News Hostage

A Book Is a Book

Channel 13's Wayne Dolcefino doesn't alwaysdo sweeps-week investigations of strip clubs; sometimes he takes on meatier, more deserving subjects.

Such was the case with his recent three-part series that accused the Houston Independent School District of widespread and costly ineptitude in ordering textbooks. HISD regularly orders far too many books, the report said, books paid for with your tax dollars, books that sit gathering dust in a warehouse.

To illustrate the piece, 13 showed video of, well, stacks of books gathering dust in a warehouse. The trouble is, according to HISD, the video did not show HISD books and was not shot at an HISD facility.

School district spokesman Terry Abbott wrote KTRK a detailed letter November 24, outlining numerous points in the report that he called misleading.

"At about the 2:25 mark of the November 15 broadcast, Dolcefino said: 'School employees weren't asked to pay a dime for lost textbooks, according to HISD's own records. And it's the school's job to guard the books,' " read one of Abbott's examples. "13 Under Cover used video of employees working in what appeared to be a textbook warehouse to illustrate this section of the broadcast, yet HISD officials say it appears these are not HISD books, facilities or employees depicted."

In an e-mail to the Press, Abbott wrote, "Our people are VERY sure those weren't HISD facilities. For one [thing], in our warehouse, the fire marshal won't allow books to be stacked nearly to the ceiling." KTRK would also have needed district permission to shoot in the warehouse.

Instead, Abbott believes, 13 shot footage at a state textbook warehouse, where books for the entire region are stored, while implying during the broadcast that it was showing HISD facilities.

In response, Channel 13 news director Bill Bouyer saysŠ not much.

"I am not going to comment on Terry Abbott's letter. I have a file cabinet full of them, and I am not going to comment, because Mr. Abbott wants to wage a battle in the media, and I am not going to get drawn into it," he says. "We stand by our story."

He hasn't written back to Abbott, either.

It should be said that Abbott is well known in the journalistic community for hair-splitting to the nth degree; some reporters who have dealt with him mutter darkly about the difficulty in getting a straight answer.

And Bouyer makes a good point when he says that the issue Abbott raises doesn't affect the main point of the story, that HISD is wasting taxpayer money. "The bottom line is that HISD still refuses to address the issues raised in Wayne's story," he says.

Sort of like KTRK is refusing to address the issues raised in Abbott's letter.

Customer Service

Someone has a bone to pick with Houston Chronicletechnology reporter Dwight Silverman.

The anonymous person has sent along a copy of a Silverman e-mail in which the columnist bitches about the service he's getting from Road Runner, a high-speed Internet service provider. Road Runner, a Time Warner Cable product, is engaged in a high-stakes competition with Southwest Bell's DSL, and both companies desperately seek good reviews from tech writers.

Dwight's complaining e-mail isn't addressed to local tech support staffers. Instead, it's sent to Road Runner's senior vice president in Virginia.

"Kind of like using your clout as a reporter to go to Bill Gates if Windows 98 crashes your computer," the anonymous e-mail forwarder writes. "Needless to say, [the VP] writes all his underlings and screams at them to find out why Dwight's Internet connection is sluggish on this particular day."

In the e-mail, Silverman outlines some problems he has been having and ends with this perhaps threatening note: "I will probably do another column in the first quarter about [Road Runner's] status."

Don't get the wrong idea, Silverman told the Press. "It's not me trying to use my job to get better service, it's me doing my job," he says. He says he regularly calls tech support for specific questions, but he also tells the company's higher-ups what's happening so they can explain the glitches to him.

"It's not like I'm telling the guy, 'Hey, fix my problem.' It's 'Hey, this is what's been happening -- why did it happen?' " he says.

He says he never expected that the executive would pass on his e-mail to the grunt workers with a terse note saying, "Please see Dwight's comments about performance and investigate," but that's what happened.

In no way did he intend to, as the anonymous correspondent claimed, "throw his weight around."

Still, we bet he's getting some pretty damn good service.

McCain's a Pagan!

The Houston Chronicle editorial page, working feverishly to get George W. Bush elected president, has seemed a little distracted lately.

In an unrelenting effort to assure Houstonians that any and all criticisms of Bush are unwarranted, the Chronedit writers penned a piece December 15 dismissing the thought that Bush's unctuous smirk is worthy of note. "The Smirk: Eventually, More Substantive Issues Will Come to the Fore," the headline tut-tutted.

Referring to the most recent presidential debate, the Chron harrumphed that little of substance had been learned. The editorial's last graf, verbatim: "Perhaps the most revealing moment came when Bush said he placed his faith in Jesus Christ, while [Senator John] McCain said he looked most frequently to Teddy Roosevelt for guidance."

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