Monday In Your Face

He may be Cleveland’s dominant reporter; of his work he says, “I make my living off other people’s misery.”
You’re Carl Monday and you’re about, to become a folk hero.

You’ve been working toward this moment professionally for about ten years now, but really even since you were a kid, and now here it is, you hardly have to do a thing. It’s like a gift, just listen and blink a couple of times and take it like a man, a very reasonable white man, just let this screaming black man continue to threaten you—I’m going to take that goddamn camera and wrap it around your goddamn neck, I’m not hull-shitting you, I’m going to... and when his aria of expletives concludes, say, very soberly, Thank you, then turn back toward the television camera and allow your face to betray nothing but the slightest flicker of satisfaction. The most powerful black man in Cleveland has just made a complete fool of himself, it’s all on videotape, and after the 6 o’clock news there will even be block parties in a couple of the city’s predominantly white “West Side neighborhoods, people gathering to watch and laugh and howl at the 11 o’clock news because they believe George Forbes, the city council president, has finally exposed himself for what they’ve always felt he really is beneath all his money and power.

Well, for you anyway, this isn’t about race at all. You’re Carl Monday of the I-Team, an investigative reporter for WJW TV8. You know that Forbes owes the city $440 for his water bill but the water hasn’t been shut off. So you ambush Forbes and ask him why.

Still, you know Cleveland. You know how big this story is going to play. You run to the phone to call the station and tell them the good news.

Everyone-who’d love to put Forbes in his place is going to love this and love you. And you’ve always believed the essential matter for a television reporter is to separate himself from the rest of the pack, from all the other talking heads, in the mind of the viewer.

You’ve been in the news business for over a decade and have built a name for yourself. But with this story you mark the beginning of your claim to being the dominant reporter in the city. You’d already cultivated a network of sources throughout the city to feed you information. But now, it is your reputation that feeds on itself. Anyone with knowledge of public or private corruption, anyone who has dirt to throw, thinks of calling you first, knowing you will air a story in the most brutally efficient and often sarcastic manner possible.

You love hidden cameras, surveillance, deception, looking in someone’s mailbox or searching through their trash; you take risks, get beat up, people call to say they’re going to kill your pretty little wife. But you don’t back off, you don’t start doing soft stories; if anything your stories begin to take on even more of an edge—it seems you’ll go after anyone. There’s a joke at the station you only want stories you can write with a knife.

Now, in 1991, there is no doubt you are the best-known reporter—television or radio or newspaper—in Cleveland. Your colleagues say you are especially popular with what they call the average citizen, black or white, anyone who feels powerless and angry with the system and with those who abuse it for their own gain. They identify with the power with which you wield your media sword: because of your stories at least 28 people have been suspended from their jobs, 29 people have been fired, and 24 people have been convicted of a multitude of offenses, several of whom have gone to prison.

It’s said the so-called common people identify with you in particular because you speak their language, aren’t a pretty boy, don’t take on celebrity airs: they see themselves in you. You are a kind of folk hero to them, an Everyman.

Of course, some people consider you a cold-blooded son of a bitch.

It’s true you make society’s dynamics sound no different from the remorseless relationships

between the various species in the food chain: “We live in a world where people live off one another. I make my living off other people’s misery. And people use me. They use me to try to get to someone else, to get even. That’s the way it is.”

When it comes to the consequences of your actions you are not Hamlet, tortured by ambivalence: “People need a deterrent to keep them from doing wrong. I’m a deterrent. I’ve often been tempted myself to try and get away with something, but I’m deterred by the thought someone else might be keeping an eye on me. I don’t enjoy putting someone out of a job or into prison. But they should have thought of that before they did wrong. I was brought up to recognize the guys in the white hats from the guys in the black hats, to believe there is right and there is wrong and no gray area between.”

Of course, you’re not really Carl Monday.

But then, neither is the subject of this profile.

He’s really Carl Stylinski.

It’s true he had his last name legally changed to Monday in 1972. But, he’s still a Stylinski. His peasant grandparents emigrated from Poland and settled in what used to be known as the Warszawa section of Cleveland, now called Slavic Village, where his parents—his mother a worker in a millinery and his father a sign painter and gas meter repairman—raised him until they moved to Garfield Heights in 1965, when Carl was about to enter high school.

