WJZ's Sher cancels retirement plans

Colleague Leahan accepts CIA job

March 23, 2004|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN STAFF

Richard Sher wasn't sleeping. Wasn't eating. Wasn't happy.

The longtime WJZ anchor and reporter - 28 years and counting - put in his resignation last month and was on track to leave the Baltimore CBS station next month. But he couldn't take the thought of change, he says. It made him ache. And so he's decided to stay on the air at the very same channel.

"It was the shortest retirement in broadcast history," Sher says.

Sher, by his own description "a very youthful 62," has filled a variety of roles at WJZ, including anchor, reporter and talk show host. Early in his career, the often flip Baltimore native was the on-air partner of a young Oprah Winfrey.

These days, he covers politics, local crises and crime. "I love going out, meeting people, and facing the challenge of picking the right words to accompany the right pictures to tell their stories," Sher says.

"We've always thought he was a terrific reporter, and we were going to miss him," says Gail Bending, WJZ's news director. "Now, it'll be like he never left - because he never did."

Another colleague is leaving the station, however. WJZ anchor and reporter Katie Leahan has accepted a post in the media affairs division of the Central Intelligence Agency. "She's going to be focusing on special media projects - strategic planning, and longer term [press] issues that the agency will be dealing with," says Mark Mansfield, a spokesman for the CIA. "We're very excited about her joining us."

Leahan did not return a reporter's message seeking comment, but Donna Bertling, a spokeswoman for the station, released remarks in her name.

"This new position fulfills my lifelong desire to serve and protect my country and fellow citizens," Leahan was quoted as saying. "I am honored to join the thousands of patriots who dedicate their lives to preserving freedom and fighting those who wish to do us harm."

Leahan, who graduated with a degree in political science from the University of Michigan in December 1985, is currently WJZ's lead weekend anchor and a reporter during the week. On the air, she frequently covered crime and police matters. She won a regional Emmy Award for a story based on her handling of a telephone call from Joseph Palczynski as he held several people hostage in Baltimore County.

Off the air, she has been seen as a champion for law-enforcement officers, serving, for example, to raise money for a memorial to honor slain police officers. However, her ties to law-enforcement officials became an issue last year. As The Sun has previously reported, Leahan was subpoenaed last fall to testify before a federal grand jury looking into the handling of a secret fund by former Baltimore Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris, then the superintendent of state police.

Even as she had covered Norris as city police commissioner, Leahan maintained a close friendship with him. Norris, who had used the fund to spend lavishly on gifts, meals and trips for himself, friends and favored colleagues, recently pleaded guilty to corruption charges and awaits sentencing.

Leahan begins her new job later this spring.

Sher, however, decided the life of a television news reporter couldn't be replaced. "Everything was falling into place, but every day I was out on a story, when I thought about not doing it anymore, I got upset," Sher says. "I started to get very edgy and jumpy."

He approached WJZ general manager Jay Newman, who allowed Sher to withdraw his resignation. "I told him, `This doesn't feel right to me,'" Sher recalls. "It's been great ever since. The jumpiness has gone away."

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