Mr. Sanchez saw his opportunity. He called Mr. O’Reilly and asked for an explanation, then dedicated a segment of his show to a debate over the Fox News–man’s words. Mr. O’Reilly fired back, and the blogs buzzed the next day with talk of the skirmish.
CNN has found that the sweet-faced Mr. Sanchez does well in a controversy, and despite Mr. Klein’s much noted 2005 decision to cancel Crossfire, after Jon Stewart famously accused the long-running political shoutfest of “hurting America,” studio debates on race and homosexuality have become a key part of the programming for Out in the Open.
That Mr. Sanchez will do a lot to get a big story was well-known already. At various times in his career at CNN, he has submerged himself in a car that was sinking underwater to show viewers how best to escape; been intentionally left at the top of a snow-covered mountain to convey the difficulties of surviving the elements; and been tasered at a Florida police academy.
The move towards more attitude—from an ideological perspective or not—makes a certain sense. As Ms. Zahn found out, no one wants straight news in that time slot any more.
“By 8 p.m., everyone kind of knows what’s going on,” Mr. Sanchez told The Observer.
It must be a sign of something that Mr. Sanchez’s tormentors are significantly higher on the media totem pole than the ones who tormented him back in Miami.
In the 1990’s, he won the title of “Least Credible News Personality” from Miami New Times, the city’s alternative weekly, so many times in succession that the paper named the award after him.
Mr. Sanchez had already survived what would ordinarily be a career-killer*. While leaving a Miami Dolphins game with his father in 1990, Mr. Sanchez struck a drunken pedestrian, who later died of his injuries. According to police, Mr. Sanchez’s own blood-alcohol level was above the legal limit, and he left the scene before returning. He ultimately pleaded no contest to a D.U.I. charge, but avoided jail time, and even remained on the air.
Asked about the incident, Mr. Sanchez’s Ron Burgundy jocularity vanished in an instant. “I don’t see where that has anything to do with anything,” he said, and called the inquiry “a hatchet question.”
He soon regained his cool though. “Was it an unfortunate experience? Yes. Was it a learning experience? Absolutely. Do I wish it hadn’t happened? Of course,” he allowed. “I was wrong, because I had a couple of cocktails, because I was over the legal limit,” he went on. “It could have happened to anybody. … There were probably a lot of other people leaving the stadium that had had a couple of beers as well.”
Somehow, Mr. Sanchez weathered all of that long enough to attract the attention of cable-news upstart MSNBC. In 2001, the network pulled Mr. Sanchez out of Miami and gave him his own daytime news and talk show. But the critical reception was underwhelming—an industry newsletter called him “a tabloid-bred brickhead,”—and the ratings were abysmal.
By 2003, Mr. Sanchez was back in Miami hosting another daytime show for NBC affiliate WTVJ. Had he scotched his big break? No, in fact, for the following year, CNN came calling, recruiting him to fill a daytime host slot alongside Daryn Kagan.
And there, he has flourished enough to get roasted in the greatest roasting pit of American media. On the Daily Show earlier this year, Mr. Stewart seemed to take special pleasure in mocking his taser segment.
“Jon Stewart can make all the fun he wants of me, but that was an important story,” Mr. Sanchez said earnestly.
You’re almost there, Rick!
“We feel the buzz, we hear the buzz, we’re getting the e-mail,” he said, getting himself excited. “We’re laughing all the time when we get together in editorial meetings. It’s really a great feeling—and it would be wonderful if somehow we could make it last.”
*This sentence has been changed from an earlier version.