On paper, Oliver is the winner of countless awards for investigative reporting. On TV, she comes off like Xena: Warrior Princess. It is an image Oliver and KDFW-TV sell. The would-be actress, they boast, has closed down businesses, changed laws and put more than a dozen "bad guys" behind bars. But is Becky Oliver as ballsy in person as she is on air?
There were two ways to find out: watch her on tape and interview her in person.
First came the tapes of Oliver, taken by a couple of her news-report targets who'd recently turned their cameras on her. In one, she backs out of an interview she requested when she sees it's being videotaped. Very un-warrior like. In the other, however, she lives up to her image. That tape was made last fall, when Oliver showed up at a local attorney's office for a follow-up to a story she aired about a chiropractor who allegedly drugged and raped a client. The original story has won Oliver a nomination for "Journalist of the Year" by the Press Club of Houston. In March, it also got her and KDFW-TV sued for defamation. On the tape, the attorney resorts to lecturing Oliver when his attempt to ambush her fails.
"Reporting the news is a privilege, Ms. Oliver. It's a very serious responsibility, and you don't seem to take it that way," he tells her.
"I've put my heart and soul in this business for almost 20 years," Oliver responds. "I take it very, very seriously."
Good to know. Because Oliver is taken seriously by viewers. She is Dallas' version of Geraldo, a latter-day Mike Wallace who not only plays "Gotcha!" with the bad guys, but looks daring doing it. It's a method for which she is both vilified and praised by viewers and peers.
Nothing wrong with that. But an increasing number of critics question whether she takes her ethics as seriously as she does her sensational quest for ratings. They ask: Does she cut corners and bend the truth to get high-profile exclusives? Has the pressure of working for perennially last-place, Fox-owned Channel 4 gotten to her so much that she reports what she thinks, facts be damned? Does Oliver consider herself a serious journalist, or will she admit that her on-camera antics are just a shtick designed to entertain rather than inform?
Being a reporter herself, I figured Oliver would have no problem granting an interview. In fact, after checking with her bosses, Oliver agrees to get together. First, though, she wants to know what questions I am going to ask. It was the first time, but not the last, the warrior reporter flinched.
"This isn't my forte to be on the receiving end of these things," she snaps. Later she says, "I don't view this as a piece that could make Becky Oliver look good."
To get some preliminary advice on ambush tactics, I call an old colleague of Oliver's to find out how Oliver does it. I'm not sure I'm going to do it for this story, but the information couldn't hurt. Could it?
The first thing an ambusher must do is determine where the ambush should take place. In Oliver's case, an obvious choice would be downtown at KDFW-TV. The former insider tells me that won't work. To avoid a trespassing charge, a kosher ambush is performed on public land. At the station, Oliver is said to park inside an attached parking ramp. By the time she hits the street, she will be inside her car and able to elude.
At her house, then?
Home is better, the source agrees. This source, who requests anonymity for fear this blabbing will "burn all my bridges," doesn't like Oliver and believes her work is a disgrace to the genre of television investigative reporting. "She's so loud and so obnoxious, we thought for a while she had a hearing problem. Everything is all about her. 'Me. Me. Me. Me.' She's a case," the source says, adding, "I've met some princesses in television newsrooms, but she takes the princess cake."
The idea of ambushing Oliver--to use the same tactic she has used to establish her reputation as local TV's fearless crime fighter--elicits glee from this source. Particularly if the ambush is done at her house, where her six children live. Oliver, I'm told, is paranoid that the people she's exposed in her exclusive "I-Team" reports will seek revenge on her children. "This will inflame her."