Apple in search of intrigue. In the end, his column was bannered with an eye-grabbing headline. Yet Benton never had to sit down, stare at a blank computer screen and write. That’s the antithesis of reality TV. It’s also a magic trick I’d love to learn.

One "Deadline" scene did ring true. Benton’s crinkled dollar was too flimsy to work in the office vending machine. He borrowed a colleague’s crisp bill to get his candy fix. But he bought Dots. Who eats Dots? Not real newspaper writers.

Around here, people eat microwave popcorn or M&ampM’s on deadline. There’s a bowl of pretzels on my editor’s desk. One of our hotshot reporters fuels his aggression with afternoon Pop-Tarts. I jump-start my brain with tea.

So much for writers’ tastes. Readers, it’s past deadline for tiramisu. How about a lime Popsicle?

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