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Will runaway media smother homeless announcer Ted Williams as it tries to save him?

Ted Williams, the homeless man with the golden voice, is reunited with his mother, Julia, 90, Thursday in New York, and it was filmed by CBS’s Early Show and NBC’s Today show.

Associated Press

Ted Williams, the homeless man with the golden voice, is reunited with his mother, Julia, 90, Thursday in New York, and it was filmed by CBS’s Early Show and NBC’s Today show.

Now that the world has been captivated by the remarkable story of homeless radio announcer Ted Williams — saved by a viral video that brought national attention, along with possible job offers from the Cleveland Cavaliers, NFL Films and Kraft foods — a different question emerges:

Can he survive all the media lined up to tell his story?

On the surface, it's an amazing example of the power of viral media.

Highlighted in a video filmed by a reporter from the Columbus Dispatch, the silky-voiced onetime announcer saw his fortunes changed in the space of a mouse click, invited onto radio shows and courted by both CBS's Early Show and NBC's Today show after his YouTube clip clocked millions of viewings.

NBC seems to have turned Williams into an unofficial mascot of sorts, featuring him on Today, Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and MSNBC's The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell.

Of course, this is where the gooey redemption story gets sticky. Because the same media that are enabling his comeback are also fighting over access to his story, exemplified in friction between Today and the Early Show that delayed Williams' reunion with his 90-year-old mother.

The Early Show nabbed an interview with Williams from Ohio Wednesday, where he talked about his mother Julia, who lives in New York.

So when NBC flew Williams to the city Wednesday night for an appearance in Today's studios the following day, Early Show anchor Chris Wragge was waiting at the airport with Julia Williams and a crush of local media, hoping to get footage of their tearful reunion (which might have blunted the impact of the Today show interview). But Williams avoided the media entirely, leaving from a different exit.

"All I can address is what our plan was," Early Show executive producer David Friedman said. "We took (his mother) to the airport, and (the reunion) didn't happen because he was whisked away."

Today show spokeswoman Megan Kopf, who didn't want to feed the conflict with the Early Show, would only say, "That is totally false." Sources at the show say Williams and the NBC staffer traveling with him didn't know his mother was among the press gathered at the airport.

Eventually, the two shows worked out a compromise; Ted and Julia Williams met Thursday afternoon, in a reunion filmed by both shows. NBC also says the two are scheduled to appear live on Today this morning.

Other media outlets have jumped on the story, too. The Smoking Gun website unearthed a string of Williams' arrests for theft, robbery, escape, forgery and drug possession, publishing his mug shots from over two decades, while Inside Edition talked to his ex-wife, Patricia Kirtley.

This is the doubled-edged sword of today's instant media universe: The same exposure that can save your life today might complicate it beyond imagining tomorrow.

Today's Matt Lauer asked about that notion Thursday — Williams admitted his fall from a radio career came after he started snorting drugs in the mid '90s — and his response was that having God in his life would help him stay sober and successful.

But I'm hoping, in addition to the Lord, that Williams gets a good agent in his corner. Because overcoming homelessness and addiction may pale in comparison to the challenge of facing down a ravenous news media when a popular story is in the air.

MORE COVERAGE

Why Ted Williams go on morning televison in his tattered homeless clothes and not a suit? Our Deal Divas have a theory at tampabay.com/blogs/divas.

Will runaway media smother homeless announcer Ted Williams as it tries to save him? 01/06/11 [Last modified: Thursday, January 6, 2011 9:13pm]
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