Working the Rails, Part Two

The Hunt for the Railcar Killer (Ratings) goes on. But it's getting desperate.

You know things are bad when the local stations devote time to Representative Sheila Jackson Lee's announcement that she wants an investigation into just how the INS let Rafael Resendez-Ramirez go after it had him in custody. Given Jackson Lee's propensity to say anything, even the blindingly obvious, if it will get her some face time on TV, this was the news equivalent of doing a story on Mayor Brown declaring Reading Is "Fun"damental Day.

You also know things are bad when Houston viewers are subjected to not one but two prison interviews with convicted serial killers who have absolutely no connection to the Resendez-Ramirez case.

Channel 11 sent Jeremy Desel to Oregon this week to interview the "Happy Face Killer." Channel 2 sent Shern-Min Chow to a prison in Amarillo to interview a guy who killed a string of Dallas prostitutes ten years ago.

Both pieces relied — in lieu of having anything useful to say — on a low-rent Silence of the Lambs motif.

We saw the brave reporters sitting in the interview room while The Beastly Prisoner was brought in. We saw these gutsy, intrepid reporters not even flinch as they stared down the evil that sat across from them.

And, ummm, we didn't get much more from it all. The killer in Oregon told us — chillingly, as we're sure the producers would have us think — that "killing isn't the hard part, it's living with having done the killing." He also said that Resendez-Ramirez, wherever he is, is "looking over his shoulder every second."

Resendez-Ramirez thinks he's being chased? It truly takes the mind of a killer to provide such insight into a fugitive's thinking.

Even more incomprehensible was Channel 2's effort. The analysis provided by KPRC's resident serial killer, former carpenter Charles Albright, consisted almost entirely of I Don't Know About Any Resendez-Ramirez, But I'm Innocent.

Beyond that, the piece spent an inordinate amount of time letting Albright describe, Hannibal Lecter-like, how easy it would have been for the Real Killer to do what a jury found Albright did as a trademark: remove the victims' eyeballs.

We're waiting for the follow-up report, where Channel 2 reveals just what the point of the story was.

Pop Quiz

The TAAS scores are in, and two Houston television stations flunked.

Channel 2 and Channel 11 reported on how HISD passing rates had dropped for the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills; both stations, while bemoaning the inability of kids to master the basic skills necessary to pass the test, got the numbers wrong.

Channel 11 apparently did its own crunching of numbers provided by the Texas Education Agency, but in doing so thoroughly fouled things up and nearly doubled the size of the percentage drop in the passing rate.

Channel 2's mistake was both simpler and more glaring. Instead of reporting that 63 percent of HISD's third-graders had passed the test, it said 63 percent of the students failed.

Anchor Bill Balleza was suitably alarmed at the failure rate, which indeed would have been alarming. If it had been true.

Mere Mortals Bow Before Him

We have a new front-runner in the contest for Most Ridiculous Front-Page Quote About George W. Bush.

To qualify in this contest, a quote must make the front page of the Chronicle — getting placed in the first few grafs of a story before it jumps inside — and it has to exhibit a certain je ne sais quoi that makes it impossible for anyone to continue reading without first rolling their eyes heavenward at why the paper chose to make the quote so prominent.

For a while, our leader came from a June14 analysis on Bush's first campaign trip, headlined "Candidate Bush Left Iowa with Expectations Intact."

According to the story: "Although Bush's speeches were short on specifics and he sometimes fumbled in his delivery, Republicans held nothing against him. They lauded his sincerity and were dazzled by his energy.

"'It was an awesome reception,' said Ralph Brown, a Dallas Center, Iowa, lawyer who 20 years ago was among the first in Iowa to support Bush's father in his bid for president."

Gee, an effusive quote from a guy who was a near-lone supporter of the elder Bush over Reagan in 1980? We guess George W.'s press secretary wasn't available for an equally objective view.

(It wasn't part of the quote, but we do like the image of Iowans sitting slack-jawed, utterly "dazzled" by Bush's "energy." "Did you see how many hands he shook?" they'd gasp in awe. "That fella has not only vim, but vigor. That is pep personified, right there.")

Our new Ridiculous Quote leader is at least more colorful than its predecessor. So colorful is it that the Chron highlighted part of it in a front-page quote box June 30, in case anyone didn't get past the lede on the story claiming George W. was "one of the hottest summer trends since Jedi knights and Austin Powers."

The quote, which came in the second graf of "Bush Schmoozes with Hollywood Elite": " 'Hollywood likes what's cool, so you can understand why they are looking away from [Vice President] Al Gore,' said David Horowitz, a Bush friend in Hollywood.

'Governor Bush has got charisma. He's hot. He's got star quality, and that's what this town relates to,' Horowitz said."

Not to mention hype. Coming next month: a hard-hitting five-part Chronicle series on where George W.'s presidential library should be located.

Witnessed any special sightings of the Houston media in action that made you puff up in pride or anger? Chortled over any media deliveries lately? E-mail Richard Connelly at rich_connelly@ RICHARD CONNELLY


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