IT'S NO LONGER such a hoot, is it?

Gossiping about Alycia Lane and Larry Mendte is no longer fun now that serious accusations have overshadowed the giddy scandal.

Mendte was fired Monday amid allegations that he illegally accessed Lane's e-mails and leaked them to the media to destroy her.

Lane was fired six months ago and told her side of the story for the first time in a lawsuit filed against CBS 3 last week.

And so it appears that while Lane was being publicly ridiculed, Mendte was the one who was allegedly behaving in a scurrilous, perhaps criminal, way.

Lane, it appears, may have been a victim of character assassination, not of her own character flaws.

In which case, those of us who feasted on this smorgasbord of gossip ought to learn something from it.

We won't, of course, but we ought to.

Alycia Lane was portrayed in the media as a troubled ditz without the stability or credibility to be a news anchor.

She e-mailed photos of herself in a bikini to a sportscaster, which invited the wrath of his wife.

She sacrificed her dignity to appear on Dr. Phil's show to confess her relationship troubles.

She allegedly assaulted a New York police officer, called her a gay slur, and attempted to intimidate her with her power.

Lane's antics qualified her for the caricature we apply to most gorgeous, successful, famous women, especially in the entertainment field: narcissistic, emotionally immature, deeply flawed and self-destructive.

That portrayal is a coping device for the rest of us who can feel reassured that although we don't have Lane's looks, fame, money, talent or success, we're better than she is!

And if we had what she did, we'd sure appreciate it!

That simplistic moral is also why we're riveted by the story of Jocelyn Kirsch, the "Bonnie" of "Bonnie and Clyde," the couple accused of stealing identities and money from friends and strangers. She, too, has privileges most of us don't, and look what happened to her!

But Lane's side of the story portrays her quite differently.

The e-mailed bikini photo?

It was an unflattering snapshot, sent to the sportscaster while he and Lane were on the phone, so he could see if he knew the other person in the picture.

The Dr. Phil appearance?

Forced upon her by station executives eager to exploit her popularity. Her tearful entreaties that the segment not be broadcast were ignored.

The incident in New York?

Never happened the way the police said.

Her complaints that someone was accessing her e-mails?

Dismissed by her superiors as paranoia.

This Alycia Lane is a vulnerable woman who let herself be exploited by the station, either because of ambition or the need to be seen as a cooperating team-player rather than a diva.

This Alycia Lane was undone by sexist management; by a colleague resentful of her prominence and higher salary; and by a cruel public all too willing to believe the unflattering portrait of her.

I don't want to careen from one caricature to another and anoint Lane an innocent victim of an evil conspiracy.

Despite the media's attempts to make it so, little in life is black and white.

There's a call to Gov. Rendell in the aftermath of the New York incident, for instance, that Lane denies and Rendell confirms - which would disqualify her as a journalist all by itself.

We also ought to reserve final judgment on Mendte until the investigation is concluded.

I only know that I'm sick and tired of the demeaning Alycia Lane/Jocelyn Kirsch story line that so often dominates the media's portrayal of women.

I deplore how susceptible we are to believing these caricatures and how much we revel in them.

It turns out that Alycia Lane may not be a troubled, unstable ditz after all.

And the Mendte/Lane affair is no longer such a hoot. *

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