Michael Tuck threads his bathroom tissue over the roll, “definitely over.” For Carol LeBeau’s last meal, she’d eat peanut butter and jelly on fluffy white bread. And Paul Bloom wouldn’t tell me how old he is, but he does sleep naked.
On a deserted island, Tuck would find drinking water, LeBeau’d pray, and Bloom would get a tan. All three are a little fanatical about having white teeth. And believe it or not, none of them flinched when asked these moderately outrageous questions.
If you’ve lived in San Diego for any length of time, and if you’re plugged in to the world at large, then surely you know who Tuck, LeBeau, and Bloom are. You know that they’re three of the longest-tenured, most awarded, most critically acclaimed news anchors in town. Every weeknight, on KFMB, KGTV, and KUSI respectively,these consummate professionals bring us up to speed on the timely events around us.
And I was determined to bring myself up to speed on the everyday, life-sized, three-dimensional Tuck, LeBeau, and Bloom, whom we see reduced into two dimensions on our televisions.
Nowadays, when you peek behind most carefully constructed public images or lift the sheens from professional façades, you don’t expect to find a shining human being alive in there. Hiding underneath the persona that they want us to see, surely dirt covers most of our famous personalities.
But imagine if you looked and instead all you saw were pure examples of how to live a morally upstanding, community-driven, attentive, and useful life. How amazing would that be? (Actually, if you’re a journalist, you kind of hope to find the opposite: shame and guilt and dirt. You know, the stuff that gives a story juice; the scandal that sells.) Instead, after I interviewed Michael Tuck, Carol LeBeau, and Paul Bloom, I came away feeling as though I had met the representatives of a club whose motto is “How to Work Hard and Live Honorably.” These people are almost unbelievably good: energetic, knowledgeable, interesting, studious, and palpably honest.
So then I started to imagine that my news-anchor story could be inspiring, and not just an informative story: three baby boomers who deserve bronze busts. Which is to say, I think these folks are transcendent examples of how to deal with the extreme rhythms and compromises of our times. Bloom, Tuck, and LeBeau are all fully themselves, confident and dynamic souls with few signs of worldly stress, and yet they deal daily with the ultimate stresses of our overwhelming information age.
Think about it this way. A news anchor is really a kind of conduit, a medium through which other media must travel. And like any good conduit, a news anchor must be sensitive yet resilient. He or she must hold and protect a flow of some sort while moving it on and carrying it about. With conduits of all sorts — pipes, wires, canals, even news anchors — you never really think about them unless something goes wrong, yet all the while their roles are heroically difficult and important.
Michael Tuck: “On a news show, the anchor is the most visible direct conduit through which information flows. Everything else is going on around you. You are introducing reporters to deliver reports; you are reading some stories; you are introducing the weathercaster or the sportscaster; you are debriefing some public official who has just made an announcement; you are integrating breaking information from the producers; it’s a lot going on at once.”
Carol LeBeau: “We have a news department of about 60 to 65 people, and my job is to anchor it with my co-anchor, and that’s the base from which we go. We go off to live reports, we go to the weather, we go to the sports. We have prepackaged reports, we have light features, we have heavy stuff, you know, bad news, good news, whatever, but it all comes back to the anchor who is keeping it moving, hopefully helping to keep it interesting, providing vocal variety, visual variety, and keeping the viewer interested because I’m interested.”
Paul Bloom: “On TV, I have to keep with a script and keep things flowing, and I have to make it look easy and I have to look really natural, even though all around me there is all this activity, there’s all these people running around, but I have to act perfectly natural. I have to filter in this information. There’s all these things being said into my ear, and then I just try to talk. And I think I probably talk pretty much the way I do now, even when I’m talking into a camera doing breaking news.”
The best voice in this little group, at least based on quality of articulation alone, is Michael Tuck’s. The first thing you notice about Tuck when you meet him is that voice. It’s a purring machine, a fine tune. It hums. Even if he isn’t speaking, you can almost feel something idling under the hood, some harmonic potential, ready to rev. And I’m not referring to onscreen Michael Tuck, Michael Tuck the news anchor, the practiced persona. I’m saying that the normal speaking voice of Mr. Tuck, of Mike, is obviously some form of rare commodity.