He first used the name Monday while working in radio at Kent State University. He adapted it from Alexander Mundy, the Robert Wagner character in the television series, To Catch a Thief. His grandmother granted her permission to make the name change permanent so long as it was to bring him luck in his chosen profession, and not because he was ashamed of being Polish.

“Did he tell you that Monday isn’t even his real last name? I think you should be proud of your real name and I think you should use it,” says Tom Meyer, also an investigative reporter for TVS and Monday’s former partner in the I-Team.

Initially, Monday and Meyer had a tight relationship. “We were practically joined at the shoulders,” says Meyer.

Eventually, brawny egos and philosophical differences made for epic fights over stories, how they should be done and who should receive credit for them. “We would count the lines in each story to make sure we each had the same number to read,” says Monday. Now, there is not a relationship between the two, but a kind of abyss; though they have adjoining offices they barely speak and each holds the other in contempt.

“I do stories where you have to start from scratch, do all your own investigation. He specializes in these topical stories where it’s already been done somewhere else, nationally or in another market, and so then he just does it here,” Monday says of Meyer.

Meyer says of Monday, “I do stories about issues like celebrities who pitch medical insurance that rips off the poor and elderly. He likes doing these little stories where he catches a city worker having a fling with some woman on city time.”

Monday says he has about 775 stories in what he calls his active files. Some simply need one more piece of information, perhaps a few hours of a cameraman’s time for some surveillance work, and he can put them on the air. He has notes and tape recordings and photographs in cabinets and boxes throughout the station; if the people in his files knew they were in his files, few would consider it a dream come true.

He also has 70 legal pads full of tips he has received over the phone and has to look into; walk into his office as he’s taking one of the 200 calls he receives each week and you’ll hear the range of human woe: I-Team. Someone set you on fire? Why would someone set you on fire? Oh, you’re in the county jail? Well, then that’s not so unusual...

I-Team. Well, is this person a prominent person? So he’s saying you could pay your rent by sexual means? I don’t know, we could maybe put a wire on you, do a quick hit...

I-Team. Refresh my memory. Uh-huh, uh-huh. Yeah, fine, but we need more evidence of his abuse of you. You have any photographs?...

Nobody calls Carl Monday and says, Hey, I have to tell you about a wonderful thing someone did for me today. Nearly every call he takes is from someone who feels betrayed or defrauded or violated and who wants justice or revenge or the ugly human pleasure of knowing they played a part in the downfall of another person.

“When I first met Carl,” says Sandy Monday, his wife of sixteen years, “he sometimes had difficulty showing emotion. But over the years, with all the stories he’s done and all the things he’s seen, I’ve seen him harden even more. Now, sometimes it seems like it’s almost impossible for him to express his feelings, to show emotion.”

One thing Carl Monday has no difficulty expressing is his sense of humor. He weaves humor and sarcasm throughout many of his investigative pieces in a manner most reporters can’t—because they don’t have his writing talent—or won’t—because they feel it turns journalism into schlock. “He does things that are perhaps more aggressive and questionable than the rest of us,” says Tom Beres, political reporter for WKYC-TV3. “I’m jealous sometimes, and sometimes I just shake my head.”

Occasionally, Monday simply lets his protagonists hang themselves, with the aid of some thoughtful editing. As in the story about a city supervisor who denied being in his car with a prostitute on city time. “If that’s true I should drop dead right now,” the supervisor says. Cut to surveillance footage of him leaning back with a beer in his hand while a woman unbuttons his shirt. Cut back to the supervisor as he again denies the accusation: “If I’m lying may God strike me dead!” Cut to him sighing and nuzzling back into the woman with an almost angelic smile on his face.

But most often Monday likes to string them up himself with one or more of his barbed lines.

In the hands of most reporters, a story about a cop playing softball while on duty would consist of surveillance footage and a statement from a Cleveland Police Department spokesperson saying the officer had been suspended and the matter was under investigation.

