Hypocritical Tribute to Patti Burns-Pittsburgh 2001

The lengthy tribute KDKA-TV paid on its newscasts to Patti Burns after her untimely death certainly was fitting given the former anchorwoman’s enormous popularity. It also was highly hypocritical.  Yet no one fleetingly familiar with the cannibalistic climate of TV newsrooms should be surprised by the station’s two-faced treatment of its one-time star.  One of Pittsburgh’s  most recognizable faces, Burns, 49, succumbed to cancer at her Shadyside home. 

In the 20 minutes or so spent summarizing Burns’ career, KDKA  lovingly lauded her longevity at the station. Touted that tuning in to Patti during her various stints at noon, 6 and 11 p.m. anchor had been a Pittsburgh tradition.  The station  virtually ignored how the queen of KDKA Country, after 23 years at the station, was unceremoniously cut loose in 1997.

The Mt. Lebanon native joined the station in 1974 after a brief stint as a TV reporter in Dallas. Within two years, she was anchoring the noon news with her father, legendary local newscaster Bill Burns.  The nation’s only father-daughter news team continued until the elder Burns retired in 1988.  He died in 1997, about nine months after Patti and KDKA went their separate ways.

The parting was not particularly pleasant.  Friction between Burns and station management developed during the mid-1990s. During contract negotiations in 1996, the station decided it no longer wanted the veteran anchor on a full-time basis.   “They told me, ‘You’re linked to tradition and longevity, and we’re not going in that direction,'” Burns told Pittsburghs’ newspapers in December of 1996.

The station offered to extend her contract, but only on a part-time basis. At the time, Burns said she would have had to accept a pay cut of more than 50 percent and a substantially reduced on-air presence.   When an agreement on a new pact could not be reached,  KDKA sent Burns a notice terminating her employment, effective the date of her contract’s expiration – Jan. 31, 1997.

What happened to Burns was not uncommon.  The TV news business frequently eats its own. The industry digests middle-aged anchors at the height of their earning power, anchors who may not be popular enough among the younger audiences coveted by stations and their advertisers.

But what happened next was not as common. Two weeks before Burns was scheduled to depart, news director Sue McInerny abruptly told her the next day’s broadcast would be her last.   That did not exactly leave Burns a whole lot of time to prepare farewell remarks to her loyal viewers.  Burns said back then that McInerny told her that KDKA “had to get on with the transition.” At the time, McInerny said, “Since Burns chose to move on, there was no reason to make her work until the very last day of her contract.”

Her commercial broadcast career effectively over, Burns moved on. She founded her own media production company, performed charitable work, and contributed to public television station WQED’s “On Q” news magazine.  In the spring of 2001,  when she was diagnosed with the disease that would kill her.

The tribute provided Burns by the hypocritical station that spurned her was tantamount to a royal funeral.  Pity it took her death for the queen of KDKA  Country to finally return from exile.


Patti Burns, RIP

Little Late with this.  Patti Burns

Patti Burns, a Pittsburgher who emerged from the shadow of her legendary father to become a respected and beloved TV anchor in her own right, died yesterday at her home. She was 49 and had been diagnosed with lung cancer in April.

blank.gif Patti Burns and her father, Bill, in an undated publicity photo. (KDKA)

In a town that reveres its sports heroes and media personalities more than most, the onetime reporter and news anchor was akin to royalty. Older viewers loved her like doting grandmothers or mothers and took it personally when she and KDKA parted company in 1997, after nearly 23 years. Baby boomers aged with her, noting her changes in assignments, hairstyles, jewelry and beaus, and mourned when her father, Bill, died.Her contentious split from Channel 2 almost five years ago was a major news story, and KDKA yesterday devoted the first 15 minutes of its 5 p.m. newscast to her death.

Out of the public eye, she had battled cancer with dignity and optimism. “During every conversation we had during her illness, she never, ever complained,” said KDKA reporter Mary Robb Jackson, a friend for two decades.”She never said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ She never talked about fear or anger or anything you might expect from somebody who’s 49 years old and looking at something as frightening as this was. She had absolute grace during these long months, and I really loved her.”

Even as a 7-year-old, Ms. Burns made headlines. In September 1959, she ducked out of her Mt. Lebanon home to avoid a baby sitter and a bath, fell asleep in the bushes in the back yard and ignited fears she had been kidnapped.Search parties were organized, roadblocks thrown up, dogs summoned, ransom notes anticipated, prayers murmured. After three hours, she was found. A newspaper story the next day stated: “The girl was carried into the home and the arms of rejoicing parents, given a hot bath and put to bed, where she promptly went back to sleep.”



