Video Vault: Sportscaster Gib Shanley burns Iranian flag during newscast

Vintage WEWS: 1979 US flag burning angers Shanley

CLEVELAND - Happy Birthday Gib Shanley.

Gib Shanley, “The Gibber”, was the voice of the Browns, and our WEWS main sports anchor from 1967 until 1985.

Gib was born August 6, 1931, he passed away in 2008.

In honor of his birthday, I’ve reprised a moment in Cleveland television history for which Gib will always be associated, the burning of an Iranian flag on live TV in 1979.

November, 1979 was a difficult time here in the United States. The United States embassy in Tehran, Iran, had been overrun and Americans were being held hostage. It was just the start of a crisis that would last 444 days.

Support for the hostages was overwhelming but there were also pro-Iranian demonstrations being held. One such demonstration held in downtown Cleveland in the early days of the hostage situation included the burning of an American flag amid shouts of ‘U.S. out of Iran!”

Our legendary sportscaster Gib Shanley saw those images of the U.S. flag being burned in a story on the WEWS 6 p.m. newscast and his blood began to boil. Gib knew those images would run again in the 11 p.m. newscast and frankly, Gib was fed up.

What you’ll see in our video player only took a few seconds as Gib ended his sports report, but in today’s internet terminology, it went viral. Gib burned an Iranian flag and threw it on the studio floor.

It was an awkward moment in the studio, but it echoed the sentiments felt by many around the country.

Retired longtime WEWS anchorman Ted Henry answered the question I get most often we get about the flag burning… where did Gib get an Iranian flag?

Ted was doing double duty that evening; he not only anchored the 11 p.m. newscast but produced it as well.

“During my dinner hour while producing the 11 o'clock, I got in my car and drove over to East 55th to talk to my long time buddy Mort Meyers,” Ted told me in an email.

Meyers ran the American Searchlight Company, and since his business did a lot of nationality events in Cleveland, he carried the flags of many countries including the Iranian flag.

Ted took the Iranian flag back to the station and held it up on the set during the 11 p.m. news.

“I forget exactly what I said but it must have been something like, ‘After seeing the U.S. flag being burned around the country, some Americans are now thinking about setting ablaze flags like this one’,” said Ted.

Ted put the flag down next to the anchor desk and in the commercial break before sports he saw Gib pick up the flag. Ted recalled there being a twinkle in Gib’s eye as the award-winning sportscaster headed toward his seat on the set.

Ted added, “I thought he might possibly say something silly about it, but no way, no how was I prepared for him to take out his lighter and set flame to cloth in total and genuine disgust.”

The video in the player above begins as Gib’s scoreboard ends. The lighting of the flag and his comments left those in the studio stunned.

Ted Henry managed “We’ll be right back,” while co-anchor Jeff Maynor patted his hand to his mouth.

The video continues after the break with the anchors commenting on technical difficulties earlier in the newscast that have probably been forgotten due to what just happened.

Ted, being in charge of the newscast as its producer, had to answer the call from the station’s general manager.

“I expected his anger, but I didn't expect to hear the thin practically superficial anger coming from his voice. It was pro forma -- all for show -- it was his job. Secretly I could tell he was pleased as hell at what his man had done.”

There were “Pro-Gib Shanley” rallies and I’ve included clips from one of those. You’ll see a sign reading ‘Gib has guts.’ I also added the video that set the entire thing in motion, the U.S. flag burning at the downtown Federal building on East Ninth.

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