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The Foolproof 9/11 Antidote

Mark Poutenis

Brian Andrews has been up for sixteen hours now. Rising at 3:00 a.m., the reporter for WSVN-TV (Channel 7) substitute-anchored the station's morning news show from 5:00 to 9:00 a.m. Then he hit the streets to cut live on-air spots as the John Acosta story broke: a grand juror indicted for leaking word of an imminent FBI raid to members of an alleged Ecstasy-smuggling/money-laundering/satellite-
TV piracy ring with purported links to OJ Simpson. And just to cap off the day, Andrews chased Acosta from the front steps of Miami's Federal Courthouse down First Avenue, hoping to capture an interview.

Ask him if he's tired. "I love my job!" he gushes. He's practically bouncing in his seat inside WSVN's $750,000 RV-size mobile news truck. Surrounded by banks of video screens and editing equipment, Andrews obviously is still wired on adrenaline -- and rightly so. In the television news game, he's hit the ratings jackpot: a local story with a celebrity behaving badly, drugs, cops, and courtroom intrigue. Best of all, in a move that seems to have infuriated competing Miami news outlets as much as law-enforcement officials, Andrews broke the story as it was unfolding -- in real time.

"We pull up near Simpson's house, and there's Brian waiting under a tree on a side street," grouses FBI spokeswoman Judy Orihuela to Kulchur. Her first-name familiarity with Andrews reveals that this December 4 dawn "surprise" raid on Simpson's Kendall home wasn't the first time the blond newsman's toothy smile had plagued her. Needless to say, the sight of a reporter lying in wait -- proof internal FBI security had been compromised -- didn't make agents on the scene too happy.

Andrews understandably is tight-lipped about just how he gained advance knowledge of Operation X (a gambit he and his producer code-named "Operation Citrus Pills" -- get it?), except to say his source was from the law-enforcement community and he'd known Simpson was targeted more than a week prior. But as Kulchur asks for a flashback to the raid itself, Andrews turns practically giddy, demonstrating why his newsroom colleagues have playfully nicknamed the manic reporter Chicken.

"It was 5:59 a.m. on my car's digital clock when we saw movement," he recalls, his eyes twinkling. "There goes an unmarked Lumina! And another one!" Both Andrews, carrying a hand-held video camera, and his cameraman David Hunt, lugging a standard 30-pound camera but essentially "running interference," leaped out of their hiding spot and charged toward Simpson's house.

"I ran right past Judy Orihuela," Andrews laughs. "You should have seen the look on her face: “Brian, what are you doing here?' I said I just happened to be in the neighborhood shooting a documentary on the migratory patterns of tropical parrots. And there was OJ in his white bathrobe, flailing his arms, his dogs barking away!"

Fifteen minutes later, as WSVN was airing Andrews's live coverage, "everybody else showed up -- NBC, ABC, CNN. It was Elian all over again." He shakes his head with discernible pride: "The looks of ice they gave me -- there's nothing worse than not being first."

By that afternoon, however, Andrews's scoop was taking on a more sinister tone. In an impromptu press conference on the lawn across from the Simpson manor, the Juice's attorney and spokesman, Yale Galanter, said he'd "been aware of [Operation X] for a while, but I knew about the possibility of the FBI serving search warrants yesterday." As a phalanx of TV cameras rolled, he continued, "My information came from a news media source, and I was amazed that the news media knew this and it had leaked out." Had he warned OJ? a reporter asked, thus giving his client time theoretically to get rid of anything incriminating: Drugs? Bootleg satellite TV cards? A stray Bruno Magli shoe? "As OJ's lawyer, I will tell you any conversations I have with my client are confidential," Galanter replied brusquely.

"I was standing just a few feet away when he said that," remembers the FBI's Orihuela. "I was shocked to say the least." Less interested were the print media; only the Sun-Sentinel reported Galanter's admission of being tipped off by a newsman. The Herald, the New York Times, and the Associated Press (whose wire reports were dutifully reprinted in hundreds of papers across America and around the globe) all chose to ignore this nugget of news.