  More on this storydot.gifClick here for a photo journal tracing the career of Patti Burns.

dot.gifClick here to listen to an audio tribute to Patti Burns by KDKA reporter Dave Crawley.



“She never said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ She never talked about fear or anger or anything you might expect from somebody who’s 49 years old and looking at something as frightening as this was. She had absolute grace during these long months, and I really loved her.”Even as a 7-year-old, Ms. Burns made headlines. In September 1959, she ducked out of her Mt. Lebanon home to avoid a baby sitter and a bath, fell asleep in the bushes in the back yard and ignited fears she had been kidnapped.

Search parties were organized, roadblocks thrown up, dogs summoned, ransom notes anticipated, prayers murmured. After three hours, she was found. A newspaper story the next day stated: “The girl was carried into the home and the arms of rejoicing parents, given a hot bath and put to bed, where she promptly went back to sleep.”

  More on this storydot.gifClick here for a photo journal tracing the career of Patti Burns.

dot.gifClick here to listen to an audio tribute to Patti Burns by KDKA reporter Dave Crawley.


Patricia Jeanne Burns was part of the country’s first father-daughter anchor team. She was an award-winning reporter who covered the end of the Vietnam War and its fallout, accompanied the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra on its 1987 trip to China, met Pope John Paul II, chronicled national political conventions and investigated local stories with equal aplomb. Jim Esser, a former KDKA producer now retired and living in San Francisco, accompanied her to China.In Tiananmen Square, Esser said, they were swarmed by a group of schoolchildren about 6 years old. “Patti got down on her knees and started talking with them, she in English and they in Chinese” while Esser and photographer Ken Sims fidgeted, fearful that Chinese police would happen along at any second and descend on them.

Esser said Ms. Burns had the rare ability to be professional one minute, fun-loving the next. “She loved her audience,” he said. “She thought the people of Pittsburgh were the best people in the world, and she always had time for them. “I got the feeling she was everybody’s daughter. And every Pittsburgh mother wanted her son to bring Patti home. She used to talk through the camera to the people.” She talked to them while they nibbled lunch, prepared dinner, got ready for bed.

Pittsburgh’s daughter

She joined KDKA in July 1974 and left on an appropriately chilly day in January 1997. During her tenure at the station, she was a reporter and anchor for the noon, 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts.”Being a native helps in the pronunciation of the local names and knowing locations of things,” she once said. “But more importantly, you take it personally when something happens to a community or an area. … I love this city.”In September 1979, she appeared on the cover of Pittsburgh magazine with the headline: “Patti Burns Grows Up.” Clad in a silky blue shirt, fitted jeans and metallic gold belt, she posed with her hands (manicured nails painted pink) on her slender hips.

The story said, in part, “It’s been a rise both steady and rapid for Patti Burns, especially noteworthy in a business so marked by personnel turnover. That Channel 2 hired her so young may have had something to do with her father; that she has succeeded so quickly has been a product of her own talent and tirelessness.””She was a real professional,” said Ray Tannehill, now retired but long her co-anchor. “She learned well from her father. She was a stickler for detail. If somebody made a mistake, they heard about it.

“We were together about 20 years. We lasted longer than most marriages. And there was never a cross word between us,” even when Ms. Burns baited him into saying on camera what he had often said to her off the air — that women didn’t belong on the golf course. Mail from irate viewers poured in. “I loved her. I really did,” Tannehill said. “We had a picture of her with the pope when she came back from the Vatican, and we framed it and hung it in the office with a caption: ‘The Princess and the Pontiff.'”

Said WTAE-TV anchor Sally Wiggin: “Because of our schedules, I really did not get to know her until she left broadcast television. Once I did, I was struck by how misunderstood she was because of her public persona. Because she was larger than life, people had the impression that she was inaccessible, and she was anything but. She was so down-to-earth, so lay-it-on-the-line.”The last time I talked with her, in early August, we talked for an hour about how stressful TV is. I can’t imagine the pressure she bore by being Bill Burns’ daughter and essentially Pittsburgh’s daughter.”

A graduate of Mt. Lebanon High School and the University of Denver, she launched her career at WFAA, the ABC affiliate in Dallas. She told the Post-Gazette in 1979: “I loved it. I’ve never wanted to do talk shows or anything else. News has always interested me. Dad has said I have a natural curiosity, the desire to pursue a question, to want to find out.” In the Pittsburgh magazine profile, she recalled dealing with a longtime Dallas anchor who was unkind to her, sometimes correcting her on the air, sometimes sending her to the ladies’ room in tears. She was making $150 a week, and when WTAE came calling, she was homesick and ready to listen.

