A San Francisco television station is drawing heat from viewers after running an interview with a man who claimed to be part of an Alcoholics Anonymous support group with late actor Robin Williams.
CBS station KPIX-TV (Channel 5) aired a 90-second news package focusing on news photographer Dean Kendrick, who claimed to have encountered Williams at an Alcoholics Anonymous support meeting in the Bay Area suburban town of Mill Valley last month.
In the news package, Kendrick described Williams’ demeanor as “very low,” saying the actor “really, really needed support at that time.”
Williams was found dead in his Marin County home on Tuesday. A county official said the cause of death, suspected to be suicide, was asphyxia by hanging. A publicist for the actor told media outlets that Williams had been battling severe depression lately, and numerous reports surfaced claiming the comedian had recently checked into rehab
But the KPIX piece, reported by journalist Sharon Chin, struck a nerve with CBS viewers who felt the interview centered on Williams’ alleged participation in Alcoholics Anonymous crossed a line.
“(Kendrick) is breaking a huge boundary of trust for everyone who goes into an AA meeting,” KPIX viewer Joy Joyner wrote on Facebook. “That’s disgraceful.”
“The anonymity of those meetings isn’t supposed to end when the person dies,” another Facebook commenter wrote. “Celebs are at a disadvantage because just using their first name doesn’t keep you from knowing who they are. This story should not have been reported.”
Shortly after the story aired on KPIX’s 11 p.m. newscast, a web version of the article was edited to remove references to Alcoholics Anonymous. The web story also removed the accompanying video from air, though a version of the video can still be found in other places on KPIX’s website.
A Facebook post promoting the story was edited Tuesday morning to remove references to Alcoholics Anonymous, saying Kendrick knew Williams from a “support group.” KPIX also corrected a typo that stated Williams suffered from “addition issues.”
KPIX executives Dan Rosenheim (news director) and Bruno Cohen (general manager) did not return a request from The Desk for comment by press time. The news director of KPIX radio sister KCBS-AM told San Francisco media columnist Rich Lieberman that the all-news station had stopped running the Alcoholics Anonymous piece as part of its coverage of Williams’ suicide.
The Alcoholics Anonymous piece was just one of several to receive criticism from local television viewers on Tuesday.
ABC station KGO-TV (Channel 7) upset viewers after it encouraged its Twitter followers to watch a live video feed of helicopter aerials outside Williams’ Tiburon, California home shortly after announcing the actor’s death. The live video was relayed to the network, where it was featured online alongside a story in which the Williams family requested privacy.
On Wednesday, ABC News apologized for the feed, saying it took the stream down once it realized the helicopter video contained “no news value.”
Update: Minutes after this article was published, KPIX deleted their Facebook post promoting the Alcoholics Anonymous story. The video interview can still be seen on KPIX’s website here.