Former Jacksonville anchor shares painful experiences in TV career

Deborah Gianoulis speaks out about sexual harassment, unwanted behavior

By Jodi Mohrmann - Managing Editor of special projects

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - One result of the presidential campaign has been a new conscious-raising about inappropriate, offensive, unwelcome conduct by some men toward unsuspecting women. Former Jacksonville anchor and friend Deborah Gianoulis is now speaking out and sharing with News4Jax anchor Mary Baer some difficult and painful personal experiences she has had, going all the way back to the beginning of her television career here in Jacksonville. 

"It started out, I didn't want to write an editorial for the Florida Times Union. It really started when the Gretchen Carlson story broke," Deborah said. "And it brought back so many memories because I started on the air in Jacksonville 40 years ago and to hear this story repeated -- 40 years later."

Deborah says she felt it was time for her to speak up, so she did write that editorial that was published last month in the Times Union. Former Fox News anchor Gretchen Carlson's sexual harassment lawsuit against her long-time boss, Roger Ailes, was a graphic but powerful inspiration.

"I had no intentions of publishing anything," Deborah explained. "I really wrote this because I needed to remember it and I needed to express myself."

"Was it therapeutic for you?" asked Mary.

"It was," she said. "The most therapeutic part was telling my 30-year-old daughter about it who said, 'Oh mom, that's funny. I recently wrote about an experience I had too!'"

Deborah's daughter, Laura, a professional sports photographer, was grabbed by a drunk fan at an event and he kissed her on the lips.

"And I said, 'Oh my God, what did you do?' And she said, 'I punched him!'  And I said, 'That is fantastic. I am so proud of you!'" Deborah explained. "It was her authentic reaction: How dare you? How dare you?"

Long before Deborah became a mother -- back in 1976 -- she started her TV career in Jacksonville. She was hired at WTLV when it was under different management.

"Being the first woman weekday anchor, I got a lot of attention in those days, and I didn't listen to the number 1 rated radio show in the morning because I found it vulgar," Deborah said.

While she didn't listen to it, Deborah was a constant subject of a popular "shock jock" on WAPE radio. He was known as "The Greaseman."

"A lot of people would say things to me like, 'It's funny,' or like, 'What a compliment, this Greaseman is salivating after you, that's a compliment,'" said Deborah. "No, no, no, no; that's not a compliment."

The executive producer at Channel 12 at the time then told Deborah he wanted her to interview The Greaseman, She recalls the conversation.

"I remember saying to him, 'This DJ says highly offensive inappropriate things about the woman who represents this station on the air every night and you're asking me to do an interview with him?' I said I can't do that, and he said, 'If you're going to be a woman in this business you better get used to it.'"

Deborah says as a young reporter, she encountered quite a few powerful men as she went about her job, and usually just brushed off any uncomfortable moments. 

"It didn't occur to me to go to HR. It didn't occur to me to go to a higher boss, none of that occurred. I didn't know that you could do that," said Deborah. "If I had, I honestly think the general manager of the station would have backed me up. I honestly do."

Mary contacted Doug Tracht, the DJ known on air as The Greaseman. He told Mary via Facebook that he is retired and no longer answering questions or doing interviews. 

Another encounter really stands out to Deborah. She says a state legislator actually chased her around his desk holding silicone breast implants.

"It was so ludicrous, so ludicrous," said Deborah as she told Mary what the legislator said to her while chasing her. "Don't you want to feel a silicone breast implant?" 

"It's a form of power, the abuse of power," added Deborah. "It's, 'Can I get a rise out of this young woman? Can I get some kind of reaction?' When the purpose of my visit was completely disregarded by this individual." 

UNCUT: Mary Baer interviews Deborah Gianoulis

"I never felt physically threatened. I was never physically assaulted," she told Mary. "But back in my journalism days, I did enough stories about domestic violence. I knew there were so many women and girls who are suffering in silence and they don't feel that they can do anything without risking their employment, without risking a relationship, and I thought if I have an opportunity to do that I have nothing to lose!"

Knowing she had nothing to lose, Deborah says she felt comfortable enough to make her story public.

"Nobody's going to fire me anymore. I have a fabulous marriage, I'm so so fortunate, and I've had a voice in this community. So, if there was a way that I might be able to speak for those who couldn't that's why I felt I should do it," she told Mary. "I could not have written that article when I was 22 years old and not have caused a firestorm -- and maybe lost my job. I probably could not have gotten away with it. Now I can."

Deborah tells Mary the most rewarding thing from writing the article is the response from 20- and 30-year-olds. Young women thanked her for writing it and say they encounter such behavior on a regular basis.

"Most men are good people, said Deborah. "This isn't a sexist or gender-specific issue only. This is a human issue. Treating people with respect is just something that should be an expectation for everybody."

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