“I grew up in East Texas, with a real heavy East Texas accent — which, parenthetically, after a couple of longneck Lone Stars will come out again — but I always had this deep fear that people would not understand me. So I worked so hard on articulation. Sometimes I articulate too much, but I think it’s really important that people understand you. One of the first broadcasting awards that I ever got — in many people’s minds it was kind of a nothing award, but it meant a great deal to me — was “The Most Easily Lip-Read Newscaster,” and it was given to me by a disabled-rights group. And it meant a lot to me because it meant that I was communicating. I try very hard to communicate.”
The second thing about Michael Tuck is the sheer force of his personality. He’s like an effortless lion, a sire rife with relaxed confidence. He speaks in broad swaths, igniting principles with a few purred words, coolly incendiary. When I spoke with Michael Tuck, I was charmed immediately. He seemed to take me into account as he made beautiful conversational shapes in the air with his voice, the oblique but very personal way that an artist takes an audience into account. He spoke to me as if I were right there, but also somehow as though I were very distant. It was a great way to be talked to: it made me feel, I don’t know, important.
“I honestly visualize families when I’m talking on the news,” Tuck said, “because family’s important to me. I think about what’s important to my family, I think about what’s important to my neighbors, I think about what’s important to people on the other side of town. When I first went on camera, I would swallow my tongue half the time. I used to be afraid of the camera lens. I kicked every other word, I was so nervous. And I finally decided that what I had to say was important, and somebody out there cared about it. I was not a salesman selling widgets, I was a person delivering something of value.”
The third impression that I had about Michael Tuck, and the effect that really tied it all together, is how practical he finally seems, how ready. After a few minutes of sitting there with him, I thought that if extraterrestrials fell suddenly through the drop ceiling of that conference room, Michael Tuck wouldn’t even blink, wouldn’t blink, one more time than he normally does. His heart would continue thumping at the same rate. He’d be prepared to begin an interview, the first ever interview with extraterrestrials, even before those aliens had stood up or unfolded or whatever, even before they’d dusted themselves off.
Carol LeBeau would get the extraterrestrial interview as well, but first she would probably make sure that the aliens were comfortable, that they had enough air. LeBeau is all heart, honest, just that selfless.
Months back, when I was trying to arrange interviews for this anchor article, placating the worries of publicists and producers at certain nameless news stations, jockeying to borrow time from busy anchors’ schedules, I was pleased and surprised when Carol LeBeau returned my phone call herself and agreed to meet with me almost immediately. And what’s more, while I spoke with Tuck and Bloom in impersonal oval-tabled news-station conference rooms, LeBeau generously invited me into her home (on Tunapuna Lane, no less). The day I showed up, she met me out front, talked cordially, led the way into her house, offered a range of drinks and snacks, showed a choice of comfortable places to sit, and then she worried aloud whether I might be allergic to her cats.
“Well, I’m just sort of the getting-past-middle-age anchor who’s been on Channel 10 now for 23 years,” LeBeau said, characteristically deprecating. “If you watched me on TV, that’s what you’d really see. With her not-too-perfect skin and her not-too-perfect hair. But who’s been blessed with a fairly long run here in San Diego. I’m just an everyday working person. I’m nothing special. But that’s how I approach the news as well. If I don’t understand something, then I don’t expect my audience to understand it either. A lot of times it’s homemakers fixing dinner for their families, and they’ve got the TV on in the background. Or maybe people starting their shift at work, maybe they’re waiters, or whoever, and they’ve got the TV on in the background. Very few people sit and watch the news riveted to the set, unless they’re retired, you know, or elderly. So it has to be, not idiotic, but simple and uncomplicated. Because when it comes to the spoken word, the viewer doesn’t have control over it; I have control over it. Once I’ve spoken the words, they’re on their way to Mars. And if I didn’t convey it to you in a way that you could understand, that first time, then it’s too late.”
LeBeau is rich with such understanding. She is a true altruist, an ethicist, a person who lives well in a world of others.
