BeloWatch

Double Exclusive
Saturday, January 7, gave birth to a journalistic miracle: two newspapers were granted the "first" interview with the Rev. Barry Bailey, ousted in a stunning sex scandal at Fort Worth's giant First United Methodist Church.

Bailey, 68, whose 10,500 parishioners at First Methodist included members of the billionaire Bass family, is the target of sexual-harassment complaints from more than two dozen women.

For months, he'd maintained a stony silence, leaving others to defend him as a United Methodist Church review committee privately recommended stripping him of his Methodist credentials.

But earlier this month, accompanied by his attorney, he decided to talk--plenty.

The News, in a page-one story, claimed its 90-minute session with Bailey as "his first extended interview since resigning Aug. 31 as senior pastor..."

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram, on its front page the same day, claimed its hour-long interview was Bailey's "first since he resigned Aug. 31 as senior minister at First United Methodist Church..."

BeloWatch isn't clear who actually spoke to Bailey first. But the News' Mark Wrolstad did the better job of putting Bailey's spin on the scandal--"I have never harassed a man or woman in my life, period"--in the context of the overwhelming accusations against him.

Wrolstad's recounting of Bailey's bizarre ramblings about sex--"We've got Jesus born of a virgin because sex is so dang vulgar"--was as illuminating as the minister's denials.

Quoth the Raben
BeloWatch has, in the past, noted the increasing inclination of Morning News staffers to inflict their personal demons on the rest of us--to unburden themselves in print.

That tendency--also employed on a handful of occasions in the Observer--has seemed especially rampant of late. Mostly, it surfaces in the ubiquitous "guest column" space of the Today section.

At its worst, such public soul-baring has been boring, trite, or simply unnecessary. But, in a rare display of geographical perspective, BeloWatch has to note that the offenses of these columns pale compared to a piece in the Northeast edition of the January 1 Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Appearing on the second page of the paper's Sunday "Opinions" section, the column was written by Star-Telegram/Northeast publisher Bruce Raben.

It was headlined "I've been run over by my wife," and blathered on inanely--but briefly, BeloWatch is relieved to report--about how the little woman wears the pants in the Raben family.

What lovable "I Love Lucy"-type yucks did Raben offer about the little missus for the general hard-working public's amusement?

His wife wanted a BMW convertible.
"It has to do with a car," Raben explained, in this pithy display of why publishers should avoid trying to write and stick to grubbing money. "We have two kids and they have friends and their friends have friends and so on and so on."

It turns out the Raben family's Volvo, at 101,000 miles, was no longer suitable. More important, Raben notes, attributing these sentiments to his poor wife, "it wasn't sporty, it wasn't fast and it wasn't Laura."

Raben's clever response: "No way Jose, no BMWs for this Raben family, I said to myself. I love the looks of a BMW but doubt their reliability.

"I countered with a swimming pool."
Anyway, as you might guess, Mrs. Raben got her BMW convertible--a 1992, with 30,000 miles. "The car is beautiful," the publisher reported. "It is fast. It is sporty. It is Laura." Ever since buying it, he concluded, "I've been home looking for my pants."

Searching for his brain would be a better idea.
When News writers engage in self-indulgent columnizing, it's because they're absurdly and inelegantly rhapsodizing about the mundane.

Readers can at least identify with that. Raben's chosen to inflict on his paper's readership a meaningless upper-income household spat--whether to buy a BMW or a swimming pool. In the process, he's managed to embarrass both himself and his newspaper--in the space of about 400 words. That's really a feat.

Missing the boat
Maybe it was just bad luck. If so, lightning does strike twice.
But it's always embarrassing when beat reporters focusing intensely on a single subject miss a looming major development.

On January 13, retailing reporter Maria Halkias' "special report" on Fort Worth-based Bombay Co. highlighted the paper's business section. In her 932-word piece, headlined "Balm for Bombay--Retailer seeks remedy after growth spurt falters," Halkias duly noted the obvious signs of trouble at the 468-store furniture and home accessories chain:

Sales fell far short of expectations. A top corporate officer had resigned. The company's stock price had dropped a stunning 70 percent.

But her piece was upbeat nonetheless. "Bombay Co.," she began, "has a bad case of the growing pains."

Halkias generously blamed the company's woes on tough competition and "not being able to springboard" its new 62-store Alex & Ivy division. "The biggest uncertainty surrounds Alex & Ivy"--a division that sells lighter American and European antiques, instead of the darker English antique reproductions at Bombay, she noted.

Halkias noted that Bombay officials planned to unveil a cost-cutting strategy "later this month." But only a Wall Street analyst she quoted hinted at the range of possible solutions: "If they had enough time, they could probably fix it, but they may decide they have better uses for their capital."

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