There's a moment in "Anchorman" when it's revealed that talking head Ron Burgundy will read anything that's put on a teleprompter. The first joke was harmless — someone adding a question mark to a sentence in order to make him say, "I'm Ron Burgundy?" The kicker was career- and life-threatening, when his catchphrase "You stay classy, San Diego" got twisted into something horribly profane.
Well, reporter Heidi Watney of the MLB Network experienced her own Ron Burgundy Moment on Friday night trying to do a live interview with the stars of Puerto Rico's 4-3 victory against the United States at the World Baseball Classic. In the aftermath and mayhem of a clinching ballgame, Watney could not tell Puerto Rico starting pitcher Nelson Figueroa from slugger Andy Gonzalez — even though anyone paying attention never should mistake the two.
This was not a simple case of getting tongue-tied or losing a train of thought. Watney did not appear to realize to whom she was speaking when interviewing Gonzalez.
"I'm here with the player of the game — Nelson Figueroa," Watney said looking into the camera before turning to Gonzalez. It was at this point Watney should have realized it wasn't Figueroa, but instead someone else. Regardless, she kept talking as if Gonzalez was going to morph suddenly into the other guy.
"You held this star-studded U.S. lineup to no runs on six innings," Watney astonishingly continued. "How were you able to get that done?"
How, indeed, considering that Gonzalez had played third base. To his credit, Gonzalez didn't show Watney up, even if he didn't spit the wad of tobacco from his mouth before talking. But it took Gonzalez making it clear(er) that he was not Figueroa for Watney to realize her mistake. And rather than apologizing, or even acknowledging what happened — which could have saved her a lot of face — Watney continued the interview and tossed up half-hearted questions to Gonzalez while looking around, apparently for Figueroa.
The debacle was the sum of every TV reporter's worst fears: It was awkward, embarrassing and humiliating.
And Watney's explanation on Twitter? She was doing what she was told.
— Chris Singleton (@c_singleton) March 16, 2013
@c_singleton Thank you that's exactly what happened. I went with what I was told. :(
— Heidi Watney (@HeidiWatney) March 16, 2013
That's some baloney right there. She blamed the guy talking in her earpiece, or the wrangler, for bringing her the wrong player first. Way to compound the mistake by not taking any responsibility for what comes out of your mouth. Just look up — it's not Nelson Figueroa standing next to you.
The tweet defending Watney came from former major leaguer Chris Singleton, who has been transitioning to the media for the past several years. And he's right: It's a hard job and you rely on others to have their act together.
With delirious players running around the field and media members chasing them down, making sense of things by conducting a coherent interview must be pretty challenging. Harder than my job, and perhaps yours. Mistakes will happen. But you've got to know who you're talking to. Watney came to MLB Network after four years of experience at NESN in Boston, but she was making it look like amateur night.
Watney's failure also reinforces a widely held belief that sideline and dugout reporters only detract from a broadcast, to say nothing of feeding sexist stereotypes about women reporters needing only to be pretty faces. Watney also made it look like she can't be bothered to tell one Puerto Rican person from another. Hey, that's three strikes!
Watney has a smart person's credentials. She reportedly was a National Merit Scholar and attended San Diego — the home of Ron Burgundy! — on an academic scholarship. She speaks well and sounds confident, though those skills aren't all there is to interviewing effectively.
Her talk with Figueroa went much better, by the way, mostly because he's a superior interview who tells great stories. Just not great enough to save Watney's night.