WGN's Allison Payne says she was not drunk


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Posted by chitownradio.com on August 24, 2008 at 18:33:25:

WGN's Payne apologizes to viewers for slurred speech; says she was 'not drunk'

Channel 9 anchor blames lingering effects of mini-strokes

WGN-Ch. 9's Allison Payne is apologizing to viewers but says that they didn't see what some might have thought they did the other night.

"I was not drunk," Payne said over the weekend as she prepared to broadcast this week from Denver, site of the Democratic National Convention.

Chicago Tribune parent Tribune Co.'s WGN fielded calls from concerned viewers after Payne swiveled in her chair and slurred words during Thursday night's marquee 9 p.m. newscast she has co-anchored for 15 years. Questions about her performance reportedly also were raised on Chicago radio Friday morning.

Payne blames the incident on the lingering effects of a series of mini-strokes that kept her off the air from January to April, compounded by overwork and perhaps a bit of adrenaline-fueled giddiness.

"I want to apologize to those who were disappointed in my newscast that night," Payne said. "But I have been working very, very hard to bring them some good elements that did come together and I was feeling good about that.

"I don't want to play a violin, but I am still recovering," she said. "It's a process. I have to ask people to be patient with that in terms of slurring and things."

Channel 9 newsroom sources, both on the record and on background, said she seemed to be fatigued but not intoxicated.

"She was way overtired," said Greg Caputo, WGN's news director. "She has been trying to battle back from being sick and she was just way overtired. … She had been working all day, and she isn't supposed to be" as she continues to recover.

Payne noted that she had worked much of the week before last week, when was supposed to be off, and wasn't able to catch a break in the run up to Denver--either at home, where her ailing father visited unexpectedly from out of town, or at work.

"Last week was extremely stressful," she said. "It's the week before the convention, and while it's an exciting time because I'm going to cover it, it's also stressful because you have to get ready for it. ... I want to assure [viewers] that I have been working my tail off all week."

The slurring, she said, tends to resurface when she is tired, nervous or excited. "I may seek some speech therapy," she said.

Caputo said Payne, whose WGN contract has around two years left, continues to prepare to co-anchor Channel 9's new 5:30 weeknight newscast with Mark Suppelsa, scheduled to launch mid-September.

Suppelsa, a former WFLD-Ch. 32 and WMAQ-Ch. 5 anchor, joined Payne on the 9 p.m. broadcast last month, replacing Steve Sanders, her co-anchor since 1993. Sanders moved to WGN's midday news, which is set to expand to 90 minutes next month.

Although WGN's 9 p.m. newscast is carried nationally on the WGN America cable and satellite channel, initial plans call for Channel 9's added 5:30 p.m. newscast and extra half-hour to the midday broadcast to be aired only in the Chicago area.


(Phil Rosenthal)


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