The rules of journalism are pretty simple: Don’t pick on the little guy, and never make shit up. Unfortunately, this might be a bit complex for the bright minds at Channel 19.
Take the case of Billy Dale. He opened Kamikaze, his Warrensville Heights cafe, in 1999 with hopes of providing a haven for everyone from open mic poets to after-church diners. “I’ve been in this community for 13 years,” Dale says. “I have a track record of nothing but working hard.”
Aside from serving coffee and comfort food, Dale also rented his space out to private bachelor and bachelorette parties at $250 a pop. Dale would provide the food, while the partygoers would bring the booze and strippers.
But last year, someone tipped off Channel 19 that the Kamikaze bachelor parties were actually an afterhours illegal strip club. Action News crusaders Matt Stevens and Dan Salamone immediately leaped into action.
Alas, after three visits with a hidden camera, Stevens and Salamone uncovered little more than a friendly neighborhood hangout. Still, neither was willing to kill their precious headline, “Coffeehouse hookers.” They’d worked too long and hard on such artful poetry to let it go to waste.
So Salamone enlisted the help of a stripper and an anonymous man, paying them $300 plus drinks, to pose as a couple for his "news" segment. In his voice over, Stevens announced that the couple entered Kamikaze, where they paid $20 each for an hour-long lap dance from another stripper. “We found out immediately that you can get just about anything for the right price,” Channel 19's stripper told the camera of the coffeeshop.
After the segment aired in May 2006, Dale and one of his associates, Maurice Marbury, were immediately charged with pandering obscenity. But North Randall police couldn’t find any evidence of wrongdoing and later dropped the charges.
Still, the damage had been done. Dale started losing business. Marbury was on parole when he was charged and was sent to prison until the charges were finally dropped. “I’m barely staying open right now,” Dale says. “They really damaged my reputation, saying that I had a stripper pole in the room. Now why would I have that? I have open mic poetry, church people on Sundays. I got a lot going on. Why would I jeopordize that?”
In March, Dale and Marbury filed a defamation suit against WOIO. “The case is still in its early stages,” says their lawyer, Mike Goldstein. “There’ve been no serious settlement negotiations yet, but we’re talking.” -- Denise Grollmus