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Sargent's mistake is quite haunting

Fox reporter's question involving the late Bill Walsh makes its way to Internet, even though it never aired on TV.

October 29, 2008|Diane Pucin | Pucin is a Times staff writer.

Danyelle Sargent made a mistake, one she recognized almost as soon as the words left her mouth.

She asked new San Francisco 49ers Coach Mike Singletary: "I hear that your mentor Bill Walsh was one of the first phone calls you made when you found out you had the job. What does it mean to you to be the head coach of the 49ers?"

The big problem with that question, of course, is that legendary coach Bill Walsh died more than a year ago. Singletary became 49ers coach last week.

But there's also a problem with how most people found out about Sargent's goof.

Because as soon as the question left Sargent's mouth, Sargent said she realized her mistake. But the question, as well as a re-done interview with Singletary, was sent from San Francisco, where the interview took place, to Los Angeles, where the clip was edited.

The finished product, sent out to the nation on Fox Sports, did not include the Walsh question. But the feed, which is called the "backhaul" and which is received by other networks such as ESPN, NBC and ABC, is not supposed to be used by anyone unless the clip is aired by Fox.

Sargent's clumsy question as well as Singletary's dismayed look and Sargent's reaction: "What did I say? What was wrong?" were picked up by YouTube and also broadcast on a local New York television show, "Mike'd Up," hosted by veteran former radio talk show host Mike Francesa.

Sargent, who hosts the show "The FSN Final Score," and is a graduate of Florida State, was doing her first game as an NFL sideline reporter. Francesa told several New York papers that he was unaware the clip had not been aired by Fox and that a "mistake had been made." Francesa also said he would apologize to Sargent, who had not, by early Tuesday evening, heard from Francesa.

Sargent said she was not the "dumb woman who didn't know Bill Walsh had passed," she said. "I had been told Mike Singletary had talked to Bill Walsh when he first considered getting into coaching," she said. "I was a little nervous. My mistake was unintentional and we corrected it. That somebody took it, put it on the air and then acted as if he didn't know we hadn't aired it? I thought that was just mean."

Neal Pilson, a television consultant who worked at CBS for over 20 years, said it is not unusual for reporters to make mistakes on the "backhaul" footage. "It's not public footage," Pilson said.

"It happens a thousand times if you're taping an interview. You lose your train of thought, a coach is distracted, something goes wrong," Pilson said. "Most of those mistakes aren't broadcast. But as I told everyone for 20 years at CBS, be careful of the open mic."

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diane.pucin@latimes.com

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