Witness, for example, a couple of LeBeau’s good lessons. (She speaks almost in parables.) “Do I have opinions?” she said. “I have a lot of opinions. And guess what I have to do? Check most of them at the door when I get to work. Because my opinions are irrelevant. If we’re covering a story on Roe versus Wade today, then whether I believe in abortion or not is completely irrelevant. And the more clueless the audience is as to what my beliefs are, then the better the job that I’m doing.”
Then LeBeau went on, “Now there are certain things where opinion is not the issue, but pathos is. If a small child is murdered by some predator or whatever, you get to throw all the conservative against liberal, religious against nonreligious, you get to throw all that petty stuff right out the door. I mean, there are certain things that are just universal truths, and a child being killed is a travesty, at any level. So it’s okay to show a little pathos on the air. And to show that you’re compassionate, and that you, too, believe like everybody else out there.”
Tuck articulates, LeBeau has heart, and Paul Bloom has mastered another means toward the glimmer of human understanding. His is the mastery of the accurate example. His recall is astonishing, if not total. His mind is detailed and radial. He’ll not only tell you that he did such and such, but he’ll also digress, finding apt metaphors and strong analogies, and then he’ll sweep those discoveries into synthesis — a man of ideas, bringing you the world and his mind in a profusion of accurate examples.
Which is to say that Paul Bloom is fearfully intense. I’ll tell you the truth, when I met this fellow I wasn’t ready for him. He came on like a feisty force, full of word and delight. He brought noise. I was a little hung over that morning, I remember, and as Bloom talked with the tape recorder between us, all I could think was, “Please, sir! Brevity! I’m going to have to sit down at my computer and transcribe all this stuff!”
Take one typically Bloomian exchange, for example. I said to him, “Give me the verb that you think best completes the following sentence: ‘Every weeknight, I the news.’ ” And Bloom said, “Just one verb? I mean, can I use seven? I deliver, I explain, I translate, I’m not just flopping the news down in front of you. There are other verbs that explain how you tell people about a city council measure that passed, like the council just passed a measure that says you can’t build shake-shingle roofs in fire zones anymore. Well, you’ve got to know why they passed it, and what the statistics were, and what this means to you and what it’s going to cost you. So, I do deliver it, but I deliver an array of facts as well, that all have to do with a certain subject in a given time. So maybe ‘deliver.’ Yeah, I guess ‘deliver’ is the best verb.” A whole long beautiful poem. Though all I wanted was a one-word answer.
Paul Bloom articulates clearly; his mind is remarkably clear, and his eyes, too, are clear. His confidence and intensity are those of one whose conscience has clarity.
If you only ever see Paul Bloom on the air, but you want to tell about his goodness, about his lack of dark thoughts, about what I am saying regarding this man’s, well, about his good soul, then on the air the only way you’ll suss out this inner light of his is in those eyes. I know you’ve seen them, but now try to look. Somehow, even on the air, his eyes encompass opposites: gentle while forceful, searing though lighted kindly, distant yet present, considering into things even as they see the surfaces. Bloom’s eyes are kind of like his voluminous mind, incorporating apparent contradictions, embracing vague contraries. Ask Paul Bloom a simple question, and you get a wide-ranging answer. Ask a wide-ranging question, and you get that characteristic proliferation of specific examples. Bloom actually knows, off the top of his head, the frequencies and station names of all the presets on his car radio. That’s it, finally: Paul Bloom’s eyes and mind contain bountiful proportions and generous capacities.
On air, Tuck, LeBeau, and Bloom are like organized tornadoes. But in their quiet moments, we learn that Tuck has written a touching book, LeBeau has overcome a potentially devastating family tragedy, and Bloom is the epitome of a husband and father.
Tuck’s book, called Little Soul, is an uplifting work of nonfiction about a hard-luck young woman who prevails over her sad and difficult upbringing. “Writing’s really my first love,” Tuck said. “Of everything that I do, I enjoy the writing the most. Now, I’m not going to lie to you, it is a high when you go on television; it’s a little rush. I like it a lot. But writing is more personal than performing. When you perform, it’s what you do, but when you write, it’s who you are.” Little Soul should be made into a movie of the week on Fox television sometime in the next year.
