Irene covers crime and the courts — name an interesting local case and she’s probably covered it — and she says what keeps the job so fascinating is the trials. She loves them. Ask her, and Irene will explain how trials “condense all of human emotion.”
“Going to court everyday,” she says, “is better than Broadway — it’s like having a front-row seat on human drama. You cannot make this stuff up.”
There’s never been a shortage of good material. Irene has covered all the big New York mob cases of the last generation, including the trials of John Gotti, and many of the big police stories, including the Knapp Commission, the infamous Dirty 30, and more recently, the torture of Abner Louima and the shooting of Amadou Diallo.
She was there in the courtroom when John Lennon’s killer was tried — she remembers Mark David Chapman entering court each day carrying his copy of “Catcher in the Rye.” In the 70’s Irene sat next to Martha Mitchell — both were knitting — as Mitchell’s husband, John, and several other Watergate figures were tried here in New York.
Irene covered the Murder at the Met case — when a violinist was killed by a stagehand during intermission of a performance by Mikhail Baryshnikov. She’s gone to Virginia twice — first for the trial of Lorena Bobbit, then for the trial of Marv Albert. She traveled to West Palm Beach for the rape trial of William Kennedy Smith; and of course, she covered the big one — the OJ Simpson case, from start to finish.
The Cornell family has been in the news business for many years. Her father, Cameron Cornell, worked in newspapers, radio and TV in Oklahoma, Savannah, Los Angeles and New York. Her uncle, George Cornell, was the religion editor at the Associated Press for more than 40 years. She often sits nex to her sister in court. Christine Cornell is a well-known courtroom sketch artist.
She worked her way through Hunter College as a copy girl at WMCA in New York where her father was the News Director. His successor, Barry Beere, was “the first to shove me out the door and say ‘go cover a story,'” Irene says. She must have done a good job, because after that, she was on the air every day.
During that time, Irene met her late husband, Danny Meenan, who was a reporter at WMCA for 25 years. She also discovered her love for courtroom drama. The first trial she covered was that of Alice Crimmins. All these years later, Irene still describes her in reporters’ shorthand as “the attractive red-haired cocktail waitress convicted of murdering her two children.” In 1970, when Irene made the move to WCBS after eight years at ‘MCA, she arrived just in time for the second Crimmins trial. It, too, ended in conviction, and Irene has been on New York’s crime and court beat ever since.
She is a producer’s favorite kind of reporter. She can spot a promising story a mile away, she’s an absolutely wonderful storyteller, and she’s never more excited than when she’s calling the desk to relate the latest tale she’s dug up from New York’s darkside — soon to be delivered to listeners in her own inimitable way.
Two of Irene’s children have been in the news business. Daughter Kati Cornell covered federal courts in New York for the New York Post and is now communications director for NYC’s special narcotics prosecutor – Bridget Brennan. Her stepson, Danny Meenan, Jr., is a television news producer in Australia. Her influence does not end with her own children. At least one young reporter has been heard to wonder aloud: How would Irene cover this story?