WJZ red-faced over blackface story

December 05, 2006|By Nick Madigan | Nick Madigan,Sun Reporter

Only two weeks after unleashing a racially offensive tirade at a West Hollywood comedy club, actor Michael Richards appeared in blackface at a celebrity roast for Whoopi Goldberg over the weekend, drawing gasps from the audience, according to WJZ-TV, Channel 13, the CBS affiliate in Baltimore.

Except that he didn't.

WJZ's story, broadcast at least twice yesterday afternoon in breaking-news style by anchor Sally Thorner, was attributed to DatelineHollywood.com. But WJZ's news department was apparently unaware that every story on the Web site satirizes Hollywood.

"It should not have aired," Gail Bending, WJZ's news director, said after being alerted by a colleague to the story's lack of foundation and the site's cheerful irreverence for the truth. Bending said the producer who proposed the story did not verify its accuracy. The station planned to run a correction during its 11 p.m. newscast.

Some of the "facts" in the Web site's story might have been a tip-off to their falsity. The story quoted an attendee of the supposed roast, Stephen Mawrs, as saying that Richards, after appearing from behind a curtain in blackface, "took out a bottle of Aunt Jemima syrup and poured it over Whoopi's head."

Richards "then started doing this `Mammy' song," Mawrs said, according to the story. "It was just really uncomfortable. But to his credit, Michael never once lost his cool."

Richards' publicist, Howard Rubenstein, was then "quoted" as saying, "It's very sad to see Michael say those nasty things at a comedy club and then show up in blackface and offend nearly everyone."

Another story on the site reported that George Clooney and Danny DeVito "woke up naked together in bed last Wednesday, unsure whether they had a sexual encounter after a brutal night of drinking."

Richards, who played Cosmo Kramer on Seinfeld, has expressed remorse for his Nov. 17 outburst at the comedy club.

The Web site identifies itself as having been founded in 360 B.C. as Gladiators Weekly "to cover the booming entertainment industry in the coliseums of ancient Rome."

nick.madigan@baltsun.com

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