Larry Mendte’s Life After “It” Happened
I also got calls, visits and e-mails from thousands of people, many of whom I’d never met, who just wanted to know if they could do anything to help. When I was an anchor and spoke at banquets to police, fire and EMS personnel, I told them they’re born with a “hero gene” that makes them run in to save people when others run away. Those who reached out to me have that gene. After Rick Campana, a pastor at the River Church in Cherry Hill, defended me in a letter to the Inquirer, I e-mailed him. Campana sent me a quote that I still have pinned to the wall in my office. It reads, “Sometimes our talents take us to altitudes where our character cannot sustain us. It is in those times that a wise man makes the necessary in-flight adjustments and carries on.” One of the people who called me early on was Bill Baldini, the legendary reporter from NBC 10. “This is a time when you will not only find out about your character,” he said, “but the character of others.”
Bill was right. Many people I spoke with every day at work at CBS 3, those I considered friends, never called. Some in the media — who I know do worse things on any given weekend than any of the things I was accused of — were the first to condemn me. WIP’s Howard Eskin, who must have forgotten his own highly publicized e-mail scandal that ended when a woman with whom he chatted online was murdered by her jealous husband, went out of his way to criticize me. Fox 29’s John Bolaris coordinated news coverage of my case while my wife Dawn, his colleague, was sitting right next to him on the anchor set.
ONCE THE FEDERAL CASE WAS settled in November 2008, I had a bigger problem: What was I going to do for a living? I had been in TV all my life, and I feared my career was over. I had been flirting with going into politics, which now seemed improbable. Although, as a candidate, I do feel like I could sell myself like the house in The World According to Garp. The title character is shopping for a home with his new bride when a small plane flies into the place they’re considering. Garp says, “We’ll take the house!” When his wife looks at him perplexed, Garp points to the plane sticking out of the second floor and says, “The chances of another plane hitting this house are astronomical. It’s been pre-disastered.” That could be my campaign slogan: Vote for me. I’m pre-disastered.
Although my dream had always been to come home to Philadelphia and retire here, staying would now be difficult. After news of the FBI raid got out, but before I was charged, Michael Klein wrote a damaging article in the Inquirer, wondering if I would ever work in television news again. (At the time, CBS 3 had not even decided to release me.) That’s what I was up against in my hometown.
Still, I did get job offers. TMZ called, wanting me to cover the Jon and Kate Gosselin divorce proceedings at the Montgomery County courthouse. I passed. But when a well-known Main Line woman invited me to her Gladwyne home because she “dreamed of writing a Broadway musical” with me, I went. We actually came up with characters and a storyline that fit well with the songs she had written, but I quickly realized there was no immediate payoff in that dream.