IS LOCAL NEWS CELEB CARL MONDAY THE SAME IN PERSON AS HE IS ON TV? DID CARL MONDAY WEAR A SUIT TO HIS INTERVIEW WITH A LOCAL ALT-WEEKLY MAGAZINE, DESPITE A DENIM PREFERENCE? FIND OUT HERE!
Carl Monday sits in his basement office, legs crossed in the American way. His suit is pressed, his mustache trimmed, his voice serene and even when he speaks.
Behind his desk, images of his face peer out from framed keepsakes: two Plain Dealer stories from 2006 and a Cleveland Magazine cover — "Monday in Your Face" — from 1991. In the adjoining room, stacks of cardboard boxes monopolize the height and length of a full wall, a mortuary of stories past and yet to break.
The bustle and chatter of Channel 19's newsroom can't reach us down here. This is where the dean of Cleveland's investigative reporters does his dirty work, where the phone rings as many as 30 times per day with tips both hot and strange.
Carl Monday is a man who's been on Cleveland TV since 1979. And now, at age 64, each day is a kind of exile, deep beneath his colleagues and his subjects, behind a blank beige door in a blank beige room, out of sight and out of mind.
Until, as ever, he isn't.
Right now, he's not bragging about his most recent investigation. With hidden cameras — Carl Monday loves hidden cameras — he and his team caught a Cleveland garbage collector slacking off.
They followed him as he punched into work and then ran personal errands before beginning his shifts. In one instance, the employee, Tyronza Smith, dallied for seven hours before he started working but was nonetheless compensated for eight hours of overtime that day. Behavior like Smith's is one reason why trash isn't getting collected until 9 or 10 p.m. in some neighborhoods. It's also why the city has shelled out beaucoup bucks on overtime.
Monday's investigation blew the lid off the story. It turned out inefficiency was, to use a word Clevelanders recognize, systemic in the city's (aptly named) division of waste. Tyronza Smith was promptly booted, for starters. City finance director Sharon Dumas told City Council that the division had paid $1.3 million in overtime in 2015 — 274 percent more than they'd budgeted for the year. Five employees were fired for chronic absenteeism. Others were suspended or reprimanded. An outside manager was brought in to straighten things out.
All in a day's work for Carl Monday.
But he's not talking about that. Nor is he talking about any of his other recent investigations: his exposure of Cleveland firefighters abusing the city's second-job policy; his story on a woman in Cleveland Heights performing "phony butt injections"; or even his 2015 Emmy-winning investigation of a CMSD grade school using a chunk of a Target grant intended for classroom technology on a trip to Puerto Rico.
Instead, he's doing what might be called reminiscing. He has seen the peaks and valleys of Cleveland journalism since he graduated from Kent State in the early '70s and made a splash in the local radio scene. Through the years, he's been a bankable on-air personality at Channel 8, Channel 3, and now Channel 19. Already, he says, he's in talks to extend his contract here. He appreciates the fact that Channel 19 has demonstrated a "real commitment" to investigative reporting.
People love Carl Monday. Or else they hate him. He is both folk hero and demagogue, advocate and adversary. And whether you think his reporting corroborates it or not, he's a lover of Cleveland, a man who has devoted his entire professional life to investigating the city he calls home.
But it turns out the impeccable blue suit, complete with sky blue silk pocket square, is indeed an aberration. Before descending to the chief investigator's headquarters downstairs, we pop by Channel 19 news director Fred D'Ambrosi's office. And he confirms.
"Ordinarily," D'Ambrosi jokes, "Carl wears jeans."
CARL MONDAY’S KENT STATE SHOOTING CONNECTION! PLUS, DID MONDAY LAUGH IN THE FACE OF JOURNALISM ETHICS? READ ON TO FIND OUT!
"I arrived in the infancy of investigative journalism," Monday says of his Cleveland career. "All the President's Men had just come out. I remember seeing that in the theater and getting all juiced up."
Monday had been a force to be reckoned with in the Kent State telecommunications program, working at both the college radio station, WKSU, and the newspaper, The Kent Stater. He was a freshman in 1970, the year of the Kent State shootings, and was literally on air during the burning of the campus ROTC building. That experience, he says, gave him exposure with national media outlets. He identifies it as the first of many instances of being in the right place at the right time.
After college, Monday worked for WERE radio in Cleveland, where he would meet his wife Sandy, to whom he's been married for 41 years. He developed a reputation for chasing down stories, getting scoops and finding angles that no one else in town could.
He once flew to New York City to interview a mobster who he'd heard had a connection with a Cleveland school official, but who would only agree to be interviewed in person. Monday dropped everything and booked a flight for the next day. He was greeted at the Long Island Railroad by a stretch limo and two henchman who didn't, strictly speaking, seem pleased to see him. They took Monday to their boss' lair, where he was thoroughly strip-searched — "down to my skivvies" — for recording devices. Then he proceeded with the interview.
"Back then," Monday says, "it was whatever it took to get a story."
And one TV executive took note of young Monday's hustle.
"[Channel 8's] Virgil Dominic called me one day and said, 'Carl, I listen to your stories every morning on the radio. I want you to come do those stories for us,'" Monday recalls. "No audition tape. No nothing. I kind of had to learn on the run, and I made some mistakes that could've cost me my job, but they were patient with me."
Patient because Carl did what it took. In the late '70s and early '80s, no reporting technique was out of bounds. Monday says in those early days on the I-team, he'd routinely call people and say he was someone he wasn't; he'd ring doorbells with flowers, pretending to be a flower delivery man; he was Chevy Chase's Fletch incarnate.
"I remember putting on a lab coat and walking around all day at the VA Hospital," he says. "Everyone thought I was a doctor. There was no such thing as false pretenses back then. Deception was an important tool in a reporter's toolbox."
In 1995, Channel 8's I-team, with Monday at the helm, exposed a local doctor — one Charles Dunifer — for over-prescribing powerful prescription drugs. Three men died of accidental overdoses during a three-month period due to Dunifer's prescriptions.
Through a source, Monday learned that Dunifer was going to attempt to flee the country because of his forthcoming criminal charges. So the I-team contacted Dunifer through an intermediary and posed as makers of fake passports. They met Dunifer, took his picture with a Polaroid camera and filmed the whole interaction. Then they notified authorities, who re-arrested Dunifer immediately. When he was sentenced — he would be the first doctor in Ohio's history to be charged with involuntary manslaughter — a year was tacked on for attempting to flee the country.
These days, undercover work and hidden cameras are just as important as they used to be, Monday says, but news stations tend to filter everything through their legal departments. And they're more concerned with "fairness and balance."
"In the heydey, we practiced what was known as advocacy journalism. Even before we started reporting, we took a position. We still try to prove a point, but there's more of an effort to look at an issue from all sides. And sometimes because of that," Monday says, "and to our detriment, we'll hold onto a story for too long."
BUT IS CARL MONDAY EVEN A JOURNALIST?
One of the big knocks on Monday is his "confrontational style," his propensity for going after the lowest of the low-hanging fruit: bottom-rung employees urinating where they oughtn't, sad-sack minor officials getting sex on the side, pathetic young men jerking off in public libraries.
Indeed, the story for which Monday remains most widely known, at least among the millennial set, is his 2006 series on safety in the libraries. Monday's interview with a young man who'd been caught (on hidden camera) masturbating in the Berea Library went viral. Deadspin helped propel the segment to a national audience. The site's first post on the subject was entitled, "The Most Brilliant Thing You'll See All Day;" its follow up, after a period of time when the video was hard to come by for copyright reasons, proclaimed, "At Last, A Carl Monday Video That Will Never Be Rubbed Out." Deadspin later inducted Monday into its "Hall of Fame," a designation reserved for the most infamous of pop culture figures.
Jon Stewart's Daily Show even did a segment, "Rubbing Out Crime," in which correspondent Jason Jones traveled to Cleveland to interview Monday face to face. It painted Monday as the aggressor and his subjects as hapless victims.
"Now remember, that was a big story," Monday says of the piece in question. "It was a story about crime at the library. We had documentation of different crimes, including sexual assault. It was quite comprehensive and well researched.
"And when a young man decides to masturbate on camera, we can't ignore it. This was Channel 3 at the time, and we had debates about what to do with the footage. Part of the story was that the library had told us he'd been there before and had been asked to leave, but they let him back in. He was doing it multiple times, and feet away from children. But we didn't play up that angle in the story. It was probably two minutes into the story before we mentioned it."
Monday says that the story aired during the advent of social media, and it received unprecedented attention on the Channel 3 website. "Library Masturbator" turns out to be a pretty sensational hook.
"Once it happened, there was no stopping it," Monday says.
Of the Comedy Central segment, Monday says he thought it was well done and he "took it for what it was worth." But it's frustrating, on the precipice of that story's 10-year anniversary, that it's what younger viewers still associate him with.
"Internet legend," Monday says, gesturing to the August, 2006, Plain Dealer story behind his desk. "In 2006, I barely knew how to use a computer and I'm supposed to be an Internet legend."
There's more to the man, it turns out, than what many remember him for. Carl's wife Sandy says that her husband is a "brilliant writer."
"He paints a picture with his words," she tells Scene. "He can take something dull and, with his writing, turn it into a terrific story."
Cleveland Magazine thought so too, back in '91.
"In the hands of most reporters," Cleveland Magazine's Jeff Hedrich wrote, "a story about a cop playing softball while on duty would consist of surveillance footage and a statement from a Cleveland Police Department spokesperson...
"In the hands of Carl Monday the story is called 'Robocops.' It begins with a rundown of brutal crimes committed in the officer's district while he was playing softball and is followed by an interview with a tearful woman who had been beaten and robbed. We then see footage of the officer sitting on the bumper of his car changing from his police blues — as Monday intones, 'An officer from the CPD in his BVDs' — into his softball uniform.
"We watch a few moments of the game as Monday critiques the officer's play and then see a computer graphic scoreboard of his stats: 2 hits / 2RBI / 0 Arrests.
"Finally, Monday approaches the officer, asking him, 'Have you ever heard the expression "caught with your pants down"?' The officer's eyes widen. 'Uh, no, uh, not at all,' he says. 'Mmmhmm,' says Monday."
Say what you will about it, but Monday tells me the confrontational style is often favored by the TV stations — Channel 8 certainly, and 19 Action News. But more broadly:
"There are times when you just don't want to give people the chance to come up with an alibi," he says. "I think if you're a public official or the head of a business or nonprofit, you've gotta expect to be held accountable."
That's another thing that was easier back in the early days. Monday says he used to be able to walk into City Hall, stroll into any department he wished and ask for the director. The director would invite him into his/her office and they'd have a conversation.
"If I wanted documents," Monday says, "he'd hand them over. These days, the agencies control their messaging. They've got teams of PR people. We have documents that we requested more than a year ago that we still haven't gotten."
In today's climate, Monday never would've been able to get the interview by which older folks probably best remember him.
"George Forbes," Monday recalls. "The most powerful man in Cleveland at the time. We had gotten a tip that City Council members weren't paying their utility bills. We got all the records. Mike White owed $1,700 on some rental properties. We went to City Hall — this was before they had armed guards there — and knocked on White's door. He said 'I'm not talking to you,' and shut the door in our faces.
"But we also went to the council president's office [George Forbes]. He had $440 in unpaid water bills. At the time, the city had something like $22 million in uncollected water bills, but who was gonna pay if the city council didn't even pay? When we got there and asked him about it, Forbes just railed on me for three-and-a-half minutes. 'Get that g-d camera out of my effing face' and all that...."
("I'm going to take that goddamn camera and wrap it around your goddamn neck," is what Forbes told him. "I'm not bull-shitting you.")
"He went on and on," Monday says. "I don't think he thought we were ever going to air it, but with some judicious editing, we did. And he told people years later that he thought that confrontation (along with some other instances of losing his temper) prevented him from being mayor."
And though Carl says he's made quite a few enemies through his stories — "I've covered just about every city department," he says — Sandy Monday says her husband's reporting methodology isn't vindictive.
"He just wants everybody to get a fair shake," she says. "He wants the bad guys to pay their dues. If he can expose them and what they're doing — because they're wasting taxpayer dollars or whatever — he wants to expose them. He thinks it needs to be brought to the attention of people who need to know that this is going on, that they're doing these things behind closed doors, and that they should be brought to justice."
CARL MONDAY: IDENTITY CRISIS OR IDENTITY THEFT? HAS LOCAL TV INVESTIGATOR SPURNED EASTERN EUROPEAN ROOTS?
Monday, as some already know, is not the name on Carl Monday's birth certificate. He was born Carl Stylinski, a Polish boy from Slavic Village. He adopted Monday as a radio name in college — a derivative of "Alexander Mundy," a character played by Robert Wagner on the TV series It Takes a Thief — and it stuck.
He legally changed it in 1972, with his family's blessing, as a professional decision.
"I think he just thought it would be easier going forward," says wife Sandy, who married Carl after he'd changed his name and was never Sandy Stylinski.
Back at Channel 19, as he fingers through the various plaques and clippings near his desk, Carl says journalism is "one of the few industries where you're not just an employee; you're the product. I've always approached it like a family business. And I hate using the third person, but it's like Carl Monday Inc."
The name is an essential piece of the brand.
"That's why he'll never be able to lose that mustache," says Sandy. "Or the trench coat!"
But Sandy says the name change should not be interpreted as an attempt to distance himself from his upbringing or his Slavic roots. "My husband is a city boy," Sandy says. "And he loves where he comes from. He could've been the next Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes. He could've gone and done national, but he chose to stay here because he loves the city."
Carl and Sandy have lived in Parma and Lakewood, but they've been living in a condo in the Flats for years. They're both early-to-bed types — Sandy says she's lucky if she stays up past 9 p.m., and usually watches Carl's stories on the web the following day — and both wake up at 4:45 every morning.
"Carl makes breakfast for me every single day," says Sandy. "And it's not just cereal. It's pancakes, it's waffles, it's omelets."
Monday says he thinks it's important to eat right, and stay fit. He works out three or four times per week and reads a ton to keep his heart and mind in shape.
"I've been blessed to be able to do what I love in the town that I love," he says, "And I want to keep doing it for a long time."
CARL MONDAY REVEALS THE DANGERS OF 21st CENTURY JOURNALISM! AND YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT HE HAS TO SAY!
Carl Monday has adapted admirably to the 21st-century newsroom. In the early days, Monday's bosses would throw him in a back room and advise him to emerge four times a year with a golden piece of investigative journalism. He's still expected to do that; now, there's just a bunch of other stuff too.
Monday says he smells trouble if young people continue to report the way they report now.
"The Internet is great, on one hand, because information is so readily available," he says. "On the other, there's too much of a reliance on it. I look at reporters today and don't see that one-on-one relationship with sources that we always used to have."
It's hard, Monday says. These days, sources aren't as patient as they used to be. And with so many media outlets, they don't have to be.
"It used to be there were three TV stations, one or two newspapers, and that was it. Now, if [sources] don't see a story yesterday, they'll call and say they're taking it to someone else."
And maybe it's because he's getting older, but Monday says he has appreciated the recent branding changes at Channel 19, though he says the station had been in transition for some time. He reiterates the commitment to investigative reporting and says that the station has been trying to integrate investigative work into daily coverage: Michael Brelo and Tamir Rice and stories of police misconduct.
"We needed a change internally," Monday says of 19 Action News, which gave way to Cleveland 19 News. "For all the good that it did, it was a grind. It was a high-energy format both on and off the air. The whole style — pushing the envelope, not afraid to piss off anybody — I think it wore on the employees. We just needed to hit the reset button and ask if this is really who we wanted to be."
Carl Monday has been with three TV stations, producing city-rattling content for decades. Who does he want to be?
"Well, I'm not done yet," says Monday. He's got an offer to write a local book and has been mulling over the idea, lately, of starting an investigative journalism program at Kent State or Cleveland State.
"I'll be doing some form of investigative journalism for a long time," he says. "Even if it's at home in my bathrobe, I'll be investigating."