In the hands of Carl Monday the story is called “Robocops.” It begins with a rundown of brutal crimes committed in the officer’s district while he was playing softball and is followed by an interview with a tearful woman who had been beaten and robbed. We then see footage of the officer sitting on the bumper of his car changing from his police blues —as Monday intones, “An officer from the CPD in his BVD’s” — into his softball uniform.

We watch a few moments of the game as Monday critiques the officer’s play and then see a computer graphic scoreboard of his stats: 2 hits/2RBI/0 Arrests. Finally, Monday approaches the officer, asking him, “Have you ever heard the expression ‘caught with your pants down’?” The officer’s eyes widen. “Uh, no, uh, not at all,” he says. “Mmmhmm,” says Monday.

Monday won a local Emmy award in the category of newswriting for “Robocops.” He has won six out of the last seven Emmys for investigative reporting and has received a total of fourteen Emmys over the years.

But sometimes you don’t have to be the target of Monday’s humor to find it unfunny.

Occasionally it’s immature. The I-Team attempted to set up a sting of heating repairmen, requesting several to come to a house with a furnace that needed only a minor adjustment, in the expectation that some would claim it required an expensive overhaul. But none of the repairmen lied. One repairman did, however, masturbate while alone in the basement and was videotaped doing so by a hidden camera. The station aired the clip, blurring part of the frame.

The Columbia Journalism Review excoriated the I-Team and the station for running the tape. One story Monday expresses no regrets about but probably should was unworthy of his coverage, and the supposed humor it employed was ugly.

He aired a two-part investigation into allegations a city administrator had been urinating in a stairwell leading to the garage in the city government’s offices in the convention center. On the 6 and 11 o’clock news, Monday stood in front of a small puddle of urine and pointed at it for the camera, which then zoomed in for a closer look. He interviewed the janitress who had to clean up the puddle with the solemn tone of a reporter who had uncovered evidence of an international political conspiracy.

The man accused of urinating in the stairwell was in his sixties, but this didn’t stop Monday from using a good line and talking about “the convention center whiz kid.” The man’s public humiliation in front of perhaps 500,000 television viewers—and the evidence Monday presented was not entirely conclusive—was excessively out of proportion to whatever wrong the man might have done. But Carl Monday also breaks more important stories than any other television reporter in town; perhaps more than any reporter working in any medium.

As a rule, newspaper reporters look down on television reporters; they dismiss them as “personalities” and not journalists, and consider much of what they do to be soporific. (This does not generally bother television reporters, who usually make more money and have more influence upon the public than do newspaper reporters.)

Steve Luttner, politics writer for The Plain Dealer, has seen Monday beat his paper and everybody else in town on too many stories to dismiss him: “I don’t know how he’s constructed his network of sources, but he breaks a lot of excellent stuff. Sometimes you get the sense he thinks quite a bit of himself, but it doesn’t detract from his work. There’s a handful of good television reporters in town and Carl is most often the one who breaks a story”

When Judge Carl Stokes, the former mayor, became entangled in the first of two alleged shoplifting incidents, it was Monday who had the story before anyone else. He refrained from exploiting the story with humor or histrionics, allowing Stokes to explain his version of the incident while also thoroughly reporting upon the various details and contradictions.

It was also Monday who totally out-maneuvered the rest of the city’s media in his exposure of two of the top three stories in last year’s volatile mayoral campaign. (The top story was simply that Michael White, who had been given little chance and little money, won.)

While every political reporter in Cleveland was vainly searching for the source of the torrent of rumors alleging Michael White had physically abused one of his former wives, it was Monday who produced court documents from White’s first marriage containing accusations of violence and cruelty. While the other reporters scrambled to catch up with Monday, rumors began to flow that there was more to come. Monday then aired an exclusive interview with White’s second wife, who detailed allegations of abuse and cited hospital records. Monday says he received a tip from one of the woman’s relatives, and after tracking her down eventually convinced her to go on camera with her charges.

Most reporters in town are envious of Monday’s sources and the ability of his reputation to attract tips, but Cuyahoga County Commissioner Timothy F. Hagan says, “Carl Monday’s sources are self-serving. His sources are usually his friends and he allows them to promote their own views. He’s done some good work but he is also a demagogue, particularly during ratings periods.”

