CTV NewsNet anchor Avery Haines was fired yesterday after making slurs against blacks, Asians, lesbians and the disabled on air that have left the network brass reeling.
Henry Kowalski, CTV's senior vice-president of news, said the "nature of her comments," which were broadcast early Saturday morning, left him no alternative but to fire Ms. Haines, who had worked at the network only two months.
He added in a news release that an investigation is continuing, which means more heads could roll.
Reached at her midtown Toronto home yesterday, Ms. Haines said the past 48 hours have been her worst nightmare. She added that she understands why CTV had to fire her.
"It's a business," said the 33-year-old, who is married with a four-year-old son. "I was only there two months. They don't owe me anything."
As for the effect of the 20 seconds on her career?
Ms. Haines said the comments were not intended to denigrate anyone.
"I was making fun of myself," she said. "I was poking fun at employment equity. I wasn't slamming any group. I had no intent to be malicious or mean, or racist or sexist or homophobic. I messed up on my intro and I tried to make light of it. You know what it's like in a newsroom, cracking jokes, we were all horsing around."
Before joining CTV, Ms. Haines worked 11 years at Toronto radio station CFRB, where she won several awards for newscasting.
The public-relations scramble at CTV started Saturday when Ms. Haines flubbed a line introducing a taped report on aid to farmers, and said: "I kind of like the stuttering thing. It's like equal opportunity right?" Then she carried on with a self-deprecating script: "We've got a stuttering newscaster. We've got the black, we've got the Asian, we've got the woman. I could be a lesbian-folk-dancing-black-woman stutterer."
Then she added: "In a wheelchair . . . with a gimping, rubber leg. Yeah, really. I'd have a successful career, let me tell you."
After CTV's phone lines started flashing with calls from irate viewers, Ms. Haines apologized twice for her "insulting and derogatory comments."
CTV did not think the apologies were enough. "Ms. Haines has shown considerable journalistic talent in her short time with us and we regret that this action was necessary," Mr. Kowalski said in the release. "However, her remarks were disrespectful and unprofessional and cannot be excused."
CTV NewsNet is a taped show with a few live bits. Ms. Haines said she stumbled through the first taped intro.
"I made my remarks, my stupid joke," she said. "And then I did tape two. They aired tape one."
Ms. Haines said the mistake, made by someone in the control room, was "absolutely not deliberate.
"The person who aired this is a sweet, wonderful person and is absolutely mortified," Ms. Haines said. "I feel so badly for this person. Right after it happened, I went and hugged her. This has to be a tough thing to know. She sees me taking all the flack. I know it was not deliberate."
CFRB news director Bill Carroll, who hired Ms. Haines out of college, said he does not believe her comments reflect her beliefs or morals. "She's as good a newscaster as there is in the country," Mr. Carroll said. "I read the story and thought, of all the people . . . she's the newsroom spokesman for the downtrodden. She's not a racist or a bigot in any way. Knowing her as I know her, I can see the irony in the joke she was making. The audience, of course, didn't have the benefit of that."
One veteran newscaster who works at a competing station had no empathy yesterday for Ms. Haines.
"Come on, get with the '90s," she said. "Many a career in this industry are ruined by loose lips. And anyone who's worked in this business knows better than to talk around a live mike."
Others, however, had some sympathy for Ms. Haines's predicament. Lise Lareau, president of the 4,500-member strong Canadian Media Guild and a producer at CBC's Newsworld, said Ms. Haines should have showed more discretion and smarts.