Former Channel 10 Consumer Investigative reporter Herb Denenberg died last night of an apparent heart attack. He was 80.
Denenberg spent his life fighting for the little guy. He had two law degrees, a doctorate in economics, taught at the Wharton school, served as Pennsylvania's Insurance Commissioner and as the state's Public Utility Commissioner before his career in television.
He didn't have the look, the hair or the booming voice of most men on the air in the mid70s, but his expertise and passion as an advocate for the people made him one of the most effective and attention-getting consumer reporters not just in Philadelphia, but in the country.
You could not intimidate Herb and he never thought twice about going head to head with product makers, big business or the government to right a wrong.
Some of Herb's investigative reports and tactics to get action are legendary, like the time he told angry viewers to call the White House directly. Time Magazine wrote about it in a 1976 article called, The Horrible Herb Show:
The White House telephone operator was frantic. "Some guy on TV in Philadelphia," she said, had just told angry consumers to phone complaints directly to the President, and the switchboard was jammed. The guy was Herbert S. Denenberg, 46, lawyer, author (seven books), former college professor, hell-raising former Pennsylvania insurance commissioner, and currently one of the funniest, roughest consumer-affairs reporters ever to read fine print on a label.
But Herb didn't make the news because he was quirky or because he had a high-pitched voice or wore funny costumes. He made the news because he made a difference. Many consumers have better, safer choices because of Herb.
Claims that were too good to be true or products that were hazardous to your health got heaved into "Denenberg's Dump."
Herb won literally hundreds of awards from all sorts of prestigious organizations, but his personal victories were measured more by the troubleshooting Herb and his consumer team did daily.
"My greatest satisfaction is keeping some kid from drinking poison or making some Government agency do what it's supposed to do. For relaxation I go out and read food labels."
Herb was on the air at Channel 10 until the mid-90s, but his consumer watchdog days never stopped. He was active until the day he died – writing a column for The Bulletin and for his own blog. He was still fighting for health care and insurance reforms and one of his most recent targets was President Obama.
"First of all, he ought to shut up because every time he opens his mouth, he costs us a trillion dollars," Herb said in a YouTube video last July 4 when he was the keynote speaker for the Tea Party at Independence Hall.
Herb leaves behind his wife, Naomi who worked alongside him for many years.