Longtime journalists often like to reminisce about the fall of the Berlin Wall. Hal Fishman was there when it was put up.
The KTLA anchorman has been the bearer of bad (and occasionally good) news in L.A. since 1960, making him the longest-running news anchor in the history of television. His 10 p.m. newscast was rated No. 1 for decades, until KTTV took that spot over in 2000.
Whenever there’s a riot, fire, mudslide, police chase or celebrity dog-grooming tournament in L.A., you can count on Fishman, with his trademark earnest delivery and perennial side-parting, to spill the beans.
Fishman was kind enough to invite me to the studio and let me sit in the chair of his foxy co-anchor, Leila Feinstein. I got into character and tried reading the auto-cue. Beads of amateur sweat developed on my brow. The words were scrolling too fast. I called Ojai “O.J.” Reading the news, it appears, ain’t as easy as you’d think.
Fishman, however, always keeps his cool. Even when he had to apologize after telling viewers a massive earthquake had just hit Costa Rica (it hadn’t). Even when a man shot himself in the face during a police car chase (KTLA cameras caught that moment live, in close-up). Even when he aired the tape of Rodney King’s beating before anyone else, ultimately sparking the L.A. riots of 1992. For that, he’s unapologetic: “People still ask me if I would have run that tape today, had I known all those people would die and be injured. And my answer is yes. It’s my job to bring the news.” As Kent Brockman, Springfield’s newsman in The Simpsons, a character apparently based on Fishman, would say, “This just in: Go to hell!”