Behind the scenes, though, the rumor mill was churning, fingering Andrews as OJ's helpful tipster. After all, he was a newsman who'd obviously been informed the FBI was coming. "I know what people were saying, and it was jealousy, pure jealousy," Andrews remarks of the accusations. "This is a competitive business, and a lot of people at other stations would love to ruin my reputation. And in this business, you are your reputation." He concludes: "I didn't kill myself all these years to ruin it all by doing something idiotic like leaking to Yale."  

Two days later, on December 6, Galanter bizarrely changed tack. In an interview with New Times, he now claimed that statements saying he'd had "advance warning" of the Simpson raid were "categorically inaccurate." Contradicting exactly what he'd said only 48 hours earlier, Galanter continued, "If I'd known they were coming at 6:00 a.m., I would have spent the night at his place instead of schlepping down from Broward, and my client would have been dressed." He added indignantly: "He wouldn't have answered the doorbell with his nuts hanging out."

Simpson's genitalia aside, more disturbing details crept into view on December 10. Authorities charged grand juror John Acosta with obstruction of justice. The police said Acosta admitted he'd leaked information to an Operation X defendant. U.S. Attorney Guy Lewis insisted that at least indirectly, Simpson definitely knew beforehand of the imminent raid on his home.

Galanter jumped back into action, spinning anew, holding another press conference just steps from Kulchur's desk outside the building the lawyer shares with New Times. No doubt aware that many of the gathered press were wondering if Galanter himself would be the next individual charged with obstruction of justice, he spoke carefully. That fateful "news media source" he'd previously said had warned him of the OJ raid? Now he called it a crank call, one he'd instantly dismissed at the time. And his being "amazed" only a week earlier that such a confidential matter had "leaked out" to him? "When I got the call, I did not think the call was reliable, and I did not think the call was credible."

At this point much the same description could be leveled at Galanter.

About the only person smiling at this turn of events was Brian Andrews, seemingly vindicated as the origin of the OJ leak. "Never burn a source," Andrews intones. "That's the golden rule of the Big J." Kulchur involuntarily chuckles at this phrase -- the Big J? -- and Andrews literally explodes.

"Don't laugh!" he snaps. "The Big J is journalism, and I take it very seriously." Apparently Andrews is more than a little sensitive about WSVN's widespread reputation for sensationalism. "Love us or hate us, we are one hell of a news operation," he says, building steam. "We get the facts, and we get them right! Our team kicks ass!"

All this talk of the, ahem, Big J raises a larger question: Should journalists really care anymore about the travails of an aging ex-football star? Wasn't September 11 supposed to, as Dan Rather put it, wash away the "Hollywoodization and trivialization" of television news; the summer of Chandra Levy and sharks; the elevation of Monica Lewinsky, Princess Diana, and Jon-Benet Ramsey from tabloid fodder to prime time? Hello? Aren't we at war?

"I think people could learn a lot about the grand-jury system from this story," Andrews offers tentatively.

Oh, come on, Brian.

"Okay, okay," he laughs sheepishly and then shrugs. "Look, Madonna and Sylvester Stallone have left town. OJ is the biggest star we've got. And people are fascinated with him." Perhaps aware of WSVN's oft-criticized programming mantra -- "If it bleeds, it leads" -- he quickly adds that "OJ is a lot more appealing to viewers than another gunshot wound."

But is appealing to viewers' sensibilities the rationale for a news broadcast? Shouldn't it also be about presenting often-unwelcome truths? "People have seen a lot," he replies. "They don't want to see planes crashing into buildings anymore. Personally I don't want to see tape of that plane going into the building anymore either." When it comes to war updates, viewers "want to know, but they don't want to be bombarded by it."

So getting back to "normal" means pretending September 11 never happened? Nothing about the content of WSVN's broadcasts should change? "That's really a question for our news director. I don't make those kinds of decisions."

Forget about the news director. You're a reporter. What do you think -- should WSVN change?

Andrews turns quiet for the first time and seems to visibly deflate, as if the long day finally has caught up with him. He looks away and then answers earnestly: "I really haven't thought about it." Lurching from one breaking story to the next, he explains, doesn't leave much time for big-picture philosophizing. "Right now I just want to go home and crash." Tomorrow he'll be up at 3:00 a.m. to do it all over again. And when the weekend finally comes, he'll relish hitting the couch and being on the other side of the TV screen. Will he catch up on C-SPAN? Meet the Press?  

Andrews grins: "I like to watch Animal Planet."


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