Wayne T. Satz, an award-winning television reporter noted for his landmark critical coverage of the Los Angeles Police Department in the 1970s and for breaking the McMartin Pre-School molestation story in 1984, is dead of an apparent heart attack. He was 47.
Satz, who died at home in Studio City on Thursday night, most recently had been working for KTTV, Channel 11, doing a weekly commentary titled "Cutting Through the Bull." He was best known for 13 years of work for KABC-TV, Channel 7, from 1974 through 1987.
While with the station, he won the prestigious Peabody Award for his 1977 interviews with a masked Los Angeles police officer who charged that many colleagues were racist and overly eager to use their guns. Although police officials denounced his work at the time, years later the Christopher Commission documented many of the attitudes he had reported.
Later, although his work was criticized by some as hysterical in tone, Satz won two Golden Mike awards for his McMartin reporting.
Channel 7 executives long touted him as one of the station's most prized reporters. But his tenure there came to an acrimonious end after his "ombudsman's" reports on the station's own shortcomings--particularly its attempts to manipulate Nielsen ratings--alienated management. A wrongful termination suit by Satz ended in an out-of-court settlement.
Times television critic Howard Rosenberg said Friday of Satz: "He was one of the last of the city's old-fashioned TV reporters who knew how to report aggressively as well as interpret. He was rough, and sometimes stepped over the line, but he was also a genuine journalist, a TV breed almost extinct."
Satz, who colleagues said Friday was also an attorney, covered many of Los Angeles' most celebrated legal proceedings in recent years, including the trial of the Hillside Strangler and the controversy over the Vicki Morgan tapes. Morgan was the teen-age mistress of Alfred Bloomingdale.
But it was his investigative reporting of the McMartin affair that gained him respect.
Sitting in front of a mangled teddy bear on Feb. 2, 1984, Satz told his horrified television audience that more than 60 children had told investigators they had been sexually abused and made to appear in pornographic films at the Manhattan Beach nursery school. Satz followed with numerous, often-lurid reports; ultimately, however, no one was convicted in the case.
Times media critic David Shaw, in a Pulitzer Prize-winning series of articles in 1990 on coverage of the McMartin case, remarked, "Satz's early stories were largely instrumental in establishing the hysterical tone in both the media and the general public that is now loudly decried on all sides."
But he also reported that Satz considered his coverage "fair-minded" and quoted him as saying, "There's almost nothing (in it) I would change."
Satz is survived by a sister in Arizona, colleagues said.