John Boel, On the News, In The News

By: Don McNay
By: Don McNay

When I walked in the Kentucky Book Fair, I could see that the author in the booth next to mine had to be a television anchor. Handsome, perfect hair, perfect clothes with a woman who looked like a fashion model (I later found it was his wife) assisting him.

Dirty little secrets,  Dirty  little lies.   We've got our dirty little finger in everyone's pie.  We love to cut you down to size,  we love dirty laundry. 

 

 - Don Henley 

 

 

When I walked in the Kentucky Book Fair,   I could see that the author in the booth next to mine  had to be a television anchor.

 

 Handsome,  perfect hair,  perfect clothes with a woman who looked like a fashion model (I later found  it  was his wife)  assisting him.   

 

Then I saw his book.   On the bottom of the front cover was his picture in a mug shot.

 

As the legendary  attorney Frank Haddad  said,   "no one looks good in a mug shot."

 

John Boel didn't either.  The Louisville news anchor who  won seventy Emmy awards  had a problem.  

 

A drinking problem.    One that would result in a couple of drunk driving arrests,  a trip to re-hab,  being fired and taking the bus (his driver license was suspended) to a humiliating trip to the unemployment office.

 

John tells his story in his new book, "On the News. In the News"

 

John fell into the a wide, but often unnoticed category, of  being a functioning alcoholic.      He racked up his Emmy awards and lived a high profile life.   He participated in physically challenging ironman races and marathons.  He has a beautiful wife and two daughters.

 

John looked to the world like the perfect American success story.

 

The underlying secret was alcohol was undermining his life and ultimately destroyed  his career.

 

American's like to stomp on people when they are down.  

 

A perusal of the blogs in Louisville shows that a lot of stomping took place on John Boel.

 

Watching a public figure do something stupid is big news.  Just ask Lindsay Lohan or Anthony Weiner.

 

Boel described the depths of his depression, which was snapped by going to rehab and then finding a twelve step group.  He got his one year chip for sobriety and hopes that the book will inspire others.

 

At the same book fair the best selling book  was Al Smith's autobiography Wordsmith.   

 

Al is one of the most influential living Kentuckians and highly acclaimed journalist.  

 

He is also a recovering alcoholic who  has been sober  for  nearly fifty years.

 

Like Boel,   Al lost his job because of his drinking.   Also like Boel,  he found his way into a twelve step group and started turning his life around.

 

At age 84, Smith continues to have a passion for journalism and news.    Boel obviously has that passion too.  I've never seen his work but it was evident in  our long conversation about stories he covered that journalism was not a job, it was a calling.

 

A calling that was snapped short by Boel's second arrest for drunk driving.

 

You don't rack up seventy Emmy awards without a strong work ethic and an innovative approach to the news.   Although part of Boel's book is focused on his crash, fall and recovery,   a fascinating part is how his perspective on news gathering  has changed by his own journey through the tabloids.

 

As Tom Wolfe said in "The Bonfires of the Vanities," "a liberal is a conservative who has been arrested."

 

Boel did a lot of undercover reports, such as posing as Santa Claus to see how people react   an do undercover films of men soliciting sex in public parts. 

 

He ruminates on how lives were altered, changed and destroyed when the secret acts of non-public figures were broadcast on the evening news.

 

Boel  is headed down the road to recovery.    It takes the strength of an Ironman  but it's a journey that is taken one day at a time.  Unlike a distance race,  there is never a finish line.  

 

I hope Boel gets another chance to be a broadcast journalist.   I've never watched him on air but from our conversation and from the book,  (and the seventy Emmy awards)  he  must have been a good one and I suspect he would be a better one the second time around.

 

Being a public figure,  locked away in the cocoon of broadcast media,  can isolate a person.    Being an Ironman participant is an incredible individual achievement but not  an activity that involves  bonding with people struggling to make it through the day.

 

Falling from grace,  riding the bus,  going to the unemployment office and worrying about how to keep food on the table is something that a lot of Americans have done.    Boel had to do it and see that life first hand.

 

Boel's trip through his individual hell has given him empathy with "the other side" of America.  

 

If we could get more journalists to connect to that side of America,  we might cry out for a new screening application for aspiring journalists.

 

Ask them to include a picture of their mug shot with the application.

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