Wright says he has recurring nightmares about his meeting with the network brass. During waking hours he berates himself for taking part in what he describes as a campaign to discredit Helmbreck.
Nantz opened CBS's coverage of the LPGA Championship's third round the next day by saying that the network "was deeply disturbed by the inaccurate and distorted remarks attributed to [Wright]." (Nantz says his remarks were part of a statement that he was instructed by CBS to read on the air.) Wright then gave his denial, during which he called Helmbreck's story "totally inaccurate."
"Those were not my words; they were written to reflect the strategy of the network," says Wright. "The most stupid thing I did was remain silent. I should have come out and said, 'Hey, I said all these dumb things, and they were wrong.' I think the public would have forgiven me for that, but no one at the network really cared what my explanation was. I let myself be overpowered, hoping they were right, but it was a horrible mistake."
CBS had no comment on Wright's allegations. Much of the hierarchy at the network has changed since Wright's suspension. Gone are Peter Lund, the president; David Kenin, the president of the sports division; Rick Gentile, the senior vice president of production; and Chirkinian, the coordinating producer of golf telecasts. Kenin, the only one of the four who attended the meeting in New York, told SI that his recollection of the events of that day are different from Wright's. Douglas P. Jacobs, who also took part in the meeting in his role as deputy general counsel for CBS, was more to the point. "Ben Wright's description of the events which occurred at CBS's offices in May 1995 is completely untrue," he says. "He was taken off the air in January 1996 because we discovered he had lied to us about making certain statements to the press."
Also in CBS's defense was the fact that a typewritten denial, under Wright's name, had been posted in the players' locker room on the day he left for New York. The statement, which was unsigned, said in part: "I am disgusted at the pack of lies and distortion that was attributed to me in the newspapers this morning."
Wright says he has no recollection of writing the letter. "This is not an attempt to hide," he says. "It's sad, but I don't recollect having anything to do with a statement in the locker room."
Wright is under contract to CBS through Nov. 1,1999, for about $400,000 a year as part of a four-year contract that he signed two months before he was suspended. He says he's planning to write an autobiography and has begun negotiations with a publisher. Most of all, though, he wants another shot on TV. "The thing is, it's like I'm serving time," Wright says. "I suppose it's not for me to say when I've served enough."
Helmbreck is struggling with her own shackles. A woman whose sense of irony is the distinguishing characteristic of her work as a reporter and a critic, she ruefully acknowledges the invisible bond that exists between her and the man responsible for the worst moments of her life.
Helmbreck, 45, resigned from the News Journal, for which she had been a reporter for 14 years, in January 1997. A week later she accepted a position as a technical writer for a microbiology company in Wilmington. By all accounts she was a highly valued writer at the time of her resignation. Only a few months before, she had won a national Best of Gannett prize for feature writing.
Her new job has given her more time to be home with her husband, Al Mascitti, an assistant city editor at the News Journal; their three children, ages 16, 14 and five; and the four corgis that Helmbreck trains as show dogs. Still, Helmbreck is conflicted by the turn of events. "I left [the paper] for the right reasons," she says, "but I'm not all that happy about it."