If you ever want to hear journalists get sanctimonious (an admittedly easy thing to do), just ask them about protecting a source.
You'll hear about the "sanctity of sources," how journalists have gone to jail before revealing their tipsters, about how important it is for potential leakers to know their identities will be protected.
It's all true, of course. Unless, apparently, you work for Channel 11.
A source who requested anonymity contacted both the Houston Press and Channel 11 with pretty solid leads concerning the bizarre twists in former mayor Kathy Whitmire's life. (As reported by the Press's Tim Fleck, Whitmire is living in a prefab home with a registered sex offender named Alan Wehmer.)
KHOU decided not to go with the story. That's fine; station leaders are certainly entitled to use their editorial judgment as to what's news. But someone at the station apparently took things a step further, the tipster says.
Someone made sure that Whitmire, whose post-mayoral résumé includes a stint as a KHOU political analyst, got a copy of the tipster's e-mail. Including the tipster's e-mail address.
(One rumor is that the KHOU person who forwarded the e-mail did not work directly in the newsroom, but that's little comfort to the exposed source.)
Whitmire, who refused all opportunities to comment for Fleck's story, fired off a scathing e-mail to the person whose identity she had been so thoughtfully given.
"Who are you and why are you harassing me?" she wrote to the person, who had never contacted her. She then fired away with more questions: "Have I done something to harm you? Has Alan Wehmer done something to harm you? You have made a lot of accusations against him. What is your involvement with him? Where do you get your information?
"Are you aware of laws against using the Internet for harassment? What do you want? Where do you live? What is your phone number? Are [you] trying to remain anonymous? Do you have something to hide?"
We can't blame Whitmire for being pissed, of course; we're sure she'd prefer the story never saw the light of day.
We also, however, can't blame the tipster for being equally angry. We bet he won't be calling "The Defenders" anytime soon.
KHOU news director Mike Devlin did not return a call seeking comment.
In Other News
The Houston Chronicle reported December 21 that the city is about to launch a new program that will help neighborhood groups battle unsightly lots that are overgrown with weeds. The city will lend the groups the equipment necessary to do the job.
"It is not a new idea," the Chron reported. "The city came up with the idea more than a year ago, buying mowers and other equipment to lend out to groups that sought help. But concerns about insurance liability kept the program on the shelf until now."
Well, yeah. But besides the insurance questions, there was also the matter of one Ralph Basil Garcia. According to a Harris County prosecutor, Garcia was convicted of stealing about $15,000 worth of lawn mowers from the program.
Now that the millennium has arrived without Armageddon being inflicted upon us, we're hoping the folk at Channel 2 have taken a deep breath. Their incessant Y2K countdowns have assured us that just about any entity you could imagine, from the Pentagon to the League City Fire Department, thinks they have a handle on this thing.
Channel 2 isn't taking any chances, though. According to a newsroom source (whom we will go to jail before revealing, unless it means missing the NFL playoffs), the station has installed porta-potties and brought in gallons of bottled water Just In Case.
If the planet somehow does survive, by the way, KPRC's managers have that contingency covered, too. They have foreseen the coming technological improvements in television and are advertising them. No, wait -- they're reporting on them.
A news piece December 21 went to great lengths celebrating the fact that soon satellite-dish companies will be able to broadcast local channels. Channel 2's investigation revealed that the digital satellite picture is sharper and clearer, that the sound is CD-quality, and that getting a dish doesn't cost all that much more than cable. And now you'll be able to watch News 2 Houston on it!
No word on whether you get the first month free if you mention you heard about it on Channel 2.
Desperately Seeking Color
It is time to take the sage advice of Barney Fife, who always preached on the benefits of tackling a problem through one inviolable policy: "Nip it in the bud, Ange."
We as Houstonians must Nip in the Bud a growing movement by the Houston Chronicle's sports pages to foist some manufactured jocular nickname upon the new baseball stadium. If the Chron writers have their way, we'll all be referring to Enron Field as "The Gashouse."
The movement began immediately after the April 7 announcement that Enron was paying $100 million for naming rights. Columnist John Lopez wrote that perhaps the Killer B's will become "the Gashouse Gang -- Y2K version." Since then he and his fellow columnists have been relentlessly pushing the idea of "The Gashouse."
We have never, by the way, in many conversations about the new stadium, ever come across anyone but a Chronicle employee using the term. "Can't wait till The Gashouse opens!" is not a common sports-bar phrase.
The guys at the Chron have tried this before: Ever since the Summit was renamed Compaq Center, columnist Fran Blinebury has been trying to get people to call it "The Laptop." Why, we don't know.
Since Jacobs Field in Cleveland is referred to as "The Jake" and Ted Turner Field in Atlanta is allegedly called "The Ted," we figured the Chron would have gone with "The Ron" for its Official Nickname.
"The Gashouse" just offers too many rich possibilities for those noted chucklemeisters, we guess.
E-mail the News Hostage at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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