“Donahue, Geraldo and All That Jazz”

My Life As A Pitbull

Excerpt From Chapter Nine: Donahue, Geraldo and All That Jazz

Wow, I shouted to no one. I’m getting on the plane to Chicago on the Donahue Show. It was 1981 and the drunk driving movement had started to catch on. A friend/activist called me with the following advice, “Donahue is doing a show on DWI and MADD will be on it, so get RID on there too.” This was Sandy Golden, the ex-TV reporter in Washington, who helped Candy Lightner start MADD, who taught her the media ropes, was the first volunteer executive director of MADD, and who then was fired. Sandy is a whole story unto himself, and we have an uneasy relationship, but that day, he was a hero.

After settling in the Chicago Airport hotel the evening before the Donahue Show, I called Candy Lightner’s room. She told me to come on over. When I got there, Candy was sitting in the middle of a large bed along with Cindy Lamb and Barbara Bloomberg. Cindy’s two-year-old daughter was made the world’s youngest quadriplegic after being hit by a drunken driver. Barbara’s son was killed by a drunken driver in Southern California, as was Candy’s twin daughter.

Candy had ordered fruit and cheese plates for her friends. She was visibly annoyed that I had gotten on the panel. Cindy introduced to Barbara.

“Barbara, Jim Nichols at NHTSA, told me RID will have the most grassroots staying power of all of us. Doris is the Founder of RID.”

“He said that? What does he think MADD is, chopped liver?” Candy interjected, glaring at me and Cindy. “We are doing exactly the same thing.” She flounced off the bed to the bathroom. It struck me that Candy looked at me as a business competitor, not as a colleague. She set the tone of our relationship for the next five years, until she was fired from MADD.

Realizing I was not welcome by Candy, at any rate, I left, after a few pleasantries. Not realizing that Phil Donahue would pay for telephone calls and fruit plates, I went hungry, to the lobby telephones. I called the TV and newspaper contract numbers I had brought with me, as well as numbers of the Unitarian Church ministers in the Chicago area. I wanted them to ask their parishioners to watch Donahue the next day and get involved in the drunk driving fight in their social action committees, as the Unitarians did in Schenectady, Ithaca, Buffalo and Syracuse.

The newspaper editors were slightly hostile, didn’t believe my facts about the extent of DWI fatalities swept under the rug in Chicago, and complained that if Donahue wanted free publicity for his show, he should provide it directly. Donahue was ho-hum to them. All this took place before the Federal investigation led by Scott Turow (author of Presumed Innocent) turned up 15 judges who were caught taking cash bribes from defense lawyers in local bars and restaurants. The “defense lawyers” were actually acting as Federal agents in the sting.

The Unitarian ministers were either not in, or puzzled by my call. None of them admitted to watching Donahue. After ten or more such frustrating calls, I retired still hungry, and angry.

The next day I had breakfast next to a table of Donahue panelists who had performed the day before. The star was a housewife who had tired of doing the chores for her family without pay or appreciation, and had declared a strike and demonstration outside her home with other disgruntled homemakers in her neighborhood. Her errant husband appeared docile, looking at her in a new light. Her children were praising her performance. She had survived Donahue, so would I.

The Donahue limo picked us up at 9 a.m. sharp. We rode silently to the studio. Once there, we were ushered into a conference room where Donahue joined us briefly.

“Hello everybody. I hope you were comfortable at the hotel. I also hope you have left your statistics, legal points, that kind of thing at home. I want your emotion, your anger, things that will trigger a discussion. You’ll each have a minute or two to state why you’re on this panel. Then, if you want to say something, you’ll have to get your comments in when you can. The folks in the audience got up at 4 a.m. to make this show, and they get first crack at questions and comments. You’ll have to fit your remarks in any way you can. Good luck.” That’s the way it was.

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