In my last enduring image of Fanchon Stinger, she was flat on her back. It was last week and the perky FOX2 Morning co-anchor was tightening her abs on camera with a fitness expert, one of those fluffy, get-bikini-ready-for-summer feature segments that separate morning newscasts from the somber evening reports.
Turns out the vision was symbolic, since Stinger is now truly down, and could be out. The most flamboyantly named news personality in our market has herself been stung: suspended indefinitely by Detroit's FOX affiliate due to her alleged association with developer Rayford Jackson, a central figure in the latest scandal that's enveloping Detroit City Council, the $47 million Synagro sludge-hauling deal.
Like sludge itself, this imbroglio is oozing out of City Hall and engulfing everything in its path. When was the last time you remember a controversy surrounding local politicians that also snared a member of Detroit's news media as part of the story? Stinger, a nominal member of FOX2's Problem Solvers unit, has become a problem the station needs to solve. When ace FOX2 investigative reporter Scott Lewis uncovered evidence Stinger accompanied Jackson to a private meeting with Detroit City Councilwoman Monica Conyers — well, that's a bit of information that your news director or station management might really like to know.
And while early deadline demands of the Independence Day holiday necessitated that this column be written last week, there's slim chance she will be back at co-anchor Alan Lee's side by the time you read this. Calls to FOX2 general manager Jeff Murri for comment were returned by a New York spokesperson for the FOX Television Stations group, who succinctly confirmed that "Fanchon Stinger is on paid administrative leave pending further investigation." (Repeated attempts to contact Stinger proved fruitless.)
That, friends, is big. Never in 25 years of covering TV and media in this city can I remember a phone call to a local station receiving an immediate response from corporate ownership. Clearly FOX is taking this matter as seriously as Barack Obama's candidacy. As far as I can tell, none of Stinger's FOX2 Morning colleagues have even acknowledged her absence on the air.
Whether Stinger has any direct involvement or implication in the Synagro mess is, in one sense, immaterial. Like Jack McCoy loves to say on Law & Order, the mere appearance of impropriety is the grave concern here. For a news operation like FOX2, which delights in shining its lights on the imperfections and wrongdoings of others, to have one of their own even peripherally connected to what one newspaper described as "the city's biggest public corruption scandal in decades" can make its whole newsgathering process appear hypocritical. Few things in TV news are easier to lose or harder to regain than credibility. FOX2 did the only thing it could do under the circumstances.
I've never been a big Fanchon Stinger fan myself. She's always come across as a little too supercilious for my taste, and there are repeated instances to suggest she may not be the brightest bulb on the marquee. However, in these times, with this economy, I wouldn't wish the potential loss of a good job on anyone. She's got some chops: she's an 11-time Emmy winner, reported from Ground Zero during 9/11, and is devoted to causes benefiting young people. If the Synagro snafu proves to be her Waterloo here and she chooses to remain in television, surely she can land on her feet elsewhere.
But Stinger is a native. She grew up on the northwest side, attended high school in Farmington, graduated from the University of Michigan. Most TV newspersons will admit that the ultimate jazz in their nomadic profession is the opportunity to work in their hometown. Detroiters are nothing if not forgiving. (Everybody in favor of a third term for Mayor Kilpatrick, raise your hand!) Maybe Stinger hasn't written her own final chapter at FOX2 after all.
Besides, who wants to see Alan Lee get bikini-ready for summer?
M Go Boo: University of Michigan football is the very definition of tradition, so it was no small shock to learn its Sunday morning TV mainstay, the syndicated coach's series Michigan Replay, is ending next fall after 33 years on the air. As a sports junkie, I found the show consistently informative, with a depth of perspective on our in-state college powerhouse you'll never find on SportsCenter. (Last year's episode after the Appalachian State loss was priceless.)
Reports suggest new Michigan head coach Rich Rodriguez simply didn't want to hang around after games to tape the show — which, if the team is returning to Ann Arbor from the road, might not begin until the wee hours. Fair enough, but don't you just love the way Coach Rod is endearing himself to his new fans? No matter what kind of show Rodriguez and U-M devise to replace it, Michigan Replay will be missed.Jim McFarlin is a media critic for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org