From the Heitz to the lowsWritten by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | firstname.lastname@example.org
Sept. 11, among many, many, other things, is the birthday of former WTOL anchorman Jeff Heitz.
For nearly 30 years, Heitz was a local news stalwart, a paragon of the old-school, no-nonsense journalist. I never remember him consenting to goofy promotions or hawking products like a lot of TV personalities do. In retirement, he has remained out of the spotlight, allowing time to cultivate his legacy of quality work.
I was surprised to see the TV commercials he is appearing in for The Blade, in which he narrates a script that makes the daily paper seem like a place Tom Joad would cheer, a positive force for union relationships. One of the commercials shows a grandmother explaining to her granddaughter that everyone had to move away because Toledo wasn’t friendly to business.
“Will I have to move away to get a job, Grandma?” asks the young girl.
I wish I had time to take the Heitz commercials to YouTube, where I could mix the narrative track with scenes from “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Norma Rae.”
It brings a tear to my eye, thinking of how pro-union and pro-business the Block brothers, John Robinson and Allan, are.
One industry insider told me the paycheck Heitz received for these commercials was the biggest he had seen in nearly 50 years of local broadcasting.
For all I know, he donated the money to United Way or sent a college tuition check to the little girl in the commercial so she could earn an outstanding education from UT and then move far, far away.
I do not have a problem with Heitz selling out, but it’s disappointing he would take part in something so blatantly disingenuous.
Why aren’t John Robinson and Allan Block the ones filming the commercials and standing up for their message? I guess public accountability ain’t one of their strong suits.
If they had the courage of their convictions, they would be the ones facing Toledoans on TV and on radio, delivering their message. They’re in the communications business; they shouldn’t even need a script. They can’t lead the public relations argument on their own behalf, so they put faux grandmothers and children and retired newsmen on the frontlines to take the flak for them.
Nice, boys. As always, you make us all proud.
I wonder what feedback Heitz has received, and if he would take the money again if he could foresee the lockouts and boycotts and general misery The Blade and its employees are immersed in.
Toledo Free Press tried to contact Heitz to ask him to address the near-universal criticism the commercials have earned. We tracked down his phone number in Ida, Mich., and left a number of messages seeking comment. Does he see the commercials as an addition to his Toledo legacy? A detriment? Does he care?
Heitz has not commented on the commercials, to us, or, as far as I know, any media, including his former WTOL home. That’s his right. Although I very much doubt that when he was a newsman, he was content and fine when a source refused to comment for a story. Maybe he’s forgotten the ways of the newsroom.
Last weekend, Toledo Free Press President and Publisher Tom Pounds, a former general manager at The Blade, met Heitz on a golf course. At my request, Pounds asked Heitz if he would talk to us for a story, offer any statement. Pounds said Heitz offered a very succinct comment: “I read the scripts [Blade marketing consultant] John Fedderke writes. If I didn’t agree with it, I wouldn’t do it. There’s your quote.”
As these feisty words come with full knowledge of the lockouts and boycotts and general misery The Blade and its employees are immersed in, it’s safe to say Heitz is sticking to the script. Of course, publicly contradicting his stance for the Blocks at this point would take a monumental act of courage, conviction and old-school, no-nonsense journalistic sense, and my guess is John Robinson Block will sing “Good Ship Lollipop” at the Toledo Free Press Christmas party, harmonizing with Tom Noe, before we see Heitz reverse his stance.
“I would like to think I left [WTOL] a little bit of a legacy,” Heitz once told The Blade, back when he returned phone calls.
You did, sir. You did. But that legacy is tarnished, and your refusal to discuss or defend your choice to set yourself in opposition to the journalists in the Guild dims it further.
So, we are where we always are: The Blocks’ seeming mission to sully Toledo and Toledoans has claimed another victim.
Happy birthday, Mr. Heitz.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press. He may be contacted at (419) 241-1700 or by e-mail at email@example.com.