Channel 8 had two great reporters left. Now that they've
canned Valeri Williams, they have one.
Tracks of His Tears
His wife murdered their five children, but Rusty
Yates was the one labeled a villain. He says don't
believe everything you read.
Beat the Rap
Suburban cops to kids: Turn that rap stuff down
War and Peace
Guns in an MLK parade? What's wrong with this
Eeek, the Facts!
The city council fears mice in corners whispering
The Stars' Aaron Downey knows he must fight for ice
God and Mammon
Plus: Reds Under the Bed, Thug Life, Criminal Review
local network news in a different manner than you do. I am a
professional media observer. I therefore bring a level of
"observation" to my news viewing that most humans are not
capable of understanding. I am more discerning in my evaluation
of reporters and anchors than many viewers because of my vast
expertise in the media-watching field. If you were able to
overhear my thoughts while I flipped between 10 p.m. newscasts,
it might sound like so:
nice suit, dillweed. Yeah, a hundred-fifty-grand a year and you
still can't buy good taste. [click] Oh, that was nice banter.
Three hunnerd K a year and you can't make happy talk sound
unforced? [click] How much do you make, missy? Oh, real tough
story. You balm those lips before you kiss ass? Where's my
I am not
often impressed, you may have guessed, with the quality of news
gathering that takes place on TV. Some may say I also have a bit
of salary-envy, and they are right. That doesn't mean that my
analysis of TV news-gatherers is incorrect. Most of the stories
you see on local television news are easily obtained. They come
from sources who have done all the legwork for the reporter, or
from PR representatives who hand-feed the TV folks the who,
what, when and where. Forget about the why. They don't have time
to concern themselves with explaining the images they flash
before you for 22 minutes each night.
TV reporters I admire--not just the high-profile investigative
reporters like Robert Riggs at KTVT-TV Channel 11 and
Brett Shipp at WFAA-TV Channel 8, but the workaday
general-assignment types like Shaun Rabb at KDFW-TV
Channel 4--don't awe me. I watch their reports, I nod in
appreciation of their smart, diligent work, but never do I say
to myself, "Wow, very few people could have done that story."
reporter--sorry, former reporter--in town did consistently amaze
me: Valeri Williams, a longtime reporter at Channel 8 who
was let go last week after a bizarre series of events that has
left television types around town shocked. Williams has won
numerous awards over the years for a number of stories that I
can't recall right now. I printed an archived list of them from
wfaa.com before they erased her
photo and stories from the site, but now I've lost that list.
It's the sort of thing that Valeri Williams would never do,
which is why she is better than I am.
did the sort of stories that all kids with Bob Woodward
in their eyes talk about doing once they get a journalism job,
but somehow they never do. The sort of boring, complicated,
document-based investigations that make news directors' eyes
roll back in their heads because no one in an under-40, Collin
County-based demographic could possibly care about them.
important, though; they earned the company respect, so the
stories got on the air. The one I do recall is a piece on the
shady management of the Dallas Can! Academy, the nonprofit
organization whose public spokesman is Channel 8 sports director
Dale Hansen. Taking on something associated with local
ratings hero Hansen, the one person at the station who truly
cannot be fired because he still delivers Nielsen numbers, took
big brass ones. It would be the equivalent of me commenting on
the U.S. Justice Department's investigation of New Times Inc.,
the Dallas Observer's parent company--and that ain't
gonna happen. Daddy's got a mortgage.
someone of Valeri Williams' caliber go," says a Channel 8
competitor, "is just shocking. It just shows that what people
who are left there--Tracy [Rowlett] and [Robert]
Riggs and those folks--have been saying about the place
is true. Well, I don't know if it's true completely--they still
do good work--but, damn, how do you keep letting talent like
that leave and not feel it at some point? It's like the Cowboys
of the early '90s, you know? Some day, you're going to go 5-11,
and you'll be 5-11 for a long time if you're not careful."
this happen? Good question. I've talked to a half-dozen people
or so who know some aspect of the story. Kathy Clements-Hill,
general manager at Channel 8, was out of the office and didn't
return calls to her mobile phone. Williams herself declined
comment, as did her lawyer Steve Malouf. (Media geeks may
know Malouf's name as the man who successfully defended Rowlett,
Riggs and Channel 8 expatriate Kristine Kahanek in
various actions against Channel 8 upon their departure. All now
work at Channel 11. He is, how we say, not buddy-buddy with
folks at the Belo Death Star.) Many of my Belo and Channel 8
sources wanted no part of this, because they know that someone
of Williams' caliber being allowed to leave is indefensible.
what I've been able to piece together: Williams has been
disgruntled for a long time with news management at Channel 8,
feeling as though decisions were made for reasons that were not
ethically sound. Meaning, advertiser concerns and the need to
pander to more desirable demographics (read: don't take on those
who pay us money, and while you're at it, dumb down the stories
you are working on) were the driving force behind most decisions
made that affected her. When management killed her latest
investigation, she saw it as the last straw, giving her notice
that she would not renew her contract when it expired at the end
of this month.
though, wasn't done there. She is, according to friends, quite
stubborn--pig-headed, if you listen to some other reporters.
Regardless, she believes that a fundamental shift in the
priorities of Channel 8 has taken place, and she wanted the top
dog to know how she felt. She hand-delivered a letter to Belo
chairman Robert Decherd's office that outlined her
grievances. She charged numerous, serious ethical violations.
This was on a Friday. On January 13, she was told to clean out
her desk and get the hell out of the building.
kind of argue both sides of this," says Hansen, calling from San
Diego where he is covering the Super Bowl, once again proving
that when things get messy, he's the only one who will call you
back. "Valeri Williams is a helluva hard-hitting reporter, and
damn I hate to see her leave. We've got so many people leaving,
we're keeping the [going-away] cake place in business. However,
given what she was saying about some of the people in
management--and I think there are two sides to every story like
that--I don't blame them for telling her to go ahead and go."
blame them for letting it get to that point. Now, perhaps I'm
overreacting. Maybe I'm putting too much emphasis on one
reporter leaving. But to me this isn't an aberration. This is
the culmination of a quality purge at the station, chasing away
or getting rid of independent voices who don't say, "Thank you,
sir, may I have another?" when they're paddled. It's sad,
because despite what some of the folks there say to me when they
defend their station, the good ship WFAA no longer always sails
a true course.
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