Jailhouse Mock

KHOU/Channel 11 continues to show an impressive degree of cockiness over its investigative work into the Houston Police Department's inept DNA lab.

First it put out a press release with news director Mike Devlin belittling other TV stations' investigative efforts as concentrating on "mother-daughter strippers."

Now KHOU has an ad on the air furthering the boasting. It shows a snippet from one of its reports, and then distorted views of other stations' news shows as the announcer intones, "They're following us."

Not to mention the shot of a Houston Chronicle being dropped to the ground, with the same announcer proudly blaring, "They're following us."

A TV station ridiculing the local paper for following one of its stories? We're going to have to start watching KHOU more often to see how they're filling up the broadcast hours without performing a rip-and-read of that day's Chronicle. Or maybe whenever they do it now, they'll just have that deep-voiced announcer introduce the segment by saying, "We're following them!"

This isn't to denigrate the DNA series, which is another coup for the best investigative TV journalist in town, Anna Werner. And the Chron has been frantically playing catch-up on the story, even bringing on former Houston Press writer Steve McVicker to aid in the effort. The station won a prestigious Scripps Howard Foundation award for its work.

But as football coaches used to say when the touchdown celebrations got out of hand, act like you've been in the end zone before, guys.

KHOU's Web site offers some interesting footage of Werner that didn't make the air, by the way. It links to the complete, uncut video of the press conference held on the jailhouse steps March 12 by the just-freed Josiah Sutton, who had served almost five years for a rape that new DNA tests show he did not commit.

What's seen in the footage that didn't make it to the air: Werner giving a great big hug to Sutton as he steps out, and then standing, beaming, right beside him for the entire press conference, instead of with the other reporters in the pack in front of the podium.

As Sutton thanks God, thanks his mom, thanks his family, as he talks about all the research he did in jail to further his release, you can see Werner waiting ever so eagerly for him to give the sound bite thanking Channel 11. (In a perfect world, a sound bite thanking "Channel 11 and the Investigators who offer 'Journalism For A Change' weeknights at five, six and ten, with weather by Dr. Neil Frank! And let me just add that I couldn't have gotten through my mornings in prison without the help of God -- and the inspired wackiness of Johnathan Walton!")

But the kudos to KHOU never came, the ungrateful bastard, even with Werner standing right beside him, offering helpfully leading questions.

Lacking the key sound bite, the marketing folks at Channel 11 went to Plan B, putting together their "They're following us!" TV ad. And thus changing forever local TV news, since we assume the least bit of pride on the part of KHOU's news staff will keep them from ever doing another rip-and-read of the morning paper.

Convictions Are Forever

The Chronicle had an item on the front of the Metro section March 10 about how a local jeweler was steamed at the Baltimore Ravens for stealing his design for their Super Bowl championship rings. It was an odd little piece.

It was odd because it was somewhat old -- the Ravens won the Super Bowl two years ago, obviously; but news of local jeweler Fred Cuellar's lawsuit against the team had made the Baltimore papers and the Associated Press wire six months ago.

So the Chron was a little late. Also a little skimpy with the information. Cuellar, a darling of Houston society and someone who appears in front of whatever television camera is available, is no stranger to the courthouse. He was convicted of felony theft in 1998 for a million-dollar investment scheme involving a large diamond. Harry Lawrence, the Harris County prosecutor who handled the case, says Cuellar unsuccessfully appealed his conviction all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and is still serving a ten-year probation. (He also got 30 days in jail and was ordered to make restitution, Lawrence says.)

Dan Parsons, president of the local Better Business Bureau, says Cuellar is listed as "satisfactory" on the BBB's Reliability List but has been the subject of complaints before and was, for a time, listed as "unsatisfactory."

"You talk to any jeweler and they'll give you a mouthful about him," Parsons says. "Everything that he's saying now [about the Ravens] has been said about him."

Cuellar did not return a call for comment, but upon his conviction he told the Houston Business Journal he'd committed no crime, and the case stemmed from a business dispute.


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