Last fall, KTVU's Leslie Griffith disappeared from the anchor's chair for weeks under murky circumstances, with Bay Area gossip columnists suggesting she was disillusioned with the TV news biz or feuding with co-host Dennis Richmond. Then in November she quietly went away after reportedly working out a deal with KTVU to part ways.
Now the ex- anchor at Channel 2 is back, and she has remade herself into something of a left-leaning media rabble rouser.
Griffith is working on a book about corporate control of the news industry, titled Shut Up and Read. "It's about the media mergers eliminating voices — the very voices that make this country strong," she explained in an e-mail.
Last week Griffith went public with her views about the sorry state of television news during a panel discussion hosted by the Commonwealth Club. Laying into the industry that employed her for 25 years, she decried the cost-cutting, reportorial timidity, infotainment, and general "decay of my once-proud profession."
"More and more," she told the Commonwealth Club crowd, "newscasts kept getting added instead of getting cut back, and we were not hiring investigative reporters or doing more investigative reports. So what were we doing? We were filling them with helicopter shots à la O.J., car chases, grass fires on the side of the road that might not even affect a house."
Sounding Naderesque, Griffith advised the audience to "look to see who's not beholden to corporations, because it's government by corporation in this country now." She went on to describe how recent staff cutbacks have led to press-release journalism and permitted mass confusion between Osama and Saddam. "We're not given the tools to be discriminating anymore," she said.
Her list of indignities is quite a change from the cheery veneer she put on her departure, saying at the time that KTVU had been "an extremely exciting and rewarding experience." Fully ensconced in semi-retirement, Griffith now follows in the footsteps of a growing crowd of former TV journos — Rather, Koppel, Brokaw — bemoaning the depravations they saw from inside.
No longer stuck to a Hollywoodlike script, she says, she's now freer than ever to write critical articles, such as her recent examination of Ringling Bros.' exploitation of its overworked, TB-infected baby elephants, which she wrote for the liberal blog Truthout.org.
Griffith, an impossibly youthful-looking 50, boasts on her own Web site that aside from being the winner of nine Emmys and two Edward R. Murrow journalism awards, her smooth skin and blond locks give her, as one fan phrased it, "the rare combination of looks and brains." Finally, no longer under the oppressive klieg lights, she'll have plenty of opportunity to show off the latter.