Hagan says it was during a ratings period that Monday edited one of his quotes so completely out of context, in order to sensationalize a story, that Monday’s cameraman called the next day to apologize for Monday’s manipulative editing.

It is certainly accurate to say that three times a year the local television stations become like animals in heat — they’ll do all sorts of things they wouldn’t even normally consider. The ratings for each station’s news broadcast (and the advertising rates the stations can command) is re-established three times a year, and the content of the news during that period is usually heavy on sex and violence and scandal; subjects Monday has never shied away from.

But when Monday is in the mood he is as talented as Tom Meyer or Ellen Miller of Channel 3 at doing complicated, issue-oriented investigative stories.

His expose on toxic waste dumping at Cleveland Hopkins Airport resulted in an EPA investigation and the indictment and conviction of the airport’s executive director. He was the first reporter to open the lid on the squalid Feckner affair, in which Cleveland narcotics detectives allowed a drug dealer to sell drugs in one of the city’s black neighborhoods. (Monday admits dropping the lid prematurely on this story, just like everyone else in town.) His investigations into the Dr. Pet chain and the sudden acceleration of some CM cars were both picked up by the national media.

“Carl’s work is his life,” says Sandy Monday, during dinner with the couple at their home in Lakewood. “I always take a backseat. Sometimes it hurts, but you try to get over it. Work is his priority. So you have to be strong on your own, have your own sense of values.

“He works a lot of hours, seven days a week. He may even actually be here, but his mind is in his work. And out in public, at a restaurant, he’ll be listening to every conversation but our own. ‘Earth to Carl’, I’ll say to him. But it’s very difficult for him to come down.

“I believe in the work he does. It’s not like what he cares about most is making money. But sometimes his devotion to his work is painful for his family. He’s gentle and I know he loves me, but sometimes it can be hard for him to show it.

“His achievements are seen by thousands every day. But sometimes it seems we’ve paid a hard price for his success. We’ve sacrificed so much. You have to be tough to be married to Carl Monday. Sometimes I don’t think I fit the bill.”

“What do you think about what Sandy said last night at dinner?” Carl asks.

“Well,” I say, “that’s what I wanted to ask you.”

“I think”— Carl hesitates, smiles ever so slightly — “Sandy spoke her mind.”

Carl and Sandy met when they were both working at radio station WERE in 1973, he as a reporter and she as a secretary. Sandy is now a computer analyst for M.K. Ferguson, an engineering firm. They have a daughter, Melissa, who is a freshman at Lake-wood High School.

Their home in Lakewood is large and attractive but not huge and opulent. It’s generally anchors, and not reporters who make exorbitant salaries in television news. Still, Carl is most likely the highest paid reporter in Cleveland, making something just less than $100,000 a year.

At most every stage of his career he has been ahead of the pack. “The one thing I fear is failure,” he says. “I’m petrified of failure.”

He was at Kent State University, majoring in telecommunications and working for the radio station, when four students were shot to death by the National Guard. “I didn’t take part in the protests,” he says, “I covered them.” He says the shootings were a turning point in his life; he decided life was too serious to be a deejay and opted instead to be a newsman.

After graduation he worked in radio at WHK and WMMS for about six months and then spent a year at WERE. He and Sandy married and spent a year in Wichita, where he did radio in the morning and at noon anchored a television news broadcast. He and Sandy both hated Wichita.

They returned to Cleveland and WERE, where Carl became news director at the age of 26. Virgil Dominic, then news director at TVS, noticed during his drive to work each morning that Monday continually came up with stories nobody else had.

Dominic, who is said to possess almost a mystical talent for divining who does and does not possess television talent, hired Monday in 1979 without seeing so much as an audition tape.

Not too long ago, a group of cameramen — who are to a television station what the infantry is to the armed forces—talked Carl into going to Circus-Circus, the strip bar in the Flats, for a bachelor party.

Almost immediately two of the strippers came up to the table and said to Carl: Hey, we know you, you’re on television.

No, Carl said, no, you have me confused with somebody else.

