That One Time When Murphy Brown’s Frank Fontana and Avery Brown Were Assaulted in Altoona, PA Because They Are Journalists

Just in case you don’t know – Murphy Brown is a fictional character as are her friend Frank Fontana and her son Avery Brown. They work for fictional networks, Murphy and Frank for CNC hosting ‘Murphy in the Morning’ and Avery for the Wolf Network. They are not actual journalists. They use the sitcom format to explore the role of media and journalists in our society.

I share that because on Twitter last night it seemed like more than few folks seemed to blur the lines between a sitcom storyline about the media and, well, the media.

In last night’s episode, Frank Fontana decides to go into the trenches and cover a Trump rally in Altoona, PA. The show is set in Washington, DC so that makes sense. Murphy tunes in for a few minutes, get disgusted with Trump’s demeaning comments, and flips over to watch Hoarders. She’s asleep when Miles calls her with the news that Frank was assaulted at the rally and was being airlifted by the network back to D.C.

Frank has three broken ribs, a dislocated shoulder and one eye swollen shot. There’s a brief, but amusing scene where actors Joe Regalbuto and Faith Ford (as Corky) get to flex their humor muscles and help keep the storyline serious, but still in sitcom territory in the hospital. Both actually have several scenes to chew, Regalbuto in a one-on-one with his godson, Avery and Ford in the newsroom talking about her gun and her vibrator.

Avery is pissed that someone assaulted a man who is like a father to him and his profession so he decides to use his Wolf News privilege and wade back into the MAGA crowd to talk about the incident. He gets mixed reactions from the locals at some watering hole in Altoona, but he also ends up with a black eye when he points out that journalists are not the enemy of the people.

Murphy starts to freak out, but a talk with Frank helps her regain her footing and they silently agreed to move forward together into this unknown territory where the President is targeting the media. Frank is healing, but the show spared no expense in makeup to show how violent the attack was.

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Altoona is is not that far from Pittsburgh. Trump hasn’t been to Pittsburgh proper for a rally in years because there was a big embarrassing showdown so he mostly sticks to the outer surburbs when he is here. But Altoona is just under 50 miles from Johnstown in Cambria County which is considered Western Pennsylvania (Altoona is technically Central PA.) Note that he did come to Pittsburgh to visit the site of the 3 congregations were targeted by a extreme rightwing white nationalist in October. Of course, he was met with another embarrassing rejection and dismissal.

We are planning to trip to Johnstown in January or February for AMPLIFY and this episode reminds me why that is necessary and a bit uncomfortable, even frightening. I was looking online for B&B’s for the weekend we plan to be there and realized that they could all legally turn me away for simply being a lesbian. Worse, they could accept us for a mighty uncomfortable weekend. I asked my Johnstown friends, but they mostly told me to stick with the hotel chains. Sigh.

But after this episode aired last night, I also went looking for the #AMPLIFY Q&A’s from folks with ties in Cambria County and I found 12.  Heather, Dave, Avery, Bill, Char, Jill, Ben, Chica, Delilah, John, and Katie-Anne among others live or used to live a region where the characters of Frank and Avery were assaulted for being journalists. By people who live in or near Altoona.

You couldn’t entire me to cover a Trump rally or event for anything. I have to live a life where my safety has been lessened because of his Administration, I don’t need to voluntarily provoke the sleeping giant. I’m not a journalist, but I am a blogger and columnist. Plus, I’m queer, fat, liberal, disabled, and a cis woman.

There is no dedicated LGBTQ media outlet in Western Pennsylvania. There is a relatively new chapter of the NLGJA (LGBT Journalists Association) which has about 40 members, folks who are working at outlets mostly around Pittsburgh. I’m not sure if anyone from Johnstown Altoona media outlets (or the Shenango Valley or Erie) have joined. Pittsburgh’s former daily paper has jumped the shark, at least the publisher has. Our NPR outlet has more accurate political coverage on their website than the paper.

It gives you something to think about.


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