Sometimes a reporter can't get far enough from a story. Take
Valerie Helmbreck. This week the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal
reporter will put some distance--about 2,000 miles--between
herself and the McDonald's LPGA Championship. One year ago at
that event her interview with Ben Wright touched off a firestorm
in women's golf and at CBS. Helmbreck's life has not been the
same since she reported Wright's remarks regarding lesbians'
hurting the LPGA. She still receives mail about the story, and
while most of the letters have been supportive, 20 or 30 have
been "absolutely hateful," she says. Wright's life was also
altered irrevocably in Wilmington. The longtime British golf
analyst was suspended indefinitely by CBS in January. Last
weekend he completed treatment for alcoholism at the Betty Ford
Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif.
Helmbreck, who remains a general-assignment features writer at
the News Journal, had every intention of helping out with this
week's coverage of the LPGA Championship. But she hadn't
anticipated the interest in her story. "It started with a
trickle of calls," she says. By last Friday there had been
dozens of calls, so she reluctantly decided to avoid the event.
"It wouldn't be fair to the LPGA," Helmbreck says. "When the
reporter is the story, the reporter is out of place."
Helmbreck decided not only to skip the McDonald's but also to
skip town for the week. She and her husband have rented a "tiny
hut on a beach in the Yucatan," she says. "No phone, no TV, no
Helmbreck says she feels no animosity toward Wright. When she
heard that he had been admitted to the Betty Ford Center, she
sent him a get-well card. She included a note and a business
card, she says, because she "wanted him to know it wasn't in
jest and that it was really me."
May 12, 1996