But the dancers insisted: You’re on channel 8, we watch you all the time.

I’m sorry, Carl said, but you’re wrong.

But soon two more strippers came over and then all four were trying to remember his name. Carl’s lips curled into a half-smile. Allright, he said, I admit it, I’m Tom Meyer.

The dancers, thrilled to have a celebrity present, spread the word that Tom Meyer had come to Circus-Circus.

After Monday had been at TV8 for about six months, he joined Meyer on the I-Team. They did some excellent work together but eventually, they were often at each other’s throats.

They look like one another, have the same slight build, and comb their hair the same way. Meyer shaved his moustache just so they’d be more discernible to viewers, who sometimes confuse the two. Most everybody who works at TV8 seems to get along with both and both seem to get along with everybody else. But each has plenty of derogatory things to say about the other; there’s not much point in printing most of it. Somehow much of it comes across as the petty complaints of two brothers who will, hopefully, one day realize they probably should have been best friends all along.

Or, maybe not.

They split up in early 1983, with Monday keeping the I-Team title and Meyer voluntarily taking on the considerably less evocative name of Fact Finder, which sounds like a handy reference guide your aunt might give you for your birthday.

Some of Meyer’s rancor may stem from the fact he fears he’s been eclipsed by Monday since they parted ways. In terms of raw popular appeal, it’s no doubt true. But it’s also true an argument can be made his work often has more substance than Monday’s, though it’s rarely as sensational.

A carefully-documented series Meyer aired last November about the poor crash-worthiness of most mini-vans is illustrative of the quality of some of his work, and of one reason why Meyer and Monday are in fact the only full-time investigative television reporters in town.

According to sources, at least two of the makers of the mini-vans attempted to pressure TVS into scuttling the series before it ran. General Manager Virgil Dominic would only comment that, “Tom’s story ran exactly as he wrote it and we stand by it.” But not without a price: the Northeast Ohio Ford Dealers Association punished the station by pulling $700,000 in advertising.

There are several factors contributing to TV8’s ratings domination of the noon, six and eleven o’clock news, but Carl Monday is definitely crucial to the equation. He just signed a new five-year contract with the station. He talks vaguely of eventually becoming a news director, working behind the scenes, but Sandy can’t see him surviving without getting his regular fix of on-air time.

He will probably continue to beat most of the reporters in town to the big stories, breaking open scandals, occasionally doing a piece that is abominable for anyone who believes too much is too much.

Most of the cameramen at the station have harrowing tales about being on assignment with him and getting attacked or nearly killed. They say he never breaks a sweat; is either fearless or crazy. “When I know I’m going to have a confrontation, I feel very calm. And then when I’m in the confrontation,” he says, “well, I don’t even remember what I said or did until I see it afterward on the tape.”

I go with Carl to a press conference heralding the announcement that the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum is to be built at the North Coast Harbor.

Carl wonders aloud if there is any point in his interviewing Jann Wenner, the editor and publisher of Rolling Stone magazine, who came to town to announce a gift of one million dollars for the hall from the New York Music Foundation. Because I’ve just read a review of it, I mention as an aside that there is a book out detailing Jann’s allegedly bizarre sexual habits and drug usage.

Carl motions for his cameraman to follow him. He approaches Jann. “Can I ask you a few questions?” Jann smiles and the hall’s publicist smiles and they say sure.

Carl asks about the million dollars. Carl asks about the new location of the hall. Jann happily chatters on. I’m not really listening.

“Now,” Carl says, his voice getting slightly louder, “What about this book that details the sordid aspects of your personal life? Drugs and weird sex and bizarre behavior?”

Jann’s face is ashen and his mouth becomes an open hole. I think the publicist stammers something. “I’ve only—read half of it,” Jann manages to say.

“Well, you should read the other half of it, then,” says Carl, who doesn’t even know its title. “It’s full of sordid and ugly allegations.”

The publicist, recovering somewhat, says, “Well, no book could be half as interesting as Jann’s life really is,” and puts her arm around Jann, who looks like he’s not feeling well at all.

“Thanks,” Carl says, and turns around, the trace of a smile visible on his lips: Welcome to Cleveland, pal.

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