Arnold Diaz, the veteran New York TV reporter who spent a long career chasing down malefactors as part of the "shame" beat he created for various stations, died Tuesday after a decadelong battle with multiple myeloma, his son, Alex Diaz, said Thursday. Arnold Diaz was 74.
The best-known and most honored of New York TV's consumer watchdogs, Diaz literally built a franchise around the word "shame," first for WCBS/2 which he joined in the early 1970s after a run at WPLG in Miami, then later at WNYW/5 and WPIX/11. His many investigations for Ch. 2, where he spent the bulk of his career, were famously appended with the image of a wagging finger, and a brief jingle ("shame on you"). At each story's conclusion, its aggrieved subject — someone whose landlord had just ripped her off, or a guy who couldn't get his money back for a "lemon" car — turned and wagged their finger into the camera too. Most often, viewers saw only Diaz's back during stories, as he followed someone down the street, or as they slammed a door in his face.
For Diaz, the shame beat was built on the simplest and most direct form of newsgathering — tip, or complaints, collected on the viewer hotline. Those many reports — over 1,000, by his own estimate — had impact and won 48 Emmys, among the most ever for a New York TV reporter. Diaz once said he didn't pioneer this style of reporting (which had originated in Philadelphia) "but New Yorkers love revenge and, even if I didn't solve their problems, loved that we exposed" whoever was taking advantage of them, he told Newsday when he retired from Ch. 11 last year.
Diaz also frequently headed to Long Island for his investigations because "Long Island has more than its share of con men," he said at the time. His last LI story was about a West Babylon condominium association "that tried to stop a 4-year-old boy from riding his bike in front of the condominiums," he recalled. (Happy ending: The boy was allowed to ride his bike after the story aired.)
Alex Diaz, a producer for News 12/New York, said that the idea of shame for his father was "a concept that you feel about yourself, when you recognize you're doing wrong, or not doing your best." His work "was kind of like a mirror that he could hold up to show either the best version of yourself or what you were doing wrong. To say 'shame on you' sounds like a judgment, but it was more about making [the story subjects] reflect on their own shame."
Diaz says "he saw the good in everybody, even those he thought deserved to be shamed."
Arnold Diaz was sued on occasion too, including by a Woodbury-based ice cream chain D'Lites, following a May 2011 report that disputed the chain's claim that its ice cream was low in salt, sugar, fat, carbohydrates and cholesterol; Diaz's report said the cream actually had four times the amount. D'Lite argued his tests had been flawed because they were based on the melted product, rather than the frozen, which had more air. A State Supreme court justice later threw out five of seven complaints. Channel 5 and Diaz ultimately prevailed when the court later dismissed the last two — "product disparagement claim and punitive damages claim," according to the judgment summary.
Alex Diaz said his father, who was born and raised in the Kensington section of Brooklyn, "grew up exposed to the general injustice that faced working class and immigrant people." He later moved to Florida, and after college graduation got a job in Miami's WPLG/10. In 1973, he joined Ch. 2, where he remained until 1995, then left for "20/20." He returned to Ch. 2 in 2003 for a couple of years, then in 2005 left for Ch. 5, where "Shame on You" morphed into "Shame, Shame, Shame," and in 2014 to Ch. 11, where he launched "What a Shame!"
In addition to his son, Diaz is survived by his wife, Shawn Callaghan-Diaz, daughters, Shayna and Casey, and grandsons, Miles and Logan.