Gayle Guyardo's Gasparilla Moment Spreads Across the Media
The story has appeared everywhere from MSNBC.com to TV industry Web sites and the pages of the Tampa Tribune.
And WFLA-Ch. 8 morning anchor Gayle Guyardo remains upset by reports recounting how she was briefly removed from coverage of the Gasparilla parade Saturday after viewers complained about her slurred speech and seemingly disoriented comments.
Guyardo, 41, who has co-anchored parade coverage for 14 years, said she resented the implication of some critics: that she was drunk. Instead, the anchor said she had been sick with the flu since early last week and that her illness may have affected her performance.
“The only feedback I’ve gotten is from e-mails by people who have been extremely supportive,” said Guyardo, who was in tears Saturday after the two-hour Gasparilla broadcast, when she realized what some people were saying. (This photo, taken shortly after Guyardo was informed of the calls from viewers, was shot by Times photgrapher Willie Allen)
The anchor insists that she did not even take medication before the show, forwarding to me e-mails from encouraging fans and a doctor. It was a close call for me on whether I should write a story, but after I saw how other media picked up on the issue, my editors and I decided to pull together a story for Tuesday's paper and this blog item.
“No one could say that they saw me consume any alcohol, because I didn’t,” Guyardo said. “Channel 8 would not let me go up there if I was showing signs of being drunk... I was burning up with fever, my throat was closing up and it was clear that I was sick.”
Guyardo’s co-anchor during the parade, Bill Ratliff, supported her. “I’m not covering for a friend … I never noticed anything,” said Ratliff, who has also co-anchored WFLA’s morning and midday newscast with Guyardo for years. “If she had come to the parade inebriated, I would have told her to get some coffee or you’re not going on.”
MSNBC.com on Monday linked to the Tribune story, which noted “some (callers) urged she be relieved of parade duties to avoid embarrassment.” The local TV-focused Web site Newsblues.com bluntly asked “Was Tampa anchor drunk during Gasparilla broadcast?”
WFLA news director Don North could not say how many complaints the station received about Guyardo, but he did remove the anchor from coverage long enough to speak with her by telephone and determine whether she could finish the broadcast. He allowed Guyardo to rejoin coverage for the show’s end around 4:30 p.m.
North also said he didn’t expect the incident would have any long-term impact for Guyardo at WFLA. Both the Tampa Tribune and WFLA are owned by Richmond, Va.-based Media General.
Guyardo said some viewers complained when she appeared on WFLA’s morning and midday newscasts while ill early last week, suggesting she stay home and recover. The anchor — who eventually took last Wednesday off to rest — wondered whether Gasparilla’s hard-partying image led viewers to assume the worst Saturday.
“I watched (a videotape of parade coverage)…and I was not on my ‘A’ game,” she said. “If I had it do over again, I would have called in sick 1,000 times over.”