BeloWatch

Lawsuit? What lawsuit?
It is a remarkable fact that Dallas' daily of record has yet to publish a single word about the lawsuit three TV stations owned-like the News itself-by A.H. Belo have filed against David Goldberg, the news director of rival KDFW-Channel 4.

Dallas station WFAA-Channel 8, along with sister stations KHOU in Houston and WWL in New Orleans, filed the suit in Dallas district court more than two months ago.

The feelings between Goldberg and Belo run deep. He began working for Belo in 1973, and has spent much of his career since then at Belo stations. Since October 1989, he had been news director of KHOU. He resigned on January 4, 1995, and joined New World Communications, which now owns 12 TV stations. In May, Goldberg filed a defamation and slander suit against Belo and Channel 11 president Allan Howard, claiming Howard was spreading false reports that Goldberg was a disruptive force.

When New World closed its deal to buy KDFW and transform it into a Fox affiliate, Goldberg returned to Dallas as the station's news director--and promptly began hiring current and former Belo staffers to help fill several dozen new positions for KDFW's expanded local news broadcasts. Eight people--seven at KHOU and one at WFAA--left Belo stations to go to work for Goldberg.

That, of course, is perfectly legal--provided no one breaks a contract to jump ship. Belo has hired much of its own talent away from other stations; anchor Chip Moody, for example, once worked for KDFW. But Belo, through its three stations, responded by filing suit, accusing Goldberg of "tortious interference with employment relationships" resulting from "an apparent vendetta against KHOU-TV and Belo."

The litigation surfaced at KDFW when the Belo stations served notice for depositions of Goldberg and seven other Channel 4 employees. The Dallas Business Journal and the Houston Chronicle have both written about the litigation, and it has been a hot topic of discussion among local TV news staffers for weeks.

Yet the Morning News, which has chronicled every burp in the competition among those in Dallas' reshuffled network lineup, has yet to write a word about it.

News TV critic Ed Bark--historically, no shill for Belo interests--told BeloWatch that he certainly knew about the Belo-Goldberg lawsuits, but says he thought business-section media writer Laura Castaneda had written about it while he was out of town. "I was aware of it, believe me,"Bark says. "My understanding was that she wrote something on it."But, added Bark, "I can't say that I saw it in the paper."

Bark--who has reported extensively on personnel changes at local TV stations--also said he usually doesn't write about litigation. "They generally don't want me to do that," he said of his bosses. "It has nothing to do with Belo. It's something that I generally haven't reported on."

Castaneda, in turn, told BeloWatch she figured the TV columnist would do the story. "I guess I just assumed that [story] would be Ed Bark's, it would fall on his beat.

"I did wonder about it, and I guess I should have asked my editors about it. The lines tend to blur sometimes. It's our fault. We failed in our coordination efforts.

"I think we both probably screwed up. It's something we should look into-and we probably will now."

A final BeloWatch full-disclosure note: Observer editor Peter Elkind's wife, a Dallas attorney, does legal work for Channel 4.

Mr. Excitement writes again
In case you were still awake--BeloWatch obviously wasn't, because it missed this in last week's column--News urban affairs reporter Chris Kelley returned on September 7 to the scintillating topic of retiring Texas Department of Transportation employees.

On August 28, Kelley had churned out 1,335 words for a page-one story on the subject. He featured James Huffman, local district engineer for the state agency and one of "the last of the freeway builders in Texas." The story's second leading man was John V. Blain, the "good as gold" engineer (that's Huffman's quote) who, Kelley tells us, "has designed virtually every local highway project since 1972."

Despite lavishing such praise, Kelley apparently concluded that Blain hadn't gotten his due. So he returned to the subject for his Thursday "urban affairs" column, headlined "'Mr. Transportation' ready for slow-vehicle lane; Engineer is praised for helping reshape Dallas."

This one only seemed 1,335 words long.
We learn (once again) that "Mr. Blain, 67, is retiring as director of transportation planning for the seven-county Dallas district of the Texas Department of Transportation." We also learn (once again) that his boss, James Huffman, "is also retiring from the department after 37 years."

"'I thought it would be a cold day in August when John Blain would retire,' Mr. Huffman quipped."

Those highway guys really are live wires.
"Mr. Blain," we are told, "knows the official highway number for virtually every one of the 9,000 miles of state roadway in the seven counties around Dallas." We also learn that this "engineer's engineer" doesn't wear a pocket protector; carries "a pen-like device that stretches into a pointer 'for public meetings'" (great quote!); and "is known for three things: acronyms, circulating memos, and his collection of coffee cups." He also "figures he has attended more than 5,000 meetings in his career."

In his piece on Huffman, Kelley quoted Michael Morris, transportation director for the North Central Texas Council of Governments, saying: "I kind of look at him as Gentle Ben." Kelley returned to the well for his final word on Blain. Declares the ever-provocative Morris: "I call him Mr. Transportation.

 
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