The heartbreaking pathos was so evident on the screen that you just wanted to reach out and give the people a reassuring hug. Mother Nature had yet again capriciously struck, inflicting damage and crushing dreams.
In this case, the damage was to the career hopes of television reporters who were lusting after the chance to bravely report from the scene of the biggest hurricane to hit Texas in 20 years.
When Hurricane Bret cruelly decided to come ashore not in Corpus Christi, where TV reporters outnumbered residents, but in deserted Kenedy County, where cows outnumber residents, the disappointment and heartbreak were palpable.
So glum were the correspondents as they stood in a slight drizzle near the Corpus shore that we could only hold out hope that Bret might yet change course and head northward. Alas, it was not to be.
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Instead of heroic shots of raincoated reporters bending into the wind to inform anchors that it was windy in the midst of the hurricane, we got desultory shots of a rainstorm. Instead of anchors worriedly telling the field correspondents to "be careful," advice the reporters then could nobly and ostentatiously ignore, we got lame comments about how Corpus "really dodged a bullet."
Estimates on the damage done to reporters' now hurricane-less audition tapes were not available by press time.
The hurricane-that-wasn't also (apparently) wreaked havoc on the news judgment of the locals in the days after the storm. The stations' oh-so-tiny time slots devoted to news were filled with some rather un-newsworthy items.
We watched Channel 2's 6 p.m. news August 25 and saw, we swear, video of two cars sitting dented on a lawn as the anchor informed us of a crash. A crash that didn't result in a death. Or a serious injury. Or a traffic jam. Or much in the way of anything interesting, as far as we could tell.
But they had shot footage, dammit (of two nonmoving, dented cars), so they were gonna use it.
The next day, the lead 6 p.m. story at Channel 11 was the interesting prayer-at-football-games controversy at Santa Fe. Channel 13 led with a suspicious fire at a private club that left two dead.
Channel 2 led with what it labeled "The Big Story": Police had found some shirts and memorabilia that had been stolen a while back from Houston Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon.
Not particularly intriguing shirts or memorabilia, as far as could be determined from the story. And certainly nothing we saw on camera beyond some gym bags.
Thank God for the solid news judgment of Channel 13, which knows how to put together a professional broadcast that makes effective and stimulating use of those precious minutes available in a half-hour show.
Ummm, except for August 26, when they took up a huge chunk of the 10 p.m. news for a feature on station icon Marvin Zindler's 15th plastic surgery. "Nooooo moooore turkey neck!!" Zindler reported.
A lack of time apparently prevented a 13 follow-up, on a strange spinning sound reported near Edward R. Murrow's grave.
The Chron's John Williams did a piece August 8 about Astros owner Drayton McLane using the Dome's best field-level seats to woo the movers and shakers of town.
The story, headlined "Game Behind the Game: McLane, His Guests Seen Playing Hardball Politics in Diamond Box Seats," noted that "on any given night, the box may be loaded with those who can help give McLane more political clout around Houston and Texas."
Among those who have sat in the seats, which are featured prominently on television broadcasts of the games, are Mayor Lee Brown, Harris County Judge Robert Eckels and Enron chairman Ken Lay, the story said.
The original version of the story filed by Williams, according to two sources, included the fact that McLane's guest list for his posh and primo seats has also featured executives of the Houston Chronicle. Somewhere in the editing process that nugget got excised.
Williams isn't talking, and there are differing views in the newsroom as to whether the cut was the result of nefarious motives or the typical editing process.
If indeed the fact was snipped because of a lack of space in the paper, we're glad to offer some of our news hole to help out Houston's Leading Information Source.
Mind in the Gutter
The slipup of the week goes to KTRH radio anchor J.P. Pritchard, reporting on a man arrested on child pornography charges at Bush Intercontinental Airport.
"Inside his briefcase," Pritchard boomed, "police found 12 dicks... errr, discs of child pornography...."
It would've been a better story the first way you told it, guy.
The Chronicle, which gave Bill Clinton a lot of grief for his hair-splitting answers during -- well, during any one of Bill Clinton's many real and imagined scandals -- appears to have a little trouble of its own in fessing up.
An August 25 correction said that an August 15 story had "implied that die-offs of largemouth bass on Lake Fork and Sam Rayburn Reservoir occurred simultaneously this summer. The Sam Rayburn bass die-off occurred in the summer of 1998."
The story implied that? Here's the lede on the original story: "From the moment the first dead largemouths surfaced early this summer at Lake Fork and Sam Rayburn reservoir...." A few paragraphs later, the story noted that "both incidents began within a week or so of each other."
This is not the first time the Chron has claimed to somehow only imply (mis)information to its readers. If you're gonna admit a mistake, just admit it, we say.
Here's how: Last week we mistakenly implied that Mississippi was west of Arkansas. Hell, we flat-out said it. Sorry for the fuckup.
We hope the Chron adopts similar wording, in the unlikely event it ever makes a mistake again.
Have any reports on the reporters? Media mayhem to relay? E-mail the News Hostage at email@example.com.
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