“Then Westinghouse got wind of it and all hell broke loose,” she recalled. “I was getting calls from the president of Westinghouse,” then KDKA’s owner. She, her father and her older brother, Michael, who was then her attorney, decided she would be better off at KDKA, where Bill Burns had helped to invent and shape the nascent TV news business. A July 4, 1974, newspaper article noted that Patti Burns had signed a contract with KDKA. It quoted the station’s general manager as saying, “We have been scouting this young lady for 22 years — all her life….” She started as a reporter. When she and her father joined forces to anchor the noon news in 1976, “Patti and Daddy” became the only father-daughter anchor team in the country.

“I couldn’t have predicted that team would work, but the chemistry was perfect,” Esser said. “When she said, ‘Back to you, Dad’ the first time, it was shocking. There was nothing like it in TV. But people loved it, and it was completely natural and somehow, it didn’t sound unprofessional.” Stacy Smith, who anchored the 11 p.m. news with her in the early 1990s, called their collaboration a joy.”She could be so funny,” Smith said. “During a commercial break, she’d say something so funny and it would be difficult to come back to the newscast and be serious.”

In her last days at the station, she was back on the noon report. When the move was announced, KDKA predicted she would do more enterprise reporting and high-profile interviews, but the stories never materialized.  Former KDKA commentator Al Julius, now living in Florida, recalled: “We’d go out on break together for lunch or some tea. Sometimes we’d go shopping together. We’d see something on sale and she’d say, ‘Look! It’s $10 off. I might as well buy it and hang it in the closet.’ She used to call me her fashion adviser. You’d have to know how I dress to know how funny that was.”

“There was laughter,” Julius said of Ms. Burns, “but there was a respect for the business. Not many people had that. I think the old man had tremendous influence on her. He lived and breathed the news business. She got that from him. “She had great news instincts. Even when she first came [to KDKA] as a reporter, she was more concerned with the story than with ‘face’ time.

“She made life down there effervescent. There was always a little mischief brewing in her eyes.”In 1988, the elder Burns, a perfectionist whose off-the-cuff banter sometimes landed him in hot water, told The Pittsburgh Press: “The most satisfying thing in my career of everything has been working with Patti in news. … It really has been something sitting next to Patti, watching her do the news and do it better than I ever did.”And you know, I get a kick out of walking down a street or into a hotel lobby and someone will say, ‘I think I know him,’ and the other one will say, ‘Yeah, that’s Patti Burns’ father.'”

Spurned offers to relocate

Bill Burns retired in January 1989 and died in September 1997 at age 84. The following month, he was inducted into the Pennsylvania Association of Broadcasters’ Hall of Fame. Standing in the shadow of a towering black-and-white photo of her father at a Downtown hotel, Ms. Burns accepted on his behalf. In talks, she often endorsed the idea of parents and children working together. “Who but your parents have your best interests at heart? I was very lucky to be afforded the chance, because with boys it’s different — men can go into their father’s profession and it’s expected … but when a woman does it, it’s a different thing.”

If she had wanted, Ms. Burns could have moved to other markets and earned more money. Detroit wooed her and New York came calling, too. But she loved Pittsburgh and spurned the TV suitors.In the mid-1990s, though, her relationship with top management at KDKA grew increasingly acrimonious.  In early 1997 she told the Post-Gazette: “I can’t live with the way it is now. Life’s too short. I’m in a more fortunate position than a lot of people.  I don’t have a family to support. I will give up broadcasting before I give up Pittsburgh.”

Her words about life being short sadly proved prophetic. But she never gave up on Pittsburgh — or broadcasting, for that matter.

Ms. Burns was among the first contributors to “On Q,” WQED’s nightly TV newsmagazine that went on the air in January 2000. She brought name recognition, gravitas and a lifetime’s worth of contacts, while the station provided time to report on lengthy stories dealing with the resurgence of the region.

She also created and ran Burns Communications, a media training and video production company. Among her first projects were a short recruiting video for Carlow College and a public service announcement about the importance of donating blood for the Central Blood Bank. She later produced and appeared in commercials for the Western Pennsylvania School for Blind Children. She also volunteered at Radio Information Service, which serves visually and physically impaired listeners.

She worked for a wide range of charities and causes, including Animal Friends, St. Peter’s Child Development Centers and Magee-Womens Hospital Foundation. She was chosen by Carlow College as its first Woman of Spirit and awarded honorary doctorates from Rollins College in Florida and La Roche College.Unshackled from the anchor desk, Ms. Burns was enjoying life with her husband, Charles C. Cohen, a senior partner in the Downtown law firm Cohen & Grigsby. She was spending more time with her mother in Naples, Fla., friends in Pittsburgh and her two Shetland sheepdogs. Ms. Burns, impeccably dressed and coiffed as always, and Cohen were frequently spotted at local social events.