LeBeau’s mother died about 22 years ago, a suicide. She had untreated depression. “I’ve struggled on and off with it too,” LeBeau told me. “But I was able to get treatment. So I’ve become quite an outspoken advocate for erasing the stigma of mental illness. The truth is, my depression is entirely chemical, and I inherited the gene from my mom. Within three weeks of taking the correct antidepressant, the blues just completely went away. And I had a severe anxiety component associated with it too, which was just like my mother’s chemistry. Which is so sad, because, you know, had she been treated… But it was 30 years ago, or 40 years ago, and instead she had electroshock therapy, awful things, and a simple, simple pill could have saved her.”
Not to sound trite or ironic, but you could probably produce a public-service commercial based on Paul Bloom’s family life. “We have a very, very stable, solid, fun family,” Bloom said. “We get together a lot. We have a pool table in the back patio of the house, and the garage refrigerator’s always filled with Coke, and the pantry’s always filled with chips, and so if the kids are going to get together, they always end up at our house. It’s a cheap way to keep your kids where you can keep an eye on them. Cokes and chips.” And later in our conversation, Bloom conveyed this moving idea: “ ‘I love you’ is the most overused phrase in our whole house. We say it, the kids say it. We kiss on the mouth. I still kiss my 21-year-old son on the mouth when he goes off to work or something. I mean, we’re a very, very loving family. I love my kids, and I love my wife, and I let them know it every chance I get.”
As our trio of anchors got to talking, I was glad that I had a wide range of questions to ask them. They were such graceful subjects. I wanted to hear about their families and upbringings, their home lives, their time at work, their idiosyncrasies and foibles, and also their ideas about spirituality, religion, and moral and ethical relations.
“I think we have to enlighten people and educate people,” Tuck said. “I’m greatly encouraged by the fast acceleration of the Internet. I think that is to some degree going to homogenize us. I think to some degree it’s going to eradicate the interesting cultural differences between us, but I think it’s also ultimately going to bring us all closer together. The Internet has made me so much more informed. It makes it so much easier to grab information, to organize yourself, to get motivated, and to communicate with people. It took me a long time to come kicking and screaming into this century, but now it makes my life so much easier.”
For LeBeau, religion is a major part of her daily life. “The truth is the most important thing in life in general,” she said. “Period. I’m a Christian. I believe in the Scripture that says, ‘The truth will set you free.’ Period. So if it’s not true, then I don’t really want to spend time with it.” Then she went on, “I think that if everybody acknowledged a Creator, and that we were all created and accountable to a Creator, it would change the whole way we make decisions in our lives. In other words, I don’t have to worry about my husband having an affair, because he’s already told me, ‘Well, I could hide that from you, Carol, but I can’t hide it from God.’ It all starts, though, with believing in God. If you don’t believe, then the whole thing’s pointless.”
For Bloom, the family man, of course his moral ideas involve his children. “We never laid down rules about ‘you can’t see this, you can’t see that.’ We believe that their moral fiber is strong enough that there’s nothing they’re going to watch on TV that will… I mean, we’re certainly careful. When they were growing up, we didn’t take them to see slasher movies and things like that, but I can’t think of any instance where we said, ‘No, you can’t go see that,’ because, every single day, when we see them, we try not to judge. They might be going off in some other direction that we don’t know about, but we don’t worry too much about it.”
When it comes to their professional sides, Tuck, LeBeau, and Bloom all have interesting perspectives. For example, I asked them to define “news.”
Michael Tuck: “The classic definition is ‘a timely event that has interest to a large number of people.’ Another definition is ‘news is whatever I say news is.’ And that sounds like an egotistical definition, but I don’t mean it that way. What I mean is, we’re sitting there in the newsroom, and a thousand events are before us, and we only have time to report on 25 or 30 of them. So, in fact, we’re making subjective decisions as to what is news and what is not news. We make those decisions based on what we think will interest people and on those stories we think will have direct impact on their lives.”
Carol LeBeau: “News is anything that’s out of the ordinary. We’re sitting here in my living room, having a nice discussion, and I don’t think anyone would want to hear about that on the news tonight, frankly. You know, sun’s out, statue’s sitting still on the table there, everything looks okay so far. Now if a bomb went off in here in about five minutes, then we’d have a story. Out of the ordinary. Man bites dog.”
