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Cigars in the Newsroom

Cigars are a hot story with local TV newscasters.
Alejandro Benes
From the Print Edition:
Danny DeVito, Winter 96

This week, John Harter's assignment is to sit behind the wheel of a dark-blue BMW Z3. It's a two-seat roadster, the type Pierce Brosnan drove as James Bond in Golden Eye. Harter, a third-generation Washingtonian, is enjoying the ride through the nation's capital with the top down, but he is also doing a road test of the car, on which he will report to the viewers of WJLA-TV's news sometime in the near future. You can tell that Harter likes this car. It's a convertible with plenty of leg room, and it offers the perfect occasion to smoke a Paul Garmirian No. 2.

Harter, who smoked a pipe before moving exclusively to cigars, has been doing road tests as a regular feature for 21 years and says he has accepted the risks. "Boy, I've ruined many a suit with pipe ashes, but never burned anything with cigars," he says with a laugh, but adds that cigars do more than just avoid putting a hole in your clothes.

"I do five minutes of business news every day, and a package that I shoot outside. I'm working 12 hours a day; most reporters just do a story. I'm under a lot of pressure," Harter says. "It does help me relax to smoke a cigar, no doubt about it. I enjoy the pressure. It gives you a sort of high, too, but you've got to come down off of it."

Harter is among a large number of local news reporters who turn to cigars for a break from hectic days. Many don't want to talk publicly about smoking cigars out of concern for viewer reaction. Others were happy to relate how a cigar can fit in quite nicely with the time they spend getting to the story or in helping them relax after they go off the air.

"If I had a cigar going, I'd take it in there on the set with me and just put it on a little table there behind the set," says Dave Ward, a 30-year veteran anchorman of KTRK-TV's newscasts in Houston. "There was one night we were on the air," he recalls of one newscast in the late 1960s, "and the cigar was smoking a little bit more than usual and here's this curl of cigar smoke curling up in the air right beside me. The director saw it, and the general manager told me the next day, 'Ward, don't take no cigars in there on the set anymore.' " Ward says the no-smoking policy now applies to the entire station.

Ward is fond of Houston's own Texan Cigar Co. smokes, which he says are available only from the factory and go for about $1.30 each. He now smokes fewer cigars, about nine a week, than he used to enjoy.

For investigative reporter Chuck Goudie of Chicago's WLS-TV, and one of his regular cameramen, Steve Erwin, the time to enjoy a cigar is in the crew car--the one that no one else wants to use après cigar--on the way to a story.

"At the end of a day," Goudie says, "especially on the road, if I'm traveling with Steve Erwin, we'll knock off after the late news or whatever. We'll go have dinner and a cigar or go have a cocktail and a cigar. For the last few months I've been smoking a cigar called Havana Sunrise. New. I found it by accident when I was covering the ValuJet crash," he recalls. "[The company] happened to have kind of a showroom on Tamiami Trail, which was the road we took to the Everglades to cover that crash. We stopped by there, had never heard of this outfit before, and they sent us to their rolling facility in [Miami's] Little Havana. We went there and this place was just absolutely incredible. It's brand new. You see these 40 Cuban guys hand-rolling cigars. They must've sunk a lot of money into the place. So, I've been ordering from them for the last couple of months," says Goudie, whose opinion of the Cuban cigars he used to smoke on assignment overseas is that now they are just too pricey.

For others, it's a question of availability. "If I could get Cuban cigars, I would be delighted to smoke nothing but Cohiba Robustos, but who wouldn't?" says Tony Guida, former anchor and reporter for WCBS-TV in New York City and host of the station's public affairs show, "Sunday Edition." Guida, one of the seven WCBS reporters and anchors who were released by the station during a purge in early October, usually saves time after dinner to relax with a Dominican Romeo y Julieta Vintage No.2.

On nights when he has to work late, Guida sometimes finds himself without a cigar and very much wanting one. Fortunately, there are enough venues in New York to satisfy the desire. "I go a lot to Ponte's down just below Canal Street on the West Side because, a) it's a lovely place to eat and the food is good and, b) the bar area is one of the most comfortable settings I've ever seen in a restaurant." Talking about the restaurant reminds him of an eye-opening cigar experience he had there.

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