Ms. Burns spent much of 1997 working on the Regional Renaissance Initiative, an unsuccessful plan to fund stadiums and other projects with a regional sales tax. Even as she faced an uphill battle for the initiative, she said she had never been happier. “My life is so full of so many different things — things I was never able to do when I was working for KDKA.”In October 1998, she introduced a video she had made for the Henry J. McGonigle Distinguished Speaker Series. It was about a topic she knew all too well.

“The Ethical Dilemma of Television News: Profits vs. Journalism” was a mini-lesson in the rise and changes in TV news. Through interviews, analysis, archival news footage and experience, she concluded that profits had become the driving force of the business.At the time of her death, it had been nearly five years since Ms. Burns last sat behind an anchor desk at KDKA. Her plans to leave had been the worst-kept secret in town, although her actual last day on the air caught her and viewers by surprise.

She had talked about leaving in early 1996, although the parting wasn’t final until she and KDKA failed to reach a new contract. Her last day of work was Thursday, Jan. 16, 1997. It was the end of a family and broadcasting era, and she steeled herself for the occasion.She worked that day with co-anchor Tannehill and meteorologist Bob Kudzma, telling them, “Well, Bob, Ray, my friends, this is the time to say good-bye.” She turned her attention to the viewers and thanked them “for allowing me to work with my father, to come into your home each and every day with good and bad news for our area.

“It has been a great honor and a great privilege,” she said. “Good-bye.” An emotional Tannehill told his on-air partner it had been a “great 20-year ride.” He patted her hand and asked who was going to watch over her. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she replied. But Ms. Burns could watch over herself — and she had Cohen, the attorney who would become her husband late in her life, as her protector. The couple were married in the chambers of Judge Bernard McGinley on May 18, after she was diagnosed with cancer.

She discovered a lump above her collarbone that proved to be an enlarged lymph node. It was removed and found to be malignant. There were signs the cancer had spread, but Ms. Burns, a longtime smoker, hoped that a combination of radiation and chemotherapy could arrest the disease. Ms. Burns is survived by her husband; her mother, Jeanne Burns of Naples, Fla.; and her brother.

A memorial service will be held in Oakland on Dec. 9.


MEMORIAL CONTRIBUTIONS are suggested for the Center for Complementary Medicine at UPMC Shadyside (5215 Centre Ave., Family Health Center Building, Pittsburgh 15232); School for Blind Children (201 N. Bellefield Ave.,

Another Bad Punt in 1978

Mike Michel  was the Eagle Punter in 1978.  The Eagles had tough times until Max Runeger came the following year.  At  Veterans Stadium  in game 7,  the Eagles came in at 3-3 and the Redskins were undefeated at 6-0.   Philadelphia started the Redskins on their downward spiral.  For us in this game… Philadelphia 17 Washington 10

Washington won six in a row; split the next four; and lost the next six;  Way Up and Way Down;   from 6-0 to 8-8; the Redskins did not make the playoffs. The Eagles after seven games were 4-3 and went 5-4 thereafter.  The overall record of 9-7 meant Philadelphia  made the playoffs for the first time since 1960.

One Punt in the Redskins game… Punter Mike Michel took the snap from Center,  released the ball,  raised his right leg, and missed the ball completely.   Not before or since have I seen a play like this.  



Brian Westbrook on Home Page

I think of what might have been.  In 2003, the Eagles had to win the final game at Washington to assure the home field advantage throughout the playoffs.  Had they beaten either  San Francisco or Dallas earlier,  the Eagles could have rested their first string and the last game would have been for practice.  As it was Philadelphia defeated the Washington Redskins 31 to 7. Brian Westbrook was hurt in the final game and that ended his season.   Philadelphia  lost in the NFC title game 14 to 3 to the Carolina Panthers.

About a month earlier, also at the Linc also,  the Eagles had defeated the Panthers 25 to 16.  That was with  a healthy Brian Westbrook and all other players in tact.  They also saw Panther players kicker John Kasay, normally excellent,  miss three field goals and an extra point.  We will take victory any way so long as it’s viewed in the proper perspective.

I will never forget that criminal spear on Donovan McNabb who was flat on his back.   The down by contact rule had nothing to do with what happened.  A mere touch on McNabb was all that  was required.  The officials should have ejected this player and the league office fined him.  Rickey Manning was on fire that day with three interceptions.  I think that a healthy Brian Westbrook would have made a difference.

Getting the BYE Week

Thanks for responding. If we get the following this week end the Eagles would clinch a post in the playoffs. There is of course allot more to the playoffs than this
1) Home Field Advantage. Teams like to hear the crowed yelling and cheering on their behalf. How many times have we seen defensive linemen extending their arms straight up and moving them back them back and fourth and back and fourth and back and fourth. All of these shenanigans stop as we see the offensive lineman move to the line of scrimmage.
2) a BYE Week as in 2004; Actually the Eagles had two BYE weeks in that memorable year; they played the reserves giving them valuable playing time; they lost at St.Louis 20 to 7 and at the Linc lost to the Cincinnati Bengals 38 to 10.
Especially In the game at the Linc, it seemed as if the Eagles were conducting a Rummage Sale. This exposed potential sore spots on their roster. More on this later.

Two of the Worst Punts Ever

The team that laid the rotten egg won the game.   The punters, for one play, looked very bad.   Their team eventually won the game so there no immediate damage.   However, the confidence in both kickers and teams took a severe  dive.

Thanksgiving Day 1964.  Chicago Bears at the Detroit Lions.  Thanksgiving Day football in Detroit has been a tradition since 1945.  Green Bay was the visiting team every year until 1964.   Today it was the World Champion Chicago Bears.   Bobby Joe Green, their punter, was the best in the NFL.   Green was the first pure punter in the game.   His great punts made up for his lack of versatility.

Bobby Joe Green played  two years with the Pittsburgh Steelers and 12 years with Chicago.   His booming punts gave his team great field position.   In 1963, the Chicago Bears were NFL Champions.   Their offense was only average; but their defense and  the punting of Bobby Joe  were the real drivers in Chicago’s first place record of 11-2-1.  The Bears were 1/2 game better the second place Green Bay Packers who were 11-2-1.  Both of the Packers losses were to the Bears-10 to 3 opening day and 26 to 7  in November at Wrigley Field.

Bobby Joe Green was dubbed the Rain Maker from his punts that were both high and long.  He played two years with the Pittsburgh Steelers (1960 to 1961) and 12 years with the Chicago Bears.  (1962 to 1973).  His statistics were 970 Punts, for 41, 317 yards, for a 42.6 yard average. His longest punt was 74 yards. 

No doubt his punting style helped his statistics.  Bobby Joe took the snap from center and with great coordination kicked the ball  with his left foot off the ground about a foot.  It was really graceful to see his right foot hit the ball at the high point of his jump with his left foot.   I wondered why he did not teach dancing, ballet,  or acrobatics.  

He had his greatest embarrassment on Thanksgiving Day in 1964.  This brings my narrative to its starting point 53 years ago. Bobby Joe Green took a good pass from center.   Both the offensive and defensive line went downfield.  Green began his jump and kicked the ball downfield,  one yard from the line of scrimmage.   This delighted the  home field  crowd and gave the Lions a touchdown.

I have never seen a one yard punt with no attempt to block it before or since.




Mitch McConnell Nothing Like John Sherman Cooper

This man is the most dangerous person in America. He got started being on the staff of John Sherman Cooper. Cooper, if he was here, would never speak to him. You will recall the Cooper- Church amendment cutting off funding and military operations anywhere but South Vietnam.  Then came the Cooper-Hart bill to stop funding for the ABM. { I hate using trite lines but the ABM was the most useless contraption in history}. JSC did not do any witch hunting but did not speak out against it either.   This was I think because until 1960 he would win special elections but lose the one for a full term.

This was odd and many referred to him as the Eisenhower Republican.  He won elections to fill out terms in 1952 and 1956.  In these two years  Eisenhower defeated Adali Stevenson for President.  Kentucky was one of the nine states that Stevenson carried in 1952 but not the second time. John Sherman  Cooper was among the 37 Senators in early 1966 asking Johnson to continue the bombing pause, started around Xmas 1965, over North Vietnam.

How McConnell got started working for Cooper is a real mystery.   In his book COMBAT,  Warren Rudman, said that “Mitch McConnell is”… tough humorless man and not one to cross.” Even his expression here shows a cold man who looks like demons have a firm grip on him. 

Aside from McConnell, there were two other Senators, Phil Gramm and Jesse Helms, who were basically mean and unlikable.  When Robert Dole left the Senate to run for President  in 1996,  Republicans elected  McConnell as their new leader.    This shows how low the Republican Party has fallen.  Gramm,  Helms, and McConnell look like a combination of Lawrence Welk Jackie Gleason, and Arthur Godfrey.