Paul Bloom: “John Kennedy said that ‘news is a rough draft of history.’ I mean, really what you’re talking about when you talk about yesterday’s news is you’re going to be talking about history, in a sense. It may be some landmark measure that city council passed or that Congress passed that’s going to affect people for years to come. Or like Arnold Schwarzenegger and his budget plan, which is going to affect a lot of people for a long time. Or it may be something very, very small that only goes on in one neighborhood, like a park opening, but basically that’s going to be a part of history tomorrow and next week, and we’re telling people today what’s probably going to be thought of as history tomorrow or the next day.”
Tuck and LeBeau also communicated strong opinions about how to improve the news industry. LeBeau thinks that just because the news can be on every hour of every day, it doesn’t mean that it should be on. She marveled how young newscasters nowadays are able to talk and talk and fill space, even though no news is breaking. She imitated one of these young anchors: “We have a report that he may be in the truck, although we’re not sure. We think that a person who may be related to the situation might be on the way. All we have is this image shot three hours ago…and on and on…” LeBeau told me all they might have is a single loop of footage, but stations will air it repeatedly to fill time, thus skewing the importance of that repetitive information. “I’m not even sure if it’s news anymore when it comes to that,” she said.
Tuck thinks news shows are given over too much to old ideas about what a newscast is supposed to be. “I feel that as an industry, we are too consultant-driven. We are too driven by focus groups. I believe in consultants, and I believe in focus groups, but I think that there needs to be room for gut reaction and individual conscience on the part of journalists who are putting together a newscast. And I think too often, in this world of consultant-driven news, we come up with a formula for what a newscast looks like and sounds like, and it’s too rigid.”
You should visit a newsroom. It’s something else. If you do get a chance to go to one, midday sometime, you’ll realize that a newscast is created by an incredible orchestration of independent parts: dozens of reporters, producers, cameramen, technicians, and clerks, all working together and playing their roles. When I toured Channel 51 with Paul Bloom, my senses literally overloaded. It felt like an incredible atmosphere in which to work. There was activity and chatter from everywhere: television screens, computer screens, people on telephones, people in conversations, a tangible buzz of attention and energy. And the news wasn’t even on the air yet. They were just getting ready. I asked Tuck, LeBeau, and Bloom about their typical workday.
Michael Tuck: “I come in midafternoon, look over a newscast that I’ll be anchoring, and check the assignment desk. I meet with producers, and then I start looking at the scripts that I have and making corrections, rewriting stories. I don’t spend as much time in my office as some anchors do because I like to be out there with the writers; I’m always asking questions; if a part of a story’s ambiguous, then I want to know what really happened, so I can… You know, my rule of thumb is this: if the anchor doesn’t understand it, then nobody else is going to understand it. So I have to understand the story as best I can, so I can make sure that the viewer does.”
Carol LeBeau: “Every day is different, to a degree, which is what makes my job interesting. At the very least, the news is different every day. When I come in, I sit down at the computer and begin to look over stories that were filed by reporters who have been pounding the pavement all day. By the time I get on the air at 5:00, it will simply be my job to convey what those reporters have been working on all day long. I mean, we’re a staff of 60, 65 people, as I said, and I’m just one cog in that wheel. I do a number of promotions between three and five o’clock, letting our audience know what’s coming up, what we may be seeing on the show that night. If there’s any breaking news, then Hal Clement, who’s my co-anchor, or I would break into programming with that information. There’s a ton of e-mails and snail mails that I have to look over throughout the day. Then there’s the 5:00 news, the 6:30 broadcast, and then we do a 9:00 news on cable news channel 15, and then an 11:00 news that gets over at 11:36 every night. So, essentially, I’m in there between 3:00 and midnight.”
Paul Bloom: “The hours that I work depend on what’s going on. I may get a page at 10:00 in the morning that the president’s going to speak at 11:30, and they want me to come in and anchor that or be live around that. Or if something major’s happening, if the mayor’s holding a big news conference about the indictments in the city council, when there’s major stuff that’s going to be happening, when the brush fires were going through town, all bets were out the window. I mean, we worked 14 hours on Sunday and 13 on Monday and 13 more on Tuesday, and it was just go home long enough to sleep and shower and get back in here and go back on the air, 10:00 in the morning until 11:00 or 12:00 at night.
