In 2007, Cole did a piece about a Convention Center employee who was being investigated by managers there, based on what appears to have been false information that the worker was having an online relationship with a 15-year-old girl. The employee was fired and humiliated, according to a lawsuit pending against Convention Center management, Fox 29, Cole, union leader John Dougherty (who was a source in the TV report), and the Daily News reporters who wrote about the situation (so, uh, we’ll just not name the employee involved).
Cole isn’t even allowed to discuss the lawsuits that have his name on them. In a way, he’s legally restrained from admitting to any kind of screwup. “I am absolutely cognizant of the impact on the lives of people that we’re reporting on. You do feel something for them,” he says. “I can’t stop people from suing me. When they do, we take it really seriously. We think, you know, there’s a larger good here. We think a lot of what we’ve done has gone a pretty good distance to root out abuse and fraud.”
Investigative reporters walk to work over minefields. Sometimes it doesn’t end well. Dan Rather left CBS in shame after five decades as a journalist. He’d been the first network TV journalist to report the Kennedy assassination, and was a pioneer at 60 Minutes. Then he did a report about George W. Bush’s military service, basing it on unauthenticated and inaccurate documents. Kaboom. The NBC series To Catch a Predator came to a tragic finish in 2007 when Louis Conradt, an assistant county prosecutor in Texas, shot and killed himself as a camera crew arrived at his house. This year, NBC settled a $105 million lawsuit.
“I’m really aware that the mines exist,” Cole says. “So I try to be pretty cautious not to step on them. You try to be as cautious as you can. But you can’t live in fear of that kind of thing, because you’d just never do anything.”
IN LATE OCTOBER, with the Phillies in the playoffs, it was all hands on deck in the Fox 29 newsroom as the station’s coverage wrapped for hours around the Fox Network games. At the anchor desk, Dawn Stensland and Thomas Drayton put on big red Phillies foam fingers. “Every single person was involved, I think,” says news director Kingsley Smith. Well, not so much Cole. “They’ve never asked me to put on the foam finger,” he said on the afternoon before that rain-shortened Monday-night World Series game. “But everybody knows they’re on call.”
Cole covering the Phillies. Imagine it: Cole hustling down the line toward the plate, thrusting a microphone into the mask of catcher Carlos Ruiz, “Carlos! We see ya squatting here at home a lot!”
“That’s funny,” Cole said. Then, with the rain on its way, he excused himself to do some surveillance for a new story.