Big Story

Uh oh. It's Channel 2 news. Time to shoo the kids out of the room.
What'll it be tonight? "Gas: How to make it disappear quietly"? No, that was a few weeks ago. Maybe, "Do your children dress too sexy?" No, KPRC-TV already tilled that loamy ground, probably well in advance of whenever it was hoed over on Montel or Ricki Lake. Perhaps tonight we can looked forward to "Your zipper: The danger lurking down below." After all, this is the station where local news comes first.

But no, this evening's "big story" is ... well, it seems as if some clever soul in Salt Lake City, in the midst of the NBA Western Conference finals, had reworked the Bangles song "Walk Like an Egyptian" into "Walk Like a Nigerian" and had the temerity to regale the yokels in Utah with this heartless goof on our Hakeem.

I'm ashamed to admit it now, but when I first heard of this -- I can't remember where, but it was a day or two before it surfaced as the big story on Channel 2 -- I chuckled. Only to myself, and only in passing, but I laughed. It struck me as borderline clever; certainly it had more snap than, say, that "Channel 2 and the Rockets" promo song.

But according to Channel 2, if I laughed, I am an unfeeling and insensitive peckerwood and should be enrolled posthaste in whatever diversity classes they're offering at the local NBC affiliate. As it turns out, those people in Utah were actually indulging in the worst sort of xenophobic and racist spew, deserving of censure, condemnation and an angry Houston Image Group rally around the City Hall reflecting pool.

Well, Channel 2 didn't exactly say that. What was reported, with a straight face, was that this spoof was "more than unfunny, it just plain hurts." But Hakeem, somehow, was "trying to find the power not to hurt, but to heal" and "to rise above what divides." And so on.

As the big story unfolded, though, it seemed to be missing one of the crucial elements -- the who, what, when, where and why -- that, as they teach in the many fine institutions of higher learning offering degrees in journalism, every "story" must have. Exactly why this parody was hurtful to Hakeem, or whomever, was left unexplained. Channel 2 did interview Hakeem about l'affaire Salt Lake, but he didn't appear to be hurting. No, he seemed to respond to this affront with the same sort of boilerplate cliche he employs to deflect all silly questions from the sporting media (that is, about 95 percent of all questions posed by the sporting media).

Hakeem, inarguably, is Nigerian by birth, a fact of which he's doubtlessly most proud, although, to be precise, the disc jockey might have had him "Walk Like a Nigerian-American." But even Channel 2 must make occasional allowances for art.

More to the point, and this subtlety may have escaped the brains behind Channel 2's big story, Hakeem walks. Yeah, at least every fifth or sixth time he touches the ball. In a private, unguarded moment, Calvin and Bill -- and possibly even Gene Peterson or Fran Blinebury -- would acknowledge such. Hakeem occasionally hops and skips and takes giant third steps, but then how else can he get to the basket with some lug named after a line of Swedish household appliances welded to his back and forearm? He's far from the only NBA center to do so, just the most successful.

So let's see: he's Nigerian, and he walks ... he walks like a Nigerian!
In retrospect, though, we must entertain the possibility that this unfunny, hurtful song was so devastating to Hakeem that it caused the Rockets to drop their next two games to the Jazz, not only eliminating the team from the NBA finals but also depriving Channel 2 of the chance to rerun Linda Lorelle's penetrating one-on-one interview with the great man himself, wherein we learned of those "separate entrances" for men and women Hakeem was having installed at his Sugar Land spread. (Good thing the Mormons hadn't heard about that.)

But I didn't come here today to discuss the fine points of major world religions, or of NBA footwork. Hakeem's season is over. But there's no bottom in sight to the depths Channel 2 news appears capable of sinking.

One other local media outlet -- Majic 102/FM -- tried to stoke listener outrage over "Walk Like a Nigerian," but at least the radio station didn't make any pretense of passing its endeavor off as "news." Channel 2's attempt to do so was especially cynical, since, at bottom, the "big story" was just another plug for NBC's broadcast of the Rockets-Jazz series. It also came from the station employing an anchorwoman so lacking in any sense of history that she quite innocently introduced an African-American colleague, on the air, as "our resident monkey," then wondered what the fuss was about when somebody complained.

It seems like ancient history, but not too long ago Channel 2 was considered to be the thinking person's station, the one watched by people who wanted more than murder and mayhem at six and ten. But that changed quickly after the Hobby family unloaded the station to the broadcast subsidiary of the Washington Post Company a few years ago.

The Post's family-run media empire publishes what is still one of the dwindling handful of America's great daily newspapers. Its former chairman, Katharine Graham, was recently honored across the country upon publication of her autobiography, which recounts her courageous decision to have her newspaper pursue its Watergate exposes. Foisting the Buzz Lady on Houston probably isn't enough to put Graham's karmic ledger in arrears, but it does take a bit of the luster off of running a crooked president out of office.


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