“But a normal shift is usually 2:30 to 11:30, and I get in here, and the first thing I do is go through my e-mails and check my mailbox and check messages and those kinds of things. And then I start sitting down with my producers. There’s one for the ten o’clock show and one for the six o’clock show, so I sit down with them and get up to date. Normally, I will sit down and talk with them three or four times a day. And then I’ll talk with the assignment desk or talk to the producers during the day, and they’ll page me to call in just to give me a heads-up into something that’s changing. So on a normal day, once I’ve checked things out, we have news breaks that we do every hour on the hour throughout the afternoon, and Kimberly Hunt and I take turns doing those. We have promos telling people what’s coming up on the show at 6:00 or what’s coming up on the show at 10:00, and we prerecord those at different times. So it’s a combination of sitting at my desk and starting to go through the scripts that are coming into the show rundown and then getting up to go do a newsbreak.
“And then, as the afternoon goes on, between 2:30 and 6:00, it gets more labor intensive: more and more scripts come in, more and more reporters are feeding their things into the rundown, more and more writers are getting their tapes cut and feeding those into the rundown, and every single one of those, I open up the script in the rundown on my computer and start reading it over, and I look for sentences that run too long; I look for things that may be factual errors, or syntactical errors, or sometimes I’ll see something that doesn’t really ring right, that this didn’t really happen last week, it was the week before, and I’ll go check it, find out, and go back in there and make sure that that’s correct. It’s a filtering process. I filter what comes through based on what I’ve heard and what I’ve read, and I make sure that everything is accurate. Everything that comes out of my mouth on the air is something that I’ve read before, unless it’s very, very last-minute breaking.”
This “rundown” to which Bloom is referring is essentially a computerized list that conveys information to the technicians, cameramen, anchors, and producers about what to do and when during the newscast. It conveys which camera to use, which video playback deck to use, which tapes to have cued, and any other directions for the crew of how to physically put the newscast together. The rundown times the show right to the second and assures that everything should go smoothly once the news is live and on the air.
In the end, it seems that being a news anchor must require more than a few special talents. Michael Tuck summed it up: “Here’s what happens when you’re a newsroom anchor. You make more money than anybody in the room, you generally don’t have to work as hard as the others do, and you can prance in at the last minute and take credit for their work. But people will resent that, if that’s the way you look at your job. I think an anchor has an obligation to work at least as hard as everyone else, and to care about the product at least as much as they do, and to provide some form of leadership.”
Carol LeBeau told me, “To be a news anchor, I don’t know, you need basic schooling, you need a degree in something. And after you get a degree, this is one of those careers where you need practical experience to round out the theoretical experience. So it’s important to get out there and start pounding the pavement as soon as possible. You need experience covering news, basically, and thinking on your feet, and being exposed to as much life experience as possible. The more life experience the better. The better informed you are, the more you understand certain topics.”
And Paul Bloom added that to be a news anchor, you need “curiosity, tenacity, a certain amount of a sense of history, a certain amount of memory, of being able to keep things in perspective. But you see, when I was a kid growing up in a small town in upstate New York, when a fire engine came along, I was always the one who winnowed his way through the crowd, to get up front, to see what was going on. Didn’t realize at the time what I was doing in life, that I was actually becoming a reporter, and I couldn’t wait to get over and tell somebody else what I just saw. And that’s all I’m doing now is I’m winnowing my way through the crowd to get a close-up look at what’s going on. And when I go to a scene, for example, if there’s just been a shooting, and I get there with my cameraperson, while the cameraperson starts taking pictures, I’m working my way all around the crowd and I’m listening and I’m looking and I’m gathering information. I very rarely take notes, I just go through and soak up whatever I can, because I’m going to have to put it into words later on.”
Just one more question, one last thing I wanted to know from Mr. Bloom, Mr. Tuck, and Ms. LeBeau… Why are they called anchors? What sense does that unusual title make?
Paul Bloom: “You know, when a ship gets in trouble, what’s the first thing they throw overboard?”
Michael Tuck: “I think because in many cases it’s because we weigh the show down.”
Carol LeBeau: “I don’t know. That’s interesting.”