By: M.L. Stein
Former Sacramento Bee TV critic cites burnout,
family woes as reasons he plagiarized, twice sp.
BOB WISEHART, WHO resigned as Sacramento Bee TV critic after writing a second plagiarized column, has recounted the episode in an unusual article ? in the alternative Sacramento News & Review ? that blends confession with the emotional turmoil that put him in a psychiatric hospital.
In the first-person piece, Wisehart blames his downfall on family problems and on burnout after 16 years of writing a column on deadline.
The article also complains that Bee executive editor Gregory Favre and features editor Scott Lebar came to the hospital, while Wisehart was still groggy from medication, “to arrange my ‘resignation.’ “
“I did not participate except to just sit there, and I remembered nothing about the meeting . . . . Officially, I resigned, though the word didn’t fool anyone,” he added.
In his account, which Favre strongly disputed, Wisehart said he believed the Bee “should have waited until I knew what was going on, before it threw me out the door.” But, he conceded, “I did have to go.”
The former critic insisted the article was “neither an excuse nor alibi. Many people have problems worse than mine. I just handled them badly. I did what I did, and paid a price for it. So did my wife, Dana, who deserves better.”
Favre, in an interview with E&P, said this of his hospital visit with Wisehart: “We did wait. We waited nine days after the plagiarism incident before we met with Bob at the psychiatric hospital to allow him to resign. The timing was not ours. It was the doctors’. “
According to Favre, Wisehart’s doctors advised that if a separation was in order, it was best accomplished in the hospital so the patient could receive help coping.
Wisehart, 46, admits he was considered suicidal at the time, and doctors advised Favre of that condition.
“Obviously,” Favre recalled, “we were being pulled by two needs ? Bob’s and the newspaper’s. We waited, putting the newspaper’s credibility at risk, so that we would ensure Bob’s safety to the best of our ability.”
He said Wisehart’s severance package included extra pay and a six-month extension of medical benefits.
Told of Favre’s statement, Wisehart said: “I know Gregory’s feelings on the matter. We’ve agreed to disagree.”
Wisehart’s current troubles began on April 13, 1994, when he plagiarized a column by an old friend and former colleague in Florida, Greg Dawson of the Orlando Sentinel.
It was the second time Wisehart had been caught lifting somebody else’s work. In 1987, the Bee suspended him for several months for copying a nonfiction piece by well-known author Stephen King.
But it was the second misstep that turned Wisehart’s life nightmarish, he wrote. After his editors confronted him about the plagiarism, he went into a kind of shock, became unresponsive and wound up in a psychiatric hospital, where “my behavior ranged from wild raving to stupor. I was on ‘suicide watch,’ meaning that I threatened to kill myself, or simply wanted to die,” he disclosed.
Wisehart’s discharge papers two weeks later described him as “clearly tormented, clenching and unclenching his fists. His gaze was downcast. He choked and sobbed, but would not speak.”
“I was also hearing voices, and I was afraid of them,” the ex-critic recalled. He was diagnosed as suffering from “adjustment disorder with disassociative reaction” and “severe” stress.
The pressures of writing a daily column and family illnesses contributed to his journalistic downfall and medical condition, Wisehart contended.
“I was one of the graybeards at that line of work,” he said. “Not many people understand it, but it’s a meat grinder. I’d written a TV column for 16 years . . . . There’s a lot of burnout, and it requires all the skills to be found in a newsroom.
“You must know politics, sports, news and entertainment. You must be able to do reviews, breaking news, analysis, commentary and profiles. You must be good on deadline and still be able to do longer pieces. And it helps if you can leap tall buildings at a single bound.”
At the time he last was caught plagiarizing, Wisehart said, his father, who lived 3,000 miles away, was dying of cancer and emphysema, and a daughter-in-law also had been diagnosed with cancer.
“Somewhere in my head I ran away to a place where the world couldn’t get to me, which is what disassociation is all about,” he observed.
Wisehart suggested that a family tragedy contributed to his plagiarism in 1987, when his young son was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident that resulted in broken bones in the boy’s back, legs and ankle and left him with severe internal injuries. The youth returned from the hospital “bedridden and helpless.”
Wisehart regrets that he didn’t ask the paper for a leave of absence, instead of continuing to try to turn out his column during this period.
“I didn’t take time off, and I lost it. I was a darn fool,” he admitted.
Referring to his more recent ethical lapse, Wisehart said that when he left the hospital, he didn’t have a clear idea of how the incident happened. He recalled having had several conversations with Dawson and having checked the wires and other TV columns for ideas.
“Put it all together, and what I did was to take what I remembered of his column, unconsciously tell myself that it was a conversation, and wrote my column, using part of his,” Wisehart surmised.
Although still undergoing outpatient psychotherapy, the writer said he was “fine now. This is my way of flying the flag. It is time to reenter the world.”
Professionally, that may be difficult, because, as Wisehart said, “I’ve never felt better physically and psychologically. The irony is that I can’t get a job.”
?(“somewhere inmy head I ran away to a place where the world coulnd’t get to me.” )[Caption]