By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
How many tranquilizers would it take to put an entire lake of fish asleep? One, Buzz figures, if it was the same brand of sleeping pill used by the staff of The Dallas Morning News, who let a fishy tale slip into print last week.
On March 30, Morning News staff writer Brenda Rodriguez reported that the animal-rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals planned to dump a tranquilizer into Lake Palestine to keep the fish from biting during the Red Man Cowboy Division fishing tournament. PETA claimed it planned to drug the 140-billion-gallon lake on Saturday, April 1, commonly known everywhere -- with the possible exception of the Morning News' newsroom -- as April Fools Day.
(Picture the scene on the lake: "How they bitin', Merle?" "Lousy, but you orter take a hit o' the water. Weeedoggy.")
Now, maybe the Morning News could be forgiven for not looking at a calendar. But one would expect that they should have tipped to the gag after a peek at PETA's news release, versions of which listed as a contact person either April Phule or Joe Kizonu. One might also expect that the Morning News would have fessed up to being duped once they figured out PETA's plan was a joke. Instead, the daily ran an Associated Press story with the headline "PETA deserts plan to put fish to sleep in lake," which did not mention that PETA, in fact, never planned to do any such thing.
That's probably not as devious as it sounds on the paper's part. Buzz suspects that the Morning News editors -- apparently not exactly a humorous bunch -- still may not realize that it was a joke. (The AP and the local papers in Tyler and Palestine were also fooled. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram wasn't.)
"We were truly astonished that as many people fell for it as did," says Dawn Carr, PETA's fishing campaign coordinator, who notes that it would have been technically impossible to put a 25,000-acre lake full of fish asleep.
Maybe, maybe not. If PETA ever decides to get serious, we suggest they forego drugs and put volunteers with bullhorns on boats. They can read to the little fishies from the Morning News' editorial page.
Keeping with our "save the animals" theme this week, Buzz, who reads way too many billboards, turns to the latest activist message on Interstate 35 near Northwest Highway: "How many animals will be killed with your March of Dimes donation?" asks the new sign, which features a cute white-and-brown gerbil. The billboard is the latest project of the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, a Washington-based group with a leftward tilt that fights against animal experimentation, which it deems cruel and unneeded (See "With friends like that..." in last week's Dallas Observer.)
Frankly, Buzz can think of much worse uses for a gerbil -- if you believe certain urban myths concerning bizarre sexual practices -- but the idea behind the sign is to throw cold water on WalkAmerica, the March of Dimes' annual event to raise money for research and community programs to fight birth defects. (Those bastards!) The respected charity holds the event in 1,400 communities, but Dallas, San Francisco, and San Diego have been chosen for PCRM billboards. Dallas' WalkAmerica event, one of the nation's largest, will be held April 29 at White Rock Lake. Last year's walk raked in $3.2 million, and sponsors hope to raise $3.8 million this year.
Activists claim that the charity spends about $1 million a year on tests that include freezing newborn ferrets, sewing kittens' eyelids shut, and exposing rats to nicotine and other nasty substances. "The fact is that animal models are not an effective way to study birth defects," says Neal Barnard, president of the committee. "Virtually everything we currently know about birth defects we learned through studies of human populations."
But the March of Dimes defends the practice. "The fact remains that there are many research questions...that can only be answered by the use of animals," said Tamara Lieberman, the group's executive Director, in a 1998 letter to the Sacramento Bee. The polio vaccine, AIDS prevention, premature infant health, and heart defects are areas where the group says animals have helped engineer breakthroughs. Local backers are also standing firm. "Our organization funds research that saves babies' lives," says Carolina Garcia, spokeswoman for the March of Dimes' North Texas chapter.
The activists aren't convinced, so their billboard also features a Web site (www.charitiesinfo.org) listing charities that don't conduct animal experiments.
Rob Allyn, a Dallas political consultant, is helping Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison with her re-election bid. The assignment, according to Allyn, is far from taxing.
"Working for Kay Bailey Hutchison," he says, "that's like being a Y2K consultant."
Buzz assumes Allyn means that Hutchison is a winner already: The computers work despite 2000, and the senator will win, despite whatever the Democrats throw up.
Buzz, in all its meanness, can't help remember that in 1992, it was a computer specialist whom then-Texas Treasurer Hutchison called upon to help delete computer records from state machines. Wesley McGehee, a programmer-analyst for the state treasurer, later tattled to the Travis County district attorney, who sought an indictment against Hutchison on charges of destroying state records. She was later acquitted, but nevertheless, Allyn may want to think carefully if Hutchison asks him to do a little computer work for real.
—Compiled from staff reports by Patrick Williams