'GATEKEEPER' IS INFECTED  



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Last Updated

12 Nov 2002

Source: Newsday, October 13, 2001.

AMERICA'S ORDEAL

'Gatekeeper' Is Infected

By Verne Gay, STAFF WRITERS

The NBC News employee who is being treated for anthrax infection (case 2) is described as anchor Tom Brokaw's "gatekeeper."

The woman reportedly opened a letter with a powdery substance that was addressed to Brokaw.

The network, meanwhile, was volunteering nothing, except to confirm the basic facts: The victim is a 38-year-old woman who works at "Nightly News." A spokeswoman declined to comment, except to say, "We want to protect the privacy of this individual."

Her name is Erin O'Connor and she is a new mother, sources said.

O'Connor is Brokaw's most valued assistant, sources said, and a beloved fixture in the newsroom. As one source put it, O'Connor is the "gatekeeper" to Brokaw's world, through whom everyone, and everything, must pass.

Brokaw has a close relationship with O'Connor, and she has worked with him for more than a decade.

"This is going to make Tom angry as hell," a source said. "His family has been attacked [and] he really views Erin as one of his daughters."

At the conclusion of his newscast Friday, Brokaw said NBC employees' thoughts and prayers were with the victim. The incident is "so maddening, it is beyond my ability to express it," he added.

O'Connor's job is to not only screen Brokaw's calls, but also organize his calender and schedule his appointments - a difficult job because of his travel, numerous speaking engagements, and other activities.

But she also opens some of his mail. As one source said, Brokaw gets "tons and tons and tons" of mail, much of it related to his books, "The Greatest Generation," and "Album of Memories: Personal Histories of the Greatest Generation."

"There's no theory at all" why someone would send Brokaw a letter that ultimately infected O'Connor, said an industry source. "Tom gets envelopes all the time, and you know it's one of those instances where you know she wanted to make sure it was OK."

Most NBC staffers did not seem alarmed Friday afternoon.

"You just wish the best for (O'Conner]," said one employee taking a lunch break, who asked that her name not be published.

"The mood was calm and there wasn't much panic," said another staffer. "It did help that it wasn't the type of anthrax found in Florida."

Staff writer Devi Athiappan contributed to this story.