Bayou City Beat-up
After 18 years at Fox's KRIV-26, the always impeccably dressed Lloyd Gite has been informed that he will be out of work as of January 14.
It is not, by any means, an amicable parting.
Gite has been feuding loudly with new vice president/general manager D'Artagnan Bebel, writing a letter to network officials accusing Bebel of "harassment." Gite also has been busily consulting lawyers.
For its part, Fox management -- according to Gite -- has accused the reporter of using racial epithets against Bebel and of embarrassing the station by making a crack about Mayor Lee Brown while co-hosting an NAACP dinner.
(Bebel wouldn't comment.)
For years Gite produced and hosted the "Bayou City Beat" feature on Fox's morning news, a fairly typical light-and-bright series of remotes from civic clubs, new hot spots or big city events. When Bebel came on board earlier this year, Bayou City Beat was among the first things to get axed.
In a November 15 letter to Fox Broadcasting executives in New York, Gite says he was a victim of "hatred and harassment from upper management." He never uses the term "racial harassment" (one assumes because Bebel, like Gite, is black), but he ostentatiously cc'd the letter to the NAACP and the Houston Area Urban League.
"Mr. Bebel said he didn't like [Bayou City Beat] because he wanted hard-hitting features," Gite wrote. He referred to reporter Andrea Watkins in the letter. "I was replaced by an Anglo woman.This woman is doing golf tournaments and has even done some of the identical stories I did. What about the "hard-hitting' features?"
This being TV news, some of Gite's letter combines the ridiculous with the somewhat sublime. He complains that he is no longer allowed to go on Hollywood junkets, a perceived wrong that's not too likely to engender much sympathy either inside or outside the journalistic world.
"I would make frequent trips to L.A. to interview the stars of upcoming movies," he wrote. "There are a lot of people in the Houston community who enjoyed seeing their local reporter talking with their favorite movie stars. Mr. Bebel, without research into what our community liked or disliked, stopped me from doing these movie junkets."
Gite, who has done some freelancing -- print media stories and video reports for a cable network -- says in the letter that he also was stopped from doing such work, and that Bebel abruptly replaced him as master of ceremonies for a recent Ensemble Theatre event. "For whatever reason the man does not like me so he has chosen to make my life miserable," Gite wrote.
In response, Gite says, he was told December 1 that Fox had conducted an investigation into his charges and was exercising its option to get out of its contract with him effective January 14, six months before the agreement was set to expire.
"They gave no reason for the termination," Gite says.
He claims that station executives recently confronted him with the charge that he had been overheard calling Bebel "the house nigger in charge," which he denies. They also told him he embarrassed the station when he hosted a recent NAACP dinner and chided Mayor Brown from the stage for showing up late.
"The mayor is a friend of mine, and it was just an attempt to be funny," Gite says.
Gite doesn't know if he'll be back on the air at Fox or not -- he's due some vacation time. He also doesn't know his next career move.
"This all kind of took me by surprise," he says, referring to the approaching termination.
Of Mice and Bagels
The folks at Midtown Bagels are mighty steamed at Tony Kovaleski, the hyperaggressive, suspenders-wearing leader of KPRC's "Investigators" team. Midtown owner Christian Busker is passing out flyers and has a large notice up in his window saying that the shop's been done wrong by Channel 2.
Kovaleski did a sweeps-month report on dirty restaurants (pause here to marvel at the stunning originality of that). For days the station aired gruesome pictures of rats and roaches, spoiled meat and experts talking about what happens when you get rodents defecating on food (nothing good, we assume).
The investigative reporter then started barking about the worst offenders in town, restaurants that repeatedly have been inspected by city officials. Leading the list was Midtown Bagels. The eatery also was listed in KPRC's Web site version of the story, titled "Dirty Little Secrets of Houston."
Business has dropped by 30 percent, Busker says. Catering and wholesale revenue has plummeted, too.
What irks Busker is that his restaurant never has been cited for the "rats, roaches, flies and filth" KPRC talked about. Instead he has been going back and forth with the city over the need for mostly structural changes at his new business, such as putting a closet around a water heater. The city at one time also said the traditional wooden boards used to age the bagels overnight should be made of metal (the city has since changed its mind).
The discussions with the city have necessitated a series of inspections, Busker admits, but never for the kinds of things emphasized in Kovaleski's report. He says it's unfair to lump his restaurant in with the places that resulted in the hard-to-put-out-of-your-mind pictures KPRC aired. Kovaleski never called him for comment before the piece ran, he says.
The reporter says he contacted all the establishments photographed for the report, but not those on the list.
He says his report focused on the Health Department's inability to deal with repeat offenders, but the story never said the repeat offenders on the list were guilty of the rats-roaches-flies-filth thing as opposed to other infractions. "There was no attempt to make that impression.I can't tell you what everyone who saw it thought, but we were careful to separate the two things so that people wouldn't get the wrong idea," he says.
Midtown Bagels was taken off the Web site list after Busker called city inspectors and asked them to come out again and give him a clean bill of health.
"Our Web page went up, and he screamed and yelled," Kovaleski says. "And that was the purpose of our investigation -- he got some publicity and got the problems fixed. I think